August 2012

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The 767-400ER Tanker Conundrum

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767tankercomparison.jpg With the final re-bid tanker proposals from Boeing and Northrop Grumman/EADS expected later this fall, speculation abounds that Boeing is considering offering the larger 767-400ER in place of the 767-200ERX.

The FlightBlogger art department decided to peek into the looking glass and see what a 767-400ER tanker (KC-764) would actually look like. The point of the (extremely rough) diagram is to illustrate one of the key challenges a 767-400ER platform would face. The -400ER is 42.3 feet longer than the -200ERX. The takeoff run -400ER at MTOW would be significantly longer than the -200ERX and with the addition of the refueling boom, the rotation angle could be a significant factor as well. I've (roughly) estimated that the 767-200ER would have 7.5 degree rotation angle before tail strike, but the 767-400ER would only have 4 degrees nose-up before striking the tail on the runway.

Though, Boeing has already proven itself adept at compensating for this by adding tail strike protection into the 777-300ER, reducing the aircraft's take off roll by 600 feet.

According to our friends at Leeham, "The Amended [Draft Request For Proposals] now ranks runway performance as a "3" in importance (on a scale of 1 to 3, with one being most important)." So, it may be a moot point when it's all said and done.

767ATcockpit.jpgThe original KC-767 was set to have the -400ER (777-style) flight deck, so right out of the box Boeing is able to deliver an enhanced flight deck to the USAF.

So why not choose the 767-400ER all along?

Boeing made the claim that the footprint of the tanker was key to basing flexibility. More importantly, Boeing followed the original terms of the RFP, which said it wouldn't give extra credit for a larger tanker, whereas Northrop/EADS went beyond by giving "more" to the USAF.

Looking at this through a commercial lens for a moment, the 767-200ERX was to be the platform for which the KC-767 was born from. Boeing was able to immediately turn that product into a commercial application to avoid the necessity of an ITAR waiver. They wouldn't have been able to do it as easily if the KC-767 was first.

With that inspiration in mind, the -200ERX was to live its life as a freighter in the 767-200LRF, bolstering the 767 line beyond one tanker per month. If Boeing was to round out its freighter family, then making a 767-400ER freighter, which would've been the foundation for the KC-764, Boeing would've stepped on the toes of the 777F, hardly a good product strategy.

If Boeing offers the 767-400ER, what might EADS and Northrop do? Instead of using the A330-200, the NG/EADS team might offer the A330-200F. What's the benefit? Currently, NG/EADS has to convert every A330-200 to a freighter/tanker configuration from a passenger aircraft. Switching to the A330-200F, which wasn't around when the A330-200 was first offered to the USAF, saves sizable time and cost in production. In 2007, Northrop said that it would "inevitably" switch to the A330-200F anyway; a claim Northrop later backed away from, but never denied saying it.
Also, the A330-200 is fitted with twin General Electric CF6 engines, though if the A330-200F is offered, NG/EADS will likely switch to Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines that are only available along with Rolls Royce Trent 700. NG/EADS won't be offering non-US built engines.

With PW4000 engines on both Boeing and Airbus tankers, does this increase the chances of a split buy?

Wait, I've gone cross-eyed. This tanker makes my head hurt.

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