Boeing tanker plane on track for July review

Tue May 28, 2013 11:32pm EDT
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Boeing program for an aerial tanker that will refuel other warplanes mid-flight is nearly ready for a major design review likely to occur in July, a U.S. Air Force official told Reuters last week.

The review will pave the way for production of the first planes in the $52 billion KC-46 tanker program, which is based on Boeing's commercial 767 airplane.

Major General John Thompson, a former top official with the F-35 fighter program who now oversees Air Force tankers, said in an interview that the KC-46 was in "a really good place" despite mandatory funding cuts and civilian furloughs expected later this summer.

Boeing is set to deliver the first 18 of 179 new planes to the Air Force by 2017, allowing it to start replacing the current fleet of 50-year-old KC-135 tankers.

The tanker program, one of the Pentagon's biggest weapons programs, has been closely scrutinized after a decade-long contest between Boeing and European rival Airbus, and an ethics scandal that sent two former Boeing officials to prison in 2005.

Thompson said the program was staying on track because Congress and the Air Force had given it sufficient funding and maintained stable requirements. Boeing was also meeting its targets under the program's fixed-price contract.

Strict oversight by top Air Force leaders and the rigorous process used to work out the development contract with Boeing has helped ensure success, said Thompson.

He noted that a tightly written contract and the need to get the approval of top leaders had dampened requests for the kinds of design changes that had triggered delays and cost increases on other programs in the past.   Continued...

The Boeing logo is seen at their headquarters in Chicago, April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young