On the shuttle bus to the pre-rollout media reception for the 787 in Everett, Washington, on Saturday night, myself and a busload of mostly foreign aerospace journalists were suddenly transported back to the bad old days of Darleen Druyun, KC-767 tanker leases and John McCain.
There, before our eyes, stood the forlorn shape of the KC-X tanker that Boeing built on spec, back in 2002 when they believed they had the $23 billion lease deal (or $18 billion, or $26 billion — depending on the USAF, the GAO or OMB, remember?) in the bag.
It was being used as a stand-in for the mighty 787 airliner as Boeing employees rehearsed the roll-out event for the last time before the big show on Sunday afternoon.
The aircraft we saw was painted USAF gun-metal gray (does anybody know the precise name of that color?), but lacked any markings or even engines on the wings. The irony was clear: it was the eve of the public unveiling of what could be Boeing’s greatest commercial triumph, and there before us was a reminder of that company’s greatest military downfall, a catastrophe that is still costing stockholders millions of foregone revenue per year.