Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tanks For The Memories

Rumor has it that a decision may be announced as early as tomorrow on one of aviation's longest running soap operas. For the three guys who've been hanging out in Labrador for the last ten years or so, it is, of course, the decision on who's going to build and equip the United States Air Force with a new generation of aerial refueling vehicles. Flying gas stations, if you will.

The present fleet of KC135s is long in the tooth and has been slated for replacement for years. Initially, the idea was to reengine them with CFM56 engines and it is said that 410 of them were so modernized. Numerous others were upgrated from the original J57 engines to JT3D engines that were scrounged from civilian B707s on their way to the scrapheap, a couple of which are the beauties in the pictures which I took back around 1980 at Davis Monthan AFB.
The soap opera really got started when Boeing had an order for a tanker version of the B767 in hand a few years back. The deal was they'd lease the aircraft to the Air Force and everyone would live happily ever after. That went in the crapper along with some careers and the odd prison sentence for various high crimes and misdemeanors but nevermind.
The contract was again let for bids, only this time there was a competitor in the form of the Airbus A330, suitably modified for the role and having some extra cargo hauling capability. There's a plan afoot to actually "build" these aircraft in Mobile, Alabama, but some folks think that this operation would more likely be putting paint jobs and decals on airplanes fresh from the A330 line.
Of course that's not what they say right now, but when you factor in the cost savings to be attained by letting the rivet bashers and tank rats at Airbus do what they do best, fitting the green aircraft with ferry packs and flying them to Alabama to be "assembled"...well, you get my drift. The "american made" label on the KC 30 project makes this something of a Potemkin village that will leave most three year old toddlers shaking their little heads in dismay.
I think this one's too close to call. The Malaysian Sun has called this one for the KC30 although that seems a stretch.


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