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A year later, Boeing tanker on track, Air Force says

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By Michelle Dunlop
Herald Writer
Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
  • A Boeing KC-46 Tanker prepares to refuel a B-1B bomber in flight in this tanker illustration. Boeing won the U.S. Air Force tanker contract one year.

    The Boeing Co.

    A Boeing KC-46 Tanker prepares to refuel a B-1B bomber in flight in this tanker illustration. Boeing won the U.S. Air Force tanker contract one year.

The Boeing Co. marked the first anniversary Friday of its tanker contract with the U.S. Air Force, noting key milestones from the past year.
The Air Force selected Boeing's 767-based aerial-refueling tanker for a deal valued at up to $35 billion on Feb. 24, 2011. Boeing will supply the Air Force with 179 tankers, which will be built in Everett. The Air Force has dubbed Boeing's tanker the KC-46A.
The tanker program "is on a good path," Maj. Gen. Chris Bogdan, KC-46 Program executive officer for the Air Force, said in a statement. "I'm pleased to report that Boeing is meeting its commitments."
Over the past year, Boeing has completed several design and development phase milestones. The company is preparing for a preliminary design review by the Air Force in March. The review will ensure that Boeing's design meets requirements.
"We're drawing on the best of Boeing's industry-leading commercial airplane and defense expertise as we design and develop the KC-46A," Maureen Dougherty, Boeing KC-46 Tanker program manager, said in a statement Feb. 24. "We remain on plan to deliver the first 18 combat-ready tankers by 2017."
Following Boeing's review in March, the company will undergo another, called a critical design review, with the Air Force, in the third quarter of this year. That review will determine whether Boeing's KC-46A design is ready to move to the manufacturing stage.
The past year hasn't been one without controversy for the tanker program.
Last March, Boeing made it clear it would stick closely to the design the Air Force accepted, meaning the company wouldn't add extras to help the tanker perform better. That also meant the KC-46A tanker won't have fuel-saving winglets, which Boeing had displayed in its 767-based tanker drawings prior to winning the contract.
Boeing's bid for the initial batch of tankers also has caused a stir in the past year. The aerospace company sacrificed profit margin on the early run of tankers to land the deal. Boeing's competitor for the contract, Europe's EADS, had questioned the Chicago-based company's "low-ball" bid but opted not to protest the Air Force's choice. Had EADS, the parent of Airbus, won the contract, it would have built tankers in Alabama.
Also in the past year, Boeing decided to shutter a Wichita, Kan., facility. When Boeing won the tanker contract, Kansas had expected it could see as many as 7,500 jobs. Workers in Wichita had installed military equipment on Boeing tankers that went to Japan and Italy in recent years.
Boeing has continued efforts to speed the commercial 767 line in Everett. In the months leading up to the Air Force's decision, Boeing reconfigured the Everett factory, making the 767 area smaller but expecting it to produce at a faster pace.
The 767 also got a boost last December, when Boeing inked a deal with FedEx for 27 767 freighters. That order for commercial jets should keep Boeing's production line in Everett busy until tanker work begins in earnest.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she's pleased that Boeing is meeting the Air Force's schedule. The Pentagon's pick of Boeing's tanker was "major victory for Washington state's aerospace workers who have shown us -- time and time again -- they have the skills and know-how to deliver world-class products for our men and women in uniform," she said.
Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3453; mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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