Don’t expect a tanker version of Boeing’s 787 Dreamlineranytime soon, says Jim Albaugh–the company’s commercial aircraft divisionchief. But, of course, we knew that since the 767-derived KC-46 is going to bein production until at least 2028 with 179 examples built.
But, as the US Air Force admits, the KC-46 design will bepretty long in the tooth by then–which is why the service is keeping itsoptions open for the subsequent KC-Y and KC-Z tanker programs. And 179 aircraftonly covers the replacement of one third of the antique Boeing 707-derivedKC-135 fleet. (Read my KC-46special here)
But there might never be a tanker or any other militaryderivative of the 787 period. Unlike the 707 and 767, which were purposelyoverdesigned with extremely rugged airframes, the 787 has little in the way ofexcess structure.
“We’re pretty full-up over the next nine years buildingairplanes to deliver to domestic customers and international customers,”Albaugh says. “I’m not certain this airplane lends itself to being a derivativebecause this is an airplane that we took a lot of weight out of. We didn’toverdesign this airplane, like the 707 is over-designed or the 767. I’m notruling it out, but right now our focus is on commercial airplanes.”
But moreover, the 787 has a composite fuselage. Whileindustry has a very solid understanding of what happens when one cuts metal outof an aluminum fuselage, the same can’t be said of carbon-fiber composites.That’s probably another factor playing into this.
Here is a link to our 787 special–mostly written by our dearlydeparted (to the Wall Street Journal that is…) colleague Jon Ostrower.