Chair Force Engineer

Friday, February 29, 2008

Quick-Fix Tankers

Much like the New York Giants slaying the dastardly Patriots, Airbus has beaten Boeing to build the Air Force's KC-45 refueling aircraft. The European consortium's A330 has emerged over the Seattle-based juggernaut's 767 like David Tyree clutching the football to his helmet while soaring over Rodney Harrison.

I can't speculate much on the selection of the A330 aside from the fact that it's a bigger plane than the 767, capable of refueling more aircraft per mission based on its larger internal reserves. Regardless of the Air Force's final decision, both planes represent a "quick fix" buy of old technology to fill an urgent requirement to replace aging KC-135E's.

While the current contract is potentially worth 179 aircraft, I hope it is capped well before that point. It should allow the Air Force to meet current operational needs while retiring the tired KC-135E's. In that sense, Boeing's original offer of a lease back in 2002 makes sense. The Air Force really needs to look ahead to the next generation of airliners and acquire an airplane that has a lower lifecycle cost than current jumbo jets.

The 787 will soon be gracing the skies, promising 20% less fuel burn compared to the 767. Airbus's A350XWB will offer similar advantages. While the Air Force of the 1950's was ambitious enough to sign on to the KC-135 before its civil equivalent (the 707) took flight, the service has taken a much more cautious approach to the next-gen airliners. With the need to replace aging KC-135R's becoming more apparent, a bit more urgency in starting a "KC-787" program becomes all the more prudent.