FOIA exposes KC-46′s real ID, but not much else

kc-46a credit usaf.jpgPhoto courtesy of US Air Force

Boeing’s internal designation for the US Air Force (USAF) KC-46 tanker is the 767-2C, with the ‘C’ presumably meaning ‘combination’ or ‘convertible’. Along with 787-style large displays, Boeing is introducing into the 767-2C a central maintenance computer, a technology normally associated with the more advanced Boeing 777. This new version of the 767 is so advanced that Boeing is required to stand-up a systems integration laboratory — the SIL Line 0.

You never know what you’ll get when you ask the USAF to mail you a compact disc loaded with information about the KC-X tanker programme, as, ahem, EADS North America and Boeing discovered during the competition. But this time the USAF got its shipments straight, responding to this blog’s Freedom of Information Act request with the full text of the KC-X contract awarded to Boeing on 24 February.

By requesting this document  — which, according to page 1, is valued at $4,419,130,178.00 — your blogger was hoping to discover the precise configuration of the 767 in Boeing’s proposal. The manufacturer has chosen to withhold this information from the public, which of course is their right.

But these hopes were dashed.

After a quick review with Flightblogger editor Jon Ostrower of all 203 surprisingly unredacted pages, I still know almost nothing about the 767-2C airframe. (It turns out the 767-2C designation has been Google-able since August, thanks to LinkedIn.) My colleague Ostrower believes the requirement for a dedicated SIL could be significant, suggesting the internal system changes from the baseline 767 are far more advanced than previously believed. A dedicated SIL is an expensive investment.


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7 Responses to FOIA exposes KC-46′s real ID, but not much else

  1. Dave 27 May, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    You don’t suppose that this might mean that Boeing might be able to breath new life into the 767 line in the civil sector?

  2. Stephen Trimble 27 May, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    There may be some niche demand but it’s hard to believe that Boeing would allow the 767 to compete for major sales opportunities against the 787.

  3. John 27 May, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    I was just wondering if the tankers airframe could be used to cover the 757 niche. Its a smaller airframe with a bigger wing?, right. This would push it more towards the 757 than the 787?, right.

    Boeing just said that the new 737 would not try to replace the 757. Could it be possible that they might try to use this tanker airframe to fill that small niche?

  4. Stephen Trimble 27 May, 2011 at 8:27 pm #

    It’s not that easy, I’m afraid. The 767-2C will not have windows, for instance. As a true combi layout, it caters to neither the all-passenger market or all-freighter market. That’s a very tight niche, indeed.

  5. Dave 27 May, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    I was thinking more as a freighter than an airliner… there isn’t a cargo version of the 787 as of yet that I’m aware of. But as you’re aware, I don’t follow the civil side that much.

  6. AirShowFan 31 May, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    John Ostrower once started a really good discussion about squeezing more out of the 767 in the commercial world, and why it will probably never happen. Do a search for “the 767NG that will never be”. The comments are insightful too – such as how the 767-400ER didn’t sell very well.

    And the question of eventually replacing 757s is an interesting one. It’s a relatively small airplane with a relatively long range. All other narrowbodies are not built to have a range of over 3000miles/5000km or so; just enough to get from one tip of the US to the other, or from one tip of Europe to the other, since almost nobody wants to fly narrowbodies any farther than that. Only a few airlines do want small airplanes (under 200 seats) to fly over 4000 miles, and they have 757s. If/when the day comes to replace the 757 fleet, the manufacturers have diverse options, such as developing a super-long-range version of a current narrowbody (like a A318/737-600 that can carry a LOT of fuel, similarly to how the 777-200LR was developed) or shorten a current widebody (like a shortened 767/A330, similarly to how the 747SP was developed). I guess the manufacturers would then have to weigh the development costs versus expected additional profits that would come from each option. Would Boeing sell more “737-600LR”s or more “767SP”s? My personal guess is that, if/when airlines start becoming eager to replace 757s, Boeing might try again to offer the 787-3, since selling a shortened 787 would probably be more profitable than selling a shortened 767, and a lot of the work is already done. But who knows. Anything could happen between now and then.

  7. Matt 31 May, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    I have a hard time imagining a billion dollar program where a SIL wouldn’t be necessary.

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