May 28, 2012
Credit: Credit: Boeing
Boeing is sharpening its focus to reduce risk on its hard-fought KC-46A refueler program by building several laboratories in Washington state.
The company completed a major review with the U.S. Air Force that validated the design for the KC-135 replacement; only minor modifications are needed to move forward. USAF Maj. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, program executive officer, says he is “pleased with the path the program is on.”
The design changes needed are an outgrowth of a lack of familiarity on the part of Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA), which builds the 767-2C baseline platform for the tanker, with how the military uses a refueler, Bogdan tells Aviation Week. Specifically, the design “could be improved a little bit” in its ability to carry out all three adjunct missions—passenger carriage, cargo hauling and aeromedical evacuation—at once while being “user-friendly,” he says.
The most significant design modification is needed to address concerns about the location of the six emergency litter stations fixed in the aircraft for transport of injured personnel. They are located at the back of the aircraft, and Bogdan says the Air Force wants them moved forward. The current location has various medical equipment—including hoses and tubes—protruding directly underneath a window that needs to be accessed by the crew to monitor the aircraft during flight.
Other examples of changes include the addition of privacy curtains in the crew rest area. And Boeing must redesign canvas smoke barriers required to separate passengers from cargo to be easily reconfigurable by a single crewmember in less than 2 hr.
In the meantime, Boeing is also ratcheting up its risk-reduction activities. Retiring risk is critical, as estimates suggest that up to $400 million of Boeing's own funds will be needed to enable the company to deliver the first 18 combat-ready aircraft in 2017. Last year, Boeing won the work over an EADS A330-based design. The estimated cost of developing and procuring 189 tankers is $51.7 billion.
As Boeing is projected to lose money in developing the aircraft, reaching the production phase is crucial to generate revenue for stockholders and, perhaps, garner international sales.