Tanker face off at Farnborough
Boeing and EADS held tanker briefings this week–Monday for Boeing, Tuesday for EADS.
Boeing offered up top program officials while EADS offered up two American crewmen from its test flight program, a pilot and a boom operator. Boeing’s briefing was a standard presentation followed by Q&A; most of the briefing was taken up by the formal presentation.
EADS was an interactive briefing with reporters after a few brief remarks, with nearly the entire session devoted to Q&A.
Chuck Johnson, with the mouthful title of VP of Mobility, C3/Networks & Support Systems and Government Operations, provided the briefing.
Video and information is available at United States Tanker, the Boeing website for the KC-767.
Johnson started by going through an overview of the procurement process and, mercifully, only one slide about the WTO dispute and the relationship to the tanker bid. (Longtime readers o this column know that we believe both sides sinned and the WTO dispute has no place in the tanker competition.)
Then Johnson got to the meat of Boeing’s argument about why its KC-767 proposal should win. While of course touching on the themes of combat ready, long-time experience and better flight control system, the greatest emphasis came down to size matters and operational cost.
In these, Boeing has effective and compelling arguments (though ones EADS still disputes) because this round of competition was crafted by the Air Force to be a replacement for the Boeing KC-135 rathern than a modernization of the tanker refueling fleet with greater cargo and troop carrying capabilities.
As in the 2008 competition, Boeing displayed effective slides dramatically showing the size differences between the KC-135, KC-767 and EADS’ KC-45, and there is just no getting around the fact the KC-45 is much larger physically than the airplane to be replaced. And “replaced,” as we noted above, is the key word.
Boeing’s Johnson then shifted to the theme of cost. Boeing, as in 2008, continues to press home the lower fuel burn by the KC-767 over the KC-45–a figure of 24%, by calculation of the outside consultant hired by Boeing in 2008 to assess the numbers. Although Northrop Grumman, when it was the prime contractor bidder in 2008, made a weak attempt to refute this figure, EADS so far is ignoring the issue other than a hand-waving dismissal that Boeing is wrong and EADS won’t play in Boeing’s sandbox on this point.
Since the Air Force runs its own analysis, officials will make their own determination. But Boeing’s campaign on this point (and others) isn’t aimed at the Air Force, it’s aimed at Congress where the money for the tanker is appropriated, and EADS so far is forfeiting this game. At its peril, we think. Boeing is hammering home the fuel burn issue effectively in the absence of any rebuttal.
A few more details were discussed, but go to Boeing’s tanker site for this.
While EADS is foregoing rebuttal on fuel, offering up a boomer operator and a pilot from the KC-30A RAAF flight test program was a brilliant move and served as a rebuttal to several of Boeing’s previously stated assertions about the superiority of the KC-767 flight control system and maneuverability compared with the KC-45.
Pilot Scott Johnson was a military pilot for 28 years, including eight as pilot-in-command of the KC-10. He’s also flown the KC-135 and is now commanding the KC-30A, which EADS says is about 90% identical to the requirements of the USAF RFP. The basic plane, of course, is identical.
Pete Arbaulders has 26 years in the USAF, all as a boom operator on KC-135s, KC-10s and now the KC-30A.
There were a few slides but since this was an interactive format, as far as we can tell no presentation material has been posted on the EADS tanker site, KC-45 Now.
EADS’ Johnson, in response to questions, refuted Boeing’s assertions that the KC-45′s fly-by-wire and flight envelope systems are detriments to the pilots compared with the manual flight control system of the KC-767. Johnson said he has performed break-away maneuvers, both in simulated emergencies and five or six times during testing when the boom operator called for actual break-aways.
“The[other] airplane got smaller, that’s all I cared about,” Abraulders said somewhat light-heartedly, the point being criticism leveled at the KC-45 in this regard is in his view unfounded.
Pilot Johnson said he’s performed break-aways in the KC-135, KC-10 and the KC-30 and the latter performs better than the other two.
Johnson also praised the fly-by-wire system as more stable during refueling operations and refuted the flight maneuverability assertions by Boeing.
“I don’t see the argument,” he said. “This is certainly sufficient to perform the maneuvers. The flight control protection laws are a fantastic thing to have. I don’t see any difference in maneuverability.”
He noted that the fly-by-wire system is the same technology on the Boeing C-17.
All-in-all, having the two test crew was highly effective. Boeing so far is pounding the stuffing out of EADS on operating cost and size, but EADS won this face off in our opinion by having the crew available for an unconstrained interactive briefing.
We’ve asked some follow-up questions to Boeing and are awaiting these responses.