As part of efforts to clarify its stalled US Air Force KC-767A tanker proposal, Boeing has ruled out a 7E7-based alternative. It is also seeking to set the record straight over what it sees as a series of mis-representations and myths that have ensnared the tanker programme since it ran into trouble last year.
The company lost the $1.5 billion Australian tanker/transport deal to EADS in April largely as a direct result of the US government's suspension of its $18 billion plan to lease and sell 100 KC-767As to the USAF, and has also been forced to lay off or redeploy design staff in Wichita and Puget Sound to curb further spending on the effort, which has already cost it over $300 million. Now, with the first "green" 767-200 less than 60 days from roll-out at Everett, the programme is on ice pending further government scrutiny and the conclusion of criminal investigations into former air force and Boeing executive Darleen Druyun and others involved in the affair.
The 7E7 is unsuitable for the tanker role, at least in its initial form, because of the "point-to-point" optimisation of its design, says Boeing Air Force Systems senior vice-president and general manager George Muellner. "The issue is not composites but its configuration," says Muellner, who adds that the 7E7's projected efficiency is derived from a low-weight, high aspect-ratio design that does not adapt well to the rigours of tanker duties.
Muellner adds that the 767-based tanker is the "right size" for the USAF and that criticism over the inability of the initial batch to refuel more than one aircraft simultaneously is unwarranted "because the air force elected not to field that in the first group of aircraft".
Rebutting criticism over the expense of the leasing concept, Muellner says "Boeing didn't invent the leasing idea - Congress did. They invented it as a way of getting aircraft on to the ramp quicker. Leasing is more expensive than buying - sure."
Boeing suggests that the investigation into Druyun's involvement should not directly influence the outcome of the suspended tanker deal as "the reality is that all the negotiations over this (the 80-lease, 20-buy contract) happened after she left the air force," says Muellner. It was under Druyun, however, that the air force earlier rejected the EADS promoted Airbus A330 tanker in favour of the Boeing option.
GUY NORRIS / LOS ANGELES
Source: Flight International