Don't expect a tanker version of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner anytime soon, says Jim Albaugh--the company's commercial aircraft division chief. But, of course, we knew that since the 767-derived KC-46 is going to be in production until at least 2028 with 179 examples built.
But, as the US Air Force admits, the KC-46 design will be pretty long in the tooth by then--which is why the service is keeping its options open for the subsequent KC-Y and KC-Z tanker programs. And 179 aircraft only covers the replacement of one third of the antique Boeing 707-derived KC-135 fleet. (Read my KC-46 special here)
But there might never be a tanker or any other military derivative of the 787 period. Unlike the 707 and 767, which were purposely overdesigned with extremely rugged airframes, the 787 has little in the way of excess structure.
"We're pretty full-up over the next nine years building airplanes to deliver to domestic customers and international customers," Albaugh says. "I'm not certain this airplane lends itself to being a derivative because this is an airplane that we took a lot of weight out of. We didn't overdesign this airplane, like the 707 is over-designed or the 767. I'm not ruling it out, but right now our focus is on commercial airplanes."
But moreover, the 787 has a composite fuselage. While industry has a very solid understanding of what happens when one cuts metal out of 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 dearly departed (to the Wall Street Journal that is...) colleague Jon Ostrower.