Boeing 767-based KC-X tanker proposal for USAF is kept under wraps, but hints of 'unique features'

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Boeing stays tight-lipped on 767-based tanker configuration for USAF contest, but there will be 'unique features'

Boeing is revealing few details of its proposed 767-based tanker configuration for the US Air Force's KC-X contest, partly for competitive reasons and partly because the aircraft is still in the product development phase.

The aircraft, which will be proposed for the USAF's nearer-term tranche of 179 aircraft to replace the earliest KC-135s, is to be based on a sub-model of the 767 dubbed the -200LRXF (long- range freighter).

 
© Boeing   
Boeing hopes to fare better with its latest design, having shouldered heavy losses with the -200C manufactured for the USAF's original contest

Unlike the current KC-767 versions being built for Italy and Japan - both of which are based on the modified 767-200ER with some -300/400ER features - the USAF version is being developed with additional features.

"We can't disclose those attributes at this time, but we can say that they are important in providing the capability the USAF has stipulated," says the company.

Boeing adds that "each customer for a 767-based tanker has different mission profiles. In the case of the tanker for the US Air Force, advances will be in the areas of the flightdeck, avionics, mission equipment and engines. Boeing believes the company can best meet the specific requirements of the RFP by also looking at some of the other attributes the 767-200 LRXF has to offer."

It does confirm that the flightdeck will be based on the 777. However, the original Boeing KC-767A proposal made to the USAF under the aborted lease programme included the LCD flightdeck of the 767-400ER, which itself closely resembled that of the larger twinjet.

Structurally, the -200LRXF is expected to borrow heavily from the design of the -200C, the company-funded prototype of what was to be the original USAF KC-767A. In January 2005, Boeing announced losses of around $275 million associated with the production and storage of the sole -200C airframe, following the freezing of the planned lease deal in late 2003.

Other than the -400ER flightdeck, the -200C at the time was to have incorporated the stretched version's heavier gauge flaps, strengthened main landing gear and several system adaptations including engine and auxiliary power unit-mounted 120kVA integrated drive generators.

New contest openss up field for engine manufacturers

The KC-X contest has reopened the engine selection for the KC-767. In March 2004, Boeing originally selected Pratt & Whitney as the "baseline engine source for 767 Global Tanker Transport Aircraft Programs" and the airframer said the PW4062 engine "will be the standard production engine offering for all future 767 Tanker Programs, both domestic and international".

However, the new contest will pit P&W against General Electric's CF6-80C2 for the KC-767, while P&W, GE and Rolls-Royce are all expected to compete for the Northrop Grumman-led KC-30 option. It is believed that the US Air Force is still to decide whether to purchase engines separately, or allow the winning airframer to supply the propulsion system as part of the overall package.

USAF wants more from tank

The US Air Force has made it clear that it expects more tactical and strategic capability from its KC-135 replacement than simply tanking.

USAF Air Mobility Command commander Gen Duncan McNabb says: "We will always think 'tanker' first, but if it is sitting on the ground then it can be used for other things. There will be an expandable net-ready backbone in the aircraft."

Referring to the fact the KC-135 has to stay out of range of potential threats, he says the defensive system "will allow us to put the KC-X over the fight, and reduce the target-to-tanker range. It will have RF threat awareness, LAIRCM etc and will be able to move if a threat comes up."

USAF chief of staff Gen Michael Moseley cautions, however, that tanking remains the main priority. "We want to get iron on the ramp, and set minimum requirements to get the aircraft. We see big things in the future, but not yet, as we don't want to drive up the average unit cost."