Holding Patterns

Boeing and Northrop Grumman are using the international venue of the Farnborough air show outside London this week to convey their messages looking ahead for the KC-X tanker program. Yesterday Ronald Sugar and Louis Gallois, the CEOs of Northrop and EADS, respectively, reaffirmed their commitment to provide the Air Force with “the most capable aerial refueling tanker in the world.” In a statement, they applauded DOD’s decision to complete the forthcoming recompetition expeditiously and said they are prepared “to respond quickly” to the amended request for proposal, which is expected later this month or in early August. In a separate statement issued July 14, Northrop emphasized the readiness of its tanker team to move out quickly, noting that two of the four KC-30s that would be used as test aircraft for the KC-X program are already built and that all four would be available for initial flight testing by the end of 2009. Meanwhile, Boeing’s Chief Executive Jim McNerney said Monday that the company intends to stick with the KC-767 tanker model as opposed to its larger KC-777 concept, the Wall Street Journal reported July 15 (registration required). However, McNerney said the company may seek to slow the process if the revised solicitation favors a larger-sized platform. The KC-767 is smaller than the KC-30; while the KC-777 is larger than the KC-30, Boeing has never built a 777-based tanker before, thereby upping the developmental risk if it opted for this. Jim Albaugh, head of Boeing’s defense sector, acknowledged this point July 14 at the air show, saying, “I don’t think we’d want to say you should kill the idea, but certainly we’d be challenged on time,” the Mobile (Ala.) Press-Register reported. However, he added, “There’s nothing we have seen that would indicate we don’t have the right airplane in the 767.”