Posts Tagged ‘Boeing’

Tanker wars – finally over?

With last week’s announcement that Boeing has won the latest round of the KC-X tanker contract – the Air Force may finally be on its way to replacing the aging and overworked KC-135 fleet.

This contract has been up for debate for almost 10 years, when Boeing originally proposed to lease new 767-based tankers to the Air Force at what would be a dramatic markup over buying the aircraft outright. When the Congressional outrage and indictments died down, the Air Force had to start over, and the competition was between Boeing (US) and Airbus (Europe).

The original contract was awarded to a partnership of Northrup-Grumman and Airbus in 2008, but Boeing challenged that award and the GAO forced the bidding to be restarted in 2009.

Airbus said all of the right things. Their plan was to build their existing A330 Multi Role Tanker at a new plant outside of Mobile, AL. They were already building this same aircraft for Australia (even though there have been some hiccups in the testing – notably part of the refueling boom falling off during testing in Europe). But when the decision was announced, it turned out that Boeing had beat Airbus’ price by 10%. Which in today’s tough economic times, may have been the only thing considered.

The Air Force – in an attempt to derail any possible challenges to this latest ruling, spent an extra day debriefing Airbus on why the decision went the way it did. And so on Saturday, the word has come out that EADS (Airbus parent company) will not challenge the latest result in this contract battle.

[It should be noted, that the Boeing offering changed from what had originally been proposed back in 2001/2002, so the prototype that Boeing modified – dubbed the Frankentanker – will not be resurrected for use under the latest contract award]




Originally uploaded by Code20photog

I *think* I saw one of these yesterday afternoon.

I was waiting to board my return flight to Phoenix at Orlando (MCO), and I thought I saw one of these parked on the cargo ramp (the satcom hump on the top of the fuselage is the giveaway). Since boarding was about to start – and it was a full flight – I didn’t stop and get my camera out to snap even a crappy picture of it.

I actually had a window seat – so once I got seated I got my camera out and waiting for the plane to push back. Once we did – and I got a view of the cargo ramp – it was gone.

Let me explain a little about the E-6 Mercury. This is considered a strategic asset – in that it is responsible for relaying orders to the US Ballistic Missile Submarine fleet. Even though it is Boeing 707 airframe – it has a modern glass cockpit from the 737 next generation, and was only delivered to the Navy between 1989 and 1992.

There are 16 of these aircraft total – and at least one (and more likely two) are airborne at any time. So if you happen to see one of these outside of Offutt Air Force Base (in NE), stop what you are doing and take a picture of it.


Airborne Laser shoots and scores!

Last night – the US Air Force’s much maligned Airborne Laser project hit the jackpot with a successful in-flight engagement and destruction of a Scud-like ballistic missile shortly after it was launched.

In the video below, a timecode that could be used to evaluate how long the laser was on target before its destruction – is noticeably missing.

The Airborne Laser is a chemically charged laser mounted in a modified Boeing 747-400 Freighter. This was originally planned to go into Operational use, but due to cost and schedule overruns, (Defense) Secretary Gates decided last year to downgrade the project to a R&D project. Whether this successful test will change the Pentagon’s plans for this system – has yet to be seen.

It is unknown how long this test has been planned, but what is interesting is that the results of this test were publicized, while another successful test earlier this month was not (last sentence in press release). It is possible that publicizing this test was meant to show an uncooperative Middle East state that continued nuclear enrichment is not a good idea.


Once you sell a weapon – you lose control over it.

Harpoon – jet engine

Originally uploaded by rob-the-org

The BBC is reporting that the US is unhappy with Pakistan’s supposed modification of the Harpoon Anti-Ship missile (that Pakistan purchased from the US back in the 1980’s).

What have they supposedly done? Converted the anti-ship missile to a land attack missile, in violation of the US Arms Control Export Act

Its ironic that the US is complaining – in that the US Navy has already successfully adapted the Harpoon for land attack – and call it the SLAM-ER (Standoff Land Attack Missile – Expanded Response).

Just like a Gun Store owner selling a handgun to someone – the minute you sell it – you lose control over how it is used (or adapted). When these missile were originally sold to Pakistan 20+ years ago – the political/military situation was dramatically different in SW Asia than it is today.


US Navy Maritime Patrol enters the Jet Age

US Navy 167953

Originally uploaded by Drewski2112

While the British have been flying a jet powered maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) in the Nimrod’s for years now – the US Navy has finally started production of their own Jet MPA in the Boeing P-8 Poseidon.

Earlier this spring – the first test planes rolled out of Boeing’s Renton production facility, the same facility that the commercial/passenger carrying 737’s come out of (albeit a different building). The P-8 incorporates the body of the latest 737-800, w/ the wings from the 737-900 (the wings include ‘raked wingtips‘, instead more conventional winglets).

Once the testing of these new planes is completed – they will join an active duty squadron and the Navy’s current MPA – the Lockheed P-3 Orion – will head off to storage at the ‘Boneyard’ / Davis-Monthan AFB (outside of Tucson, AZ).

Where some Orion’s are already sealed up and waiting to be used in the future.

P-3 Orion's in Storage


Contract air to air refueling

While the Pentagon takes its sweet time to determine what is going to be done with the US Air Force tanker program – the US Navy has gone out and contracted with a private firm to provide aerial refueling for Navy training activities.

Omega Air Refueling operates 3 aircraft (two Boeing 707’s and one DC-10) in support of their contract with the government. This contract is just the flying hours of the aircraft. The responsible party (i.e. squadron) for the receiving aircraft is responsible for the cost of the actual fuel (and can use their government credit card – just as if they were buying fuel during a cross-country or TDY).

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So what’s going on with the Tanker buy?

The President’s first 100 days are over – and still no word on what is going to happen with one of the most watched Pentagon acquisition programs in years.

The Air Force tanker program (to replace the aging KC-135’s).

SecDef Robert Gates has said he opposes a ‘dual buy’ (some from Airbus and some from Boeing) option.

There isn’t a even a concrete ‘dual buy’ proposal on the table, only suggestions from some Senate subcommittee chairmen as a way to break the impasse. And even then – the actual committee chairmen have not yet decided other than to wait to see what the Pentagon proposes.

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JSF data breach – what will the impact be?

Earlier this week – it came to light that design specifications (computer files) for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)/F-35 Lightning II stored on a Pentagon contractor computer system – had been accessed and downloaded by hackers.

One story says that the contractor’s computers were compromised as early as 2007 – and the hackers continued to access these systems.

The thing about this story – is that it isn’t new. The original allegations that the program’s computers had been compromised was first run almost a year ago in May 2008. The contractor disputed the initial IG’s report with enough vigor that the IG withdrew the report last October.

It seems that Lockheed-Martin and BAE are downplaying the incident by saying that no “classified” data was compromised But if the attackers encrypted the data streams that were being removed – how can anyone be sure what exactly was or was not accessed.

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Boeing X-48B Blended Wing Body demonstrator


Originally uploaded by cherbro1

When I first blogged about the X-48 a year and a half ago – the radio controlled scale model had just taken its first flight.

This program hasn’t died yet – but its focus has changed. In a AvWeek article published on-line earlier this week – NASA now believes that the Hybrid Wing Body (HWB, its generic term for BWB shapes) is key to reaching its agressive environment targets (for both fuel economy and radiated noise).

Boeing’s Phantom Works has supposedly even talked to two large shipping companies (believed to be FedEx and UPS) about the BWB, causing internal problems with Boeing Commercial Airplanes (who normally handles cargo aircraft).

The US Air Force is still in the mix – looking for tanker/cargo aircraft with the best fuel efficiencies possible, which leads to……

NASA’s lead investigator said they are looking to partner w/ the Air Force Research Lab on a large scale structural demonstrator in the next couple of years. That would then lead to a manned flight demonstrator approximately the size of a 737.


Boeing E-4B – National Airborne Operations Center

With the change of Administration last month, the National Geographic Channel ran a special on Air Force One, calling it America’s Airborne Command Post.

Unfortunately – that statement was just PR. As the documentary showed (in a recap of the flight during 9/11), Air Force One is not a ‘command post’ per se. It is a VIP transport, with a very secure communications system.

[For more commentary about the NatGeo documentary – check out “In From the Cold”]

The ‘real’ Airborne Command Post is currently a set of four Boeing 747-200 aircraft that were modified/enhanced, and are currently designated by the US Air Force as E-4B’s.

The history of this program;

  • ordered – Feb 1973
  • first delivered – Dec 1974
  • fleet upgraded to E-4B standard – 1985
  • Expected to continue in service to 2015

The E-4B modification consisted of EMP hardening of the aircraft electronics and systems, and replacing the original engine’s.

The four airplanes are based at Offut AFB in Nebraska, and will rotate through Andrews AFB (outside of Washington DC) and Wright Patterson AFB (Dayton, OH). Since the US no longer keeps the bomber force on alert – the E-4’s are one of the few aircraft that are maintained on a 24-hour alert status.

During the attacks on 9/11 – people had reported seeing a large, 4 engine plane overflying Washington, DC and this turned out to be an E-4B, even though the DOD never admitted it was theirs. According to later reports – there was an E-4B at Andrews AFB, participating in Exercise “Global Guardian” that was cancelled when the first plane hit the World Trade Center (and the E-4B was sent airborne).


Breaking – Airbus will not bid on new Air Force One contract

According to an Exclusive post over on Ares (AvWeek milblog) – an Airbus spokesman in Washington has said they do not plan on bidding on the replacement for the current Boeing 747-200 versions of Air Force One (VC-25).

Many had expected Airbus to propose their A380 superjumbo for the size and range requirements outlined in the Air Force RFI.


[UPDATE] And you thought the Air Force Tanker was a heated debate….

Then get ready for the competition between Boeing and Airbus over building the new Air Force One.

It will be an interesting showdown between the Boeing 747-800 (Intercontinental) vs the Airbus A380.

No matter who wins – I am sure that the interior will be installed by a ‘trusted’ contractor – so that there is no repeat of the bug issue on the Chinese President’s Boeing 767.

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Japanese KC-767 damaged

According to the DEW Line blog over at FlightGlobal – one of the two 767 airborne tankers delivered to the JASDF was damaged during an emergency landing earlier today.

DEW Line has link to Japanese statement – and someone’s attempt to translate the statement to English.


Boeing EA-18G Growler

The EA-18G Growler is being developed as the replacement for the EA-6B Prowler. The three Electronic Warfare Officers (EWO) on the EA-6 are being replaced by a single EWO (and lots of electronics) on the EA-18.

The only clue that this isn’t a normal Super Hornet – is the fact that the wingtips don’t have the normal Sidewinder load. Instead this is where the EW pods/antennas are mounted.


Tanker follies – continue into the New Year/Administration

KC-767 Tanker Aircraft

Originally uploaded by planephotoman

The Pentagon has announced that the controversial bidding for the new Tanker aircraft – won’t start again until after the New Year (i.e. after the Election).

Which will give Boeing a chance to redo their proposal to be based on the 777 instead of the 767 (since the USAF seems to prefer a large airplane).

Boeing needs all of the help they can get right now. Not only are they in the middle of what will probably turn into a bitter strike with their Machinists Union – but they just announced that the delivery of the 767 tankers to Italy will slip to 2009.


Why is the Tanker contract such a big deal?

KC135 refueling EC135

Originally uploaded by rob-the-org

Unless you have been hiding under a rock or completely oblivious to Defense mattters, you know that the GAO overturned the landmark KC-X aerial refueling (tanker) contract that the US Air Force awarded to the Northrup-Grumman/EADS (Airbus) team.


The Air Force has needed to replace the KC-135 (based on the original Boeing 707 prototype) for the last 10 years. But the controversy around this contract was thrown into the spotlight right after 9/11 (2001).

Boeing proposed a lease of converted 767’s to the US Air Force at a reduced rate (Boeing would benefit by keeping its 767 production line open, and the Air Force would get needed planes). But the scrutiny of this deal – by none other than Republican Presidential contender, John McCain – killed this deal, and resulted in the resignations/indictments of several Air Force and Boeing officals.

When the Air Force was forced to put the contract out for bid, there was a surprise bidder. EADS (Airbus) in partnership w/ Northrup-Grumman. Initially – no one thought NGA had a chance.

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Mystery revealed

F-22 Flying test bed

OK I have to admit that I have been underwhelmed by the response to this post. This is a one of a kind aircraft and while it isn’t quite a ‘black’ project – the fact that it exists indicates how evolutionary this project is.

The challenge was;

  • Whose plane is it?
  • What is used for?
  • What is the original airframe?
  • Where is this plane based?

The answers;

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