People line up at the ever-popular “Windsock” at Paine Field – the 767-2C is just about to begin its maiden flight
9:40 am on a wet and grey Sunday morning in Seattle saw the first flight of an aircraft with a tumultuous history. This wasn’t a 787 or the A350, this was a Boeing aircraft that has not had much in the way of press in recent times. However, in the past that was a different story.
The first 767-2C, the prototype that will lead to the beginning of the KC-46 program took to the air for the first time. With it, over 12 years of history will see the USAF’s new tanker project finally start to fly.
The first 767-2C exits the runway in Everett due to a malfunction in the telemetry control. It was able to get back to the planned flight departure a few minutes later.
The first flight of the 767-2C is not technically a KC-46 Pegasus tanker, but the first of four aircraft destined for the testing of this unique aircraft. A hybrid aircraft of sorts,- made up of the fuselage of a 767-200, the wings of a -300ER, and then throw in the cockpit of Boeing’s latest aircraft, the 787, and you have this almost frankensteinish aircraft that will perform, what some think of as, the most unnatural of airborne feets, refueling other aircraft mid-flight.
Boeing’s history, not only with tankers but with this program alone, could fill page after page. Let’s try and condense it down, shall we?
A French Air Force KC-135 (much like what the US military uses today) refuels a Royal Australian Air Force A330
With every competition, there will inevitably be a winner and a loser. Although there is a lot of excitement in the Seattle area that Boeing won the Air Force tanker contract with their 767 (KC-46A) aircraft, there are many in the Mobile, Alabama area who are very disappointed. If they won the contract, EADS planned to build their Airbus A330 based tanker (the KC-45) in Mobile. There is no word yet if EADS will appeal the decision, but they did post a statement on their website about the tanker selection. Here is their statement in full:
EADS North America statement concerning U.S. Air Force Tanker selection
Arlington, Virginia, 24 February 2011
EADS North America officials today expressed disappointment and concern over the announcement by the U.S. Air Force that it had selected a high-risk, concept aircraft over the proven, more capable KC-45 for the nation’s next aerial refueling tanker.
“This is certainly a disappointing turn of events, and we look forward to discussing with the Air Force how it arrived at this conclusion,” said EADS North America Chairman Ralph D. Crosby, Jr. “For seven years our goal has been to provide the greatest capability to our men and women in uniform, and to create American jobs by building the KC-45 here in the U.S. We remain committed to those objectives.”
If selected, EADS North America had committed to build the KC-45 at a new production facility in Mobile, Alabama, with a U.S. supplier base of nearly a thousand American companies.
“With a program of such complexity, our review of today’s decision will take some time,” Crosby said. “There are more than 48,000 Americans who are eager to build the KC-45 here in the U.S., and we owe it to them to conduct a thorough analysis.”
“Though we had hoped for a different outcome, it’s important to remember that this is one business opportunity among many for EADS in the United States,” said Sean O’Keefe, CEO of EADS North America. “We have exceptional technology and highly capable platforms that will be invaluable to U.S. military forces, now and in the future. We have learned much through this process, developed a world-class organization in the U.S. and have earned the respect of the Department of Defense. Our commitment to our U.S. customers is stronger than ever.”
Boeing 767 tanker, refueling two F/A-18's
The United States Air Force has announced today that they have granted the tanker contract to Boeing and their 767 aircraft, which will be called the KC-46A. The Air Force is asking Boeing to deliver the first 18 aircraft by 2017.
This has been a heated battle between Boeing and EADS (the parent company of Airbus) for the contract worth $35billion dollars and 179 airplanes. Currently the Air Force has about 400 KC-135s currently used as tankers.Back in 2008, the Air Force initially gave the deal to EADS and their partner at the time Northrop Grumman. Since there were complaints about the bidding process, the whole process had to be started over again.
The Boeing 767 will be built in Everett, WA and modified for tanker duty in Wichita, KA. Washington representative Norm Dicks told Glenn Farely of KING5, “I am so excited that we finally won this after three go-arounds. It’s just the most important victory for Boeing, for the workers of our state.”
Although the decision has been made, it can still be appealed. At this point, I hope it does not get appealed so our troops can start getting new aircraft.