Boeing: KC-777 ‘so much better’ than KC-30

Addison Schonland of the IAG blog has a great podcast interview today with Boeing tanker spokesman Bill Barksdale. If you wondered if Boeing is really interested in a 777-based tanker, Barksdale’s new interview should dispel any doubts. Yes, Bill says, Boeing may still offer a 767-based tanker if US Air Force wants something smaller and more agile. But Bill seemed much more enthusiastic about the prospect of a KC-777. He also threw out some interesting new statistics. I have an excerpt below, but check out Schonland’s blog to hear the podcast (fee required).

BARKSDALE: The 777 as a tanker is just so much more capable thananything it’s got as a peer. And I know that sounds like a bit of bravado, butif you really get down to it, if they really value what you would call a largeairplane – a widebody tanker — and everything that goes with it, that 777 isamazing. I’ll give you a couple of examples. If you compare them, the 777 wouldprovide – deliver – however you want to say it — 23% more fuel than the KC-30.It could carry 44% more payload – more cargo – in the back. And it also wouldcarry about 42% more passengers in the back as well. So those are very generic,very general kinds of numbers. There’s a lot more data we could get into atsome point down the line. … If the air force really wants to go in thatdirection, the Boeing company has spent a lot of time in the last year preparingfor that, knowing that we have a real, true, large tanker that, like I said, is comparablein size to the KC-30. And, yet, you get you get so much more for your money.

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26 Responses to Boeing: KC-777 ‘so much better’ than KC-30

  1. Ken Panting 9 July, 2009 at 9:57 pm #

    The KC380PCF would be so much better as well, let me explain, P = Passengers top deck, C = cargo main deck, F – Fuel in the belly. What about the USAF specification, does it not exist anymore. What about a KC 340-500, 18 hour loiter time. Boeing should consider the problems with the 787 and 747-8I and get them in the air first, The Airbus tanker is flying now.

  2. solomon 9 July, 2009 at 10:15 pm #

    You sound like a plant. The USAF created this problem when they allowed the KC-X and KC-Y replacement programs to intertwine with the awarding of the contract initially to the KC-30. There is no way that airplane met the initial requirements and the rewriting of the stats to allow it into the competition is causing these issues. Yeah, whether you want to admit it or not, Airbus has been making a killing by waiting for boeing to introduce a product into service and then coming along and offering something just a bit bigger and claiming efficiencies. THATS BULL! But what should we expect huh?

  3. John 10 July, 2009 at 12:28 am #

    The KC-777 is much closer to the KC-Y specification, initially the Air Force planned to run the KC-Y replacement around 2020, but if EADS and NG can rewrite the requirements of the KC-X competition to allow the KC-30 to compete why not go all the way and run the KC-Y replacement contest a few years earlier than planned. Also, a KC-777 based on the 777LR would make mincemeat out of a KC-340-500, it would have greater range, loiter time, cargo capacity, be much more fuel efficient (probably around 10%), more reliable with its GE-90 engines vs. the troublesome Trent 553 engines on the A340, and its already been converted to a freighter. This is also assuming the A340 will even remain in production past 2012 given the dearth of orders for the type.

    EADS best and only chance in this contest is to convince the Air Force that yes you really do need an aircraft in the size and weight class covered by the A330-200. Other Airbus aircraft such as the A330-300, A340, and A380 are really non starters for conversion to a tanker. While for Boeing the 767-200, 767-300, 777-200 and even the 747-8 (yes, given Airbuses production problems with the A380 you could probably get one before you could get an A380) would appear to be very good candidates for a tanker platform. Last time around Boeing practically made the point that the 767-200 was the right size into a broken record. The argument didn’t work for Boeing in the last round and it looks doubtful it will work for EADS/NG this time around.

  4. keesje 10 July, 2009 at 12:32 am #

    I have the impression the 777 is much heavier, more expensive to buy and operate then e.g the KC767 and KC30. Does it even meet the 7000ft runway requirements? I don’t think so.

    An A330-200 seats about 250 people, Boeing 777-200 versions about 300. 42% more ? Sure ?

    Arguing for 6 yrs to the KC30 is much to big and now this. Boeing surely is “flexible”.

    Will DoD buy this? Or will congress make them..

  5. SMSgt Mac 10 July, 2009 at 3:21 am #

    The first big thing missing in that Beautiful Boeing Bloviation is operating field flexibility. The KC-30 is remarkable because of the serendipitous decision by Airbus to use a common wing for the A330 and A340. That big wing on the A330/KC-30 allows the most payload to be lifted off the shortest fields. I seriously doubt the 777 can do the same thing without a new wing (and I LOVE the 777 BTW). This lends credence to earlier trial balloons sent up about a mixed fleet of 767/777 tankers operating out of different bases.

    Which brings us to the second big thing that the BBB is careful to avoid mentioning. Every possible option Boeing has available, that can be made ready in time for the competition anyway, involves the need to downplay the additional schedule, cost, flexibility and/or capability risk that their candidates present to the buyer, that are above and beyond those presented by the KC-30.

    Watch. I anticipate Boeing will present another multi-pronged attack against not the competitor, but on the buyer.
    1. Expect moves to ease previously sancrosanct requirements such as min takoff performance via the introduction of offered ‘alternative’ strategies to provide the ‘equivalent’ capability (while downplaying the negative impact on operational flexibility).
    2. Expect efforts to draw out the competition to keep continuing so that what tech Boeing does have in development can be matured as much as possible in playing their game of catchup.
    3. Expect second-guessing and howlings concerning acquisition officials’ rulings on when commercial pricing can and cannot be used to re-occur (it was so successful last time).

    Finally, in observing the coming circus, never lose sight of the fact that the win/loss of this contract to Boeing is trivial compared to the larger issue of their keeping their domestic monopoly on the manufacture of large commercial aircraft in the US intact.

  6. John S 10 July, 2009 at 3:40 am #


    I seem to recall the KC-X being described for years as a $40 billion program, right up until they announced the Airbus as the $35 billion dollar winner.

    Now I know the way that the current administration is throwing around trillions of dollars that $5 billion doesn’t buy what it used to, but still that cost savings wouldn’t have come about without competition.

    As much as it pains me to say, I agree with Murtha that a split buy with accelerated replacement is the only way to go. We could fund it if only we could get the Federal Reserve to declare the KC-135 a “Troubled Asset.”

  7. solomon 10 July, 2009 at 8:05 am #

    Split nothing. EADS was crying fowl when the Air Force wanted to put best price estimates into the decision making process for the contract. I just tire of the attempts by some of to justify this European sanctioned industrial espionage that is being conducted in plain sight. The original proponents of the KC-30 should be salivating at the idea of a KC-777… if they were being honest. My point is this…the original specs called for a KC-135 replacement. What EADS put forth was a KC-10 replacement and Boeing is calling them and the Air Force on the issue. Sorry but the fact remains if a larger airplane is what the Air Force wants then unless they put the A-340 into the competition or the A-380 then Boeing wins. And if they try that nonsense it’ll be laughed out the park. EADS was too clever by half and I’m glad to see them caught in the trap.

  8. Gary Williams 10 July, 2009 at 9:17 am #

    Soloman, you accuse others of being a plant? What trap precisely has EADS been caught in? I just don’t understand your logic. When the next competition starts there will be a list of technical and commercial requirements. Whether or not the KC-30 comes out on top again remains to be seen, but you have to admit that it would be the lower risk option given that it’s already flying.

  9. Paul 10 July, 2009 at 9:49 am #

    Ken, I do like the idea of the KC345 (222,000 Liters or 58,000 gallons of fuel). Maybe Airbus could throw a couple of those in the mix. Shouldn’t be a problem with crew qualification and the required modifications should be almost the same as for the A330.

  10. 7K7 10 July, 2009 at 1:24 pm #

    Let every nation just go build its own tankers :p

  11. solomon 10 July, 2009 at 4:40 pm #


    guess what! the 777 is going to be re-winged in order to have BETTER short takeoff than the KC-30!

  12. solomon 10 July, 2009 at 4:46 pm #


    I said he sounded like a plant. I didn’t say that he was one! The trap that EADS has been caught in was to wiggle their way into a competition that their aircraft didn’t meet the specs on…and now Boeing is one upping them on it. THATS THE TRAP! They are about to hoisted and I’m going to enjoy the spectacle!

  13. solomon 10 July, 2009 at 4:48 pm #


    the 777 is going to be re-winged to meet the take-off specifications!

  14. John 10 July, 2009 at 4:56 pm #

    A KC-30 has just about the same footprint as a KC-777, so the question is, what operational flexibility does a KC-30 offer over a KC-777? Shorter field take-off, no not really in that the KC-X specification requires a 7,000 ft or less takeoff roll with the minimum 190,000 lbs of fuel, a KC-30, KC-767 adv. or KC-777 can meet this spec, The takeoff roll at an aircrafts MTOW is not really an issue only the takeoff roll at a specified fuel load and a KC-777 thanks to its big GE-90s can do anything a KC-30 can at an equivalent fuel load. The only real advantage a KC-30 would have over a KC-777 is that it has a lower dry weight and max takeoff weight which means the tarmac and taxiways may need a little less work. But other than the weight issue the KC-30 offers no benefit over a KC-777 in terms of operational flexibility and comes with a lot of disadvantages: less range, less fuel, less cargo, less advanced engines, and so on. The only plane that offers the airfield operational flexibility the KC-135, the ability to use existing KC-135 facilities without a substantial redesign, and maintains a significant advantage in airfield flexibility over both the KC-30 and KC-777 is the KC-767.

    The A340-500 and A330-200 do not have a common wing. The A340-300 and A330 had a common wing. However, Airbus increased the wing area and fuel capacity substantially in developing the A340-500/600 so the wings aren’t identical. Also, the KC-30 uses the outboard engine hardpoint locations on the A340 to attach the re-fueling pods. By adding the outboard engines required by the a KC-340 you would need to relocate the re-fueling pods and change the existing fuel line etc, which means the wings for the KC340-500 and KC-30 wouldn’t be that similar at all. Additionally, Airbus has never marketed a common wing as a reason for airlines to purchase both the A330 and A340, cockpit commonality yes they’ve used that one, but a common wing? The only reason for adopting a common wing for the A340-200/300 and A330-200/300 in the first place was to reduce the overall development cost for the models, not to provide any operation advantages; this one is a real reach.

    Besides with a total of 384 A340 orders and 366 delivered as of May 2009 it means that only 18 or less A340s are on order. With less than 18 A340s left to be delivered the A340 will not be in production much longer anyway, and even if Airbus wanted to offer an A340 it would necessitate restarting the production line which would add considerable expense to any potential order. This is in addition to cost to convert the A340 to a freighter, the 777 has already done this, and potential aerodynamic issues with the new wing configuration needed for a KC-340. After all, the A340-200/300 suffered from substantial wing flutter issues and the wings had to be modified with an underwing bulge called a plastron to solve the problem. Given that EADS has put almost zero effort into examining a KC-340 I would not assume that even developing one let alone actually having the production base in the future to produce one is a trivial issue.

    I would say on this one expect substantially lobbying on the part of supporters of both manufactures to develop requirements to favor one team over the other, same as happened last time. The big difference this time is that EADS/NG supporters are much weaker than they were for the previous contest, Senator McCain is a spent force and Senators Shelby and Sessions belong to a political party that is almost completely powerless. It is quite reasonable to expect that Boeings backers to have a lot more clout and influence for the next round in the tanker saga than they had for round 2 and should be at least as successful as EADS/NG supporters were in shaping the requirements in round 2.

  15. John 10 July, 2009 at 5:08 pm #

    Were does the article say Boeing needs to re-wing to meet takeoff specifications? This is an even bigger stretch than claiming advantages for a common wing, since the draft RFP has not even been issued yet and no take-off specifications for Round 3 actually exist even in draft form. A 777 with its existing wing might meet whatever future specifications are issued or it might not. The same is true for a KC-30 it might meet the specifications or it might need a little work to meet whatever requirements are established.

    Boeing is looking at re-winging the 777 to better compete with the A350-1000, and as a side benefit a 777 with a new wing would be an even better tanker than a 777 with an existing wing. Re-winging the 777 will gain additional commercial orders and possibly help win the tanker contract. The only issue really is, is it worth the cost to Boeing or would they be better of going with a completely new plane as Airbus decided when they switched from and A350 based on the A330 to a completely new design.

  16. 7K7 10 July, 2009 at 6:31 pm #

    To read a lot of the posts on here you could be forgiven for thinking that the trap that EADS *really* got into is bidding for a contract that they really intend to give to a home manufacturer :-D
    What the USAF should actually go for is a set of nice rugged proven IL76 can-do-go-anywhere sky trucks and some of those bring-my-own-stairs IL-96s.

  17. Paul 10 July, 2009 at 10:37 pm #

    John, You are right about the hoses, which are only used by helicopters and the navy. I was thinking more about the boom, which is more applicable for long ranges and high fuel volumes.
    Placing the pods on an A340 might be a bigger problem, as you want the hoses to be away from the engine exhaust and the tip vortex. An adapter to the boom might be the only option.

  18. SMSgt Mac 11 July, 2009 at 8:44 am #

    Loved the claim that the KC-777 would be closer to the original KC-Y requirements. I wasn’t aware that a KC-777 configuration had been definitized to the point a comparison is possible.

    I specifically mentioned the need for a new wing because of the unofficial prattle out there about the possibility of Boeing offering the new wing.
    Read the title embedded in in the link you provided. I do not translate ‘May get a new wing’ into ‘Will get a new wing, nor see how anyone else can either. I’d be interested in any illumination on the equivalence of the two that I may be missing.

    Now, along with better performance, what else would a ‘new’ wing bring to the 777 design? Hint: Imentioned it before. A: Risk. More untried design features means more risk to be managed, and more integration risk to be managed.

    Extra points for those who can dig up an authoritative source as to why Boeing didn’t go ahead with a short-fuselage 777 when it was first considered, Every rationale I’ve ever heard or read goes back to the same root reason, but I would love to have a definitive answer.

  19. Aaron R 11 July, 2009 at 11:32 am #

    …whatever the US Air Force chooses, I hope they choose aircraft in which the tails don’t fall off and aircraft that don’t mysteriously end up at the bottom of ocean.

  20. Gary Williams 11 July, 2009 at 9:14 pm #

    Solomon, so you’re saying that Boeing deliberately lost the tanker contract to NG/EADS so that they could then challenge the decision to get the contest re-started and then come back with a killer solution. You really believe that? Why deliberately take the risk of losing the competition (which they did)? Why not just present the USAF with the best solution first time instead of trying to force on them a second rate solution based on an aircraft which no longer cut it in the commercial world. I guess the thought of a low risk, high margin solution was too tempting as they couldn’t envisage the contract going anywhere else.

  21. Puppethead 12 July, 2009 at 2:17 am #

    The KC-10A can refuel both ways on the centreline – it has both a boom and a hosereel, so no restrictive adaptor (ie only one method per sortie) required. And a hose is not just for the Navy – unless any ally uses F-15s or F-16s, then if the USAF is to support them (and the US definitely wants allies to join in, for which AAR support is a big carrot) then hoses are needed.

    It’s starting to look like the USAF is skipping the tactical tanker replacement (KC-135E/KC-X and KC-135R/KC-Y) tranches, and moving straight to the strategic tranche (KC-10A/KC-Z). Which is rather concerning given that it’s the KC-135s that are gonna start falling out of the sky first.

    Regarding the Frankentanker, I’d always wondered if Boeing could’ve looked at a B75½7 tanker – B757-200F fuselage, KC-767 wings/engines/undercart/boom and pods – bought in about a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio with the KC-777 to cover the 3 tranches. The 767 fuselage is already too narrow to carry standard palletised freight, so slim it down further to 757-size (shed those unwanted pounds!), fill the belly with tanks, and get yourself a far more optimised tanker than using the widebodies to refuel a fighter CAP.

  22. SMSgt Mac 13 July, 2009 at 11:54 pm #

    There’s obviously some interesting comment ‘phase lag’ going on here– perhaps due to the comment review process/weekend maintenance that I guess we’re having to work through.

    Nice history on the A330/340 wing topic. I wouldn’t agree with all of it necessarily, but I will state it is completely irrelevant, unless NG/EADS wants to put another wing on their KC-45 airframe that isn’t already there.

    To answer any possible insinuation that may have been made earlier, I will expand on my point about EADS serendipitous decision to use a common wing in the A330/340 program…. It was serendipitous BECAUSE of the KC-X program specs, the wing decision having been decided and executed years before the KC-X program ever existed. It is common knowledge that they decided to go with a common wing to reduce development and manufacturing costs at that time, much as it is common knowledge that Airbus initially built the A300 family using standard fuselage cross sections for the same reasons.

    Now I can’t determine where this is being directed:
    “Were does the article say Boeing needs to re-wing to meet takeoff specifications? This is an even bigger stretch than claiming advantages for a common wing, since the draft RFP has not even been issued yet and no take-off specifications for Round 3 actually exist even in draft form.”

    BUT! Since from what I can tell no one asserted Boeing needed to re-wing as “fact”. AND I did however write earlier “I seriously doubt the 777 can do the same thing without a new wing (and I LOVE the 777 BTW). “ (and the second sentence in the above pooh-poohs the wing commonality point), I assume the comment was directed at my earlier comment.
    RE:The common wing point. The wing (and lift augmentation devices) ended up a little bigger and stronger than it otherwise would have if it had been optimized JUST for the A330, so it has bags of lift capability for its size. It appears to have placed the NG/EADS KC-45 right in the niche for what the AF was asking for,

    Someone made a point about similar ‘footprints’ between the A330/B777. There are models that are relatively comparable in length and span, and the differences could be said to average in the low single-digit percentage range. Except for one parameter: empty weight. I believe Boeing will need the new engines AND a bigger wing to overcome the higher empty weight fraction of their design, to compete with the NG/EADS KC-45 design.
    RE: Draft RFP. Yes there is no RFP yet released, which brings me back to my first numbered point this thread (go read, I won’t cut and paste the obvious this time).
    I see that if the AF does not revise its requirements (what would be the motivation at this time?), then NG/EADS has a lot more flexibility in developing and offering a solution at a lower cost and risk than Boeing. Of course if Boeing had decided to actually build and fly their offer in the first place, and had decided to offer what gave the AF the most for their money instead of what was easiest for Boeing, then this whole discussion would probably be moot, eh?
    I’ll close this post with these questions: Can we at least agree that if Boeing does not actually build their proposed airframe (whatever they select) with and their proposed refueling/cargo/whatever systems installed and operating, that they will be the obvious high-risk competitor given NG/EADS has designed/built and flown most of their proposed systems already?
    If so, can we agree that in the scheme of things, NG/EADS could put more modern powerplants on their offer at minimal risk? (Considering that integrating and offering alternative powerplants are the norm when selling commercial airframes.) New engines for everybody!

  23. Steve 17 July, 2009 at 12:15 am #

    Here are a few items to consider in the tanker wars. First of all, (thanks to SMSgt Mac for pointing this out), EADS/NG has an operational tanker prototype, Boeing’s offer is STILL on paper. Next, based on the most recent proposal (which EADS/NG won), the Boeing offer had MORE foriegn parts than the EADS/NG offer. Boeing cried foul about the EADS/NG refueling boom being untested, but within 1 month after making that claim, the boom had been OPERATIONALLY tested and was able to support more aircraft than the boom offered by Boeing on an aircraft that has not yet been built. Finally, talk to Italy and Japan, who placed orders with Boeing for tankers. Japan’s first tanker delivery was over 1 year late because Boeing had to fix “performance issues” prior to delivery. Sounds real safe, huh? Italy has actually CHARGED Boeing late fees now because they are over 3 years late in delivering on the tankers that Italy ordered. So, tell me, if you order a car, do you want to wait over a year to take delivery on it because the manufacturer needs to fix performance issues, or would you want the car that is tested and ready to go? Finally, for those that are hard over on buying American, please remember that EADS intends, as part of the contract (if they win) to build the majority of the aircraft in Mobile, AL (and last time I checked, Alabama is in the United States).

  24. 123xyz 20 July, 2009 at 10:15 pm #

    NG/EADS have not built and flown “most” of the KC-45A systems. For example, one big selling point is their palletized cargo and/or passenger carrying ability on the main deck. They have proposed a KC-45A based on the A330-200F, but with a main deck 463L pallet system. This freighter is not the basis of any flying MRTT (A310 or A330). All existing MRTTs including Australian, and British models have no main deck cargo capacity nor main deck cargo door (a major airframe modification).

    Secondly, main deck cargo loading and unloading is encumbered by the A330′s un-level front-to-back fuselage. The -200F solves this by lowering the front landing gear mount (thereby raising the front). Thus, a blister is required covering the stowed FLG. This too, is a major modification.

    Existing MRTT are not flying with all major systems required of the USAF.

  25. SMSgt Mac 22 July, 2009 at 4:55 am #

    fRE: “Example” – “They have proposed a KC-45A based on the A330-200F, but with a main deck 463L pallet system.”

    First – A solitary ‘example’ does not invalidate the use of ‘most’. ‘Most’ is still standing in the presence of one or even a few ‘examples’.

    Second – Consider the significance, or lack thereof, of the challenge to NG/EADS with the 463L example. What is ‘new’ that will prove significantly difficult? How much (or rather more likely ‘little’) adaptation interface will NG/EADS need to develop to install what is already a highly defined pallet handling standard that is already flying on other aircraft? What, other than the rails and other hardware has NG/EADS already developed for their system?

    Third – Here’s the real kicker about the 463L system. It has ONLY been around about a half a freakin’ century. Integrating the 463L system on the KC-45 requires basic design and manufacturing ability, no more than designing any other standard aircraft system of the current generation of aircraft. Whoever wins the next contract will almost certainly hire a specialist subcontractor to to the heavy work , and its entirely possible they’d pick the same one.

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