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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fedex and Frankentankers

Boeing says that, despite the recent award of the long-awaited U.S. Air Force KC-X tanker contract, they have no “known” plans to re-activate the hybrid KC-767 prototype airframe built seven years ago in advance of the company’s initial failed lease-buy tanker plan.
The program, killed by Congress in October 2004 following the well-known procurement scandals involving high level Boeing and Air Force officials, prompted a double re-run of the contest which ultimately resulted in Boeing’s recent victory with the KC-46A. Before the effort died, however, Boeing spent its own dollars building a prototype that incorporated the baseline features of what was the KC-767A including a standard length -200 fuselage with strengthened floor and added main deck cargo door, -300ER strengthened wings and a flightdeck provisioned for the layout and displays of the -400ER cockpit.
Although it is unclear if the flightdeck was ever fitted out, the basic airframe (dubbed Frankentanker for obvious reasons) has remained stored and engineless at Everett ever since. In its more recent proposals, ending with the victorious KC-46A bid, Boeing has moved further and further away from the original variant, with changes reflecting features of later 767-200LRF long-range freighter configurations, and in its latest form, flight deck avionics derived from those of the 787.

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Frankentanker at Paine Field. (Joe Walker)  

Boeing admitted in 2005 that after recouping the scrap value along, its net loss on building the aircraft would have been $54 million. According to figures in that year’s annual report, Boeing said development expenses incurred in producing the prototype brought the total loss to $275 million.
A happier fate finally befell another 767 military prototype orphaned after the cancellation of Northrop Grumman’s E-10 MC2A program to succeed the E-2, E-8 Joint STARS and RC-135. The prototype, based on a 767-400ER, was sold to Bahrain as a VIP transport in January 2009 and finally delivered to a refurbishment center in Hamburg in January 2011.

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One that got away. Former E-10 prototype finally left Paine Field in Jan 2011, two years after being sold to the government of Bahrain.

..and talking of 767-400s, Flightblogger reports that Boeing and FedEx Express may be studying a freighter variant of the 767-400ER as a long term replacement for the carrier’s MD-10 fleet, and providing a production bridge until the start of series production of the KC-46A tanker variant for the U.S. Air Force. Boeing currently holds orders for 49 un-built 767s, of which 24 are 767-300ERs and 25 767-300Fs, and does not plan to start assembly of the first KC-46A until 2014.

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