Interrogative Texaco

More than a few years ago while at 20,000 in the middle of the Med I finished a fuel check and told my trusty nose-gunner, Jim “Rev” Jones “We’re fat on gas…2k above ladder”. Rev, who cut his early cruise teeth in F-4 Phantoms off USS Midway, said “You’re never fat on gas”.
After that quick tutorial on fighters and airborne gas, let’s look at some news that has come out regarding the status of the US Air Force Tanker question.
First, airborne tanking is a vital element to our power projection capability. Aside from being a significant force multiplier, in many cases it is a required element for mission success. Navy aircraft, even when carriers can be positioned offshore of the vast majority of hot spots around the world, need fuel to extend missions and provide that margin for error needed when returning to your postage stamp of a landing field. Air Force aircraft, even when launching from land bases or in the fulfillment of their “global reach” tenet, often times have significant distances to fly and loiter requirements. Add in the “time sensitive strike” capability that is vital in this asymmetric battlespace and airborne fuel is essential to mission success.
EADS North America, the branch of the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company that is on our side of the pond, is making an aggressive move in the competition to be the US Air Force next tanker fleet with a report late last week that they have selected Bridgeport, West Virginia (no idea if Robert Byrd was included in site negotiations there) as the location for a new aerial refueling center of excellence, IF Northrop Grumman KC-30 Tanker is selected as the U.S. Air Forces next generation aerial refueling aircraft.
I say an aggressive move because the hurdles are high for Northrop Grumman in this situation given the fact that their KC-30 aircraft is based on KC30_F18s_Still.jpgthe Airbus A330 airliner, currently under delivery to the Royal Australian Air Force and, according to the aforementioned web site is the U.K. government’s preferred bidder for its Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft requirement. One BIG plus in the KC-30’s favor would be the fact that the aircraft would be converted to the tanker role in Mobile, Alabama.
The competition in this deal is the Boeing KC-767A, kc-767a.jpgcurrently under production/delivery contract to the air forces of Italy and Japan.
Interestingly, both EADS and Boeing have agreements with Sargent Fletcher, Inc., of El Monte, Calif. to provide tanking hardware for their systems. Talk about cornering the market on airborne refueling equipment.
As a former fighter guy, pulling up to a KC-767 or a KC-30 matters little – as long as there is gas to pass. The details of which company or which aircraft is selected to fulfill the Air Force’s is better left to bean counters and pencil-necked GS-types/contractors in the Pentagon. We need something to replace the increasingly aging fleet of KC-135 and KC-10 aircraft, however, and either of these new systems will suffice nicely.

EADS North America and Cobham Select
Bridgeport, West Virginia for an Aerial Refueling Center of Excellence
Charleston, West Virginia; Arlington, Virginia, October 19, 2007
Bridgeport, West Virginia has been selected as the site for a new aerial refueling center of excellence that will provide key components for the Northrop Grumman KC-30 Tanker. The new facility will produce and support EADS advanced Aerial Refueling Boom System and Cobhams under-wing hose and drogue refueling system, developed with its U.S. subsidiary, Sargent Fletcher. The announcement was made by West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin at a press conference held in the State Capitol building.
The production site, chosen after an evaluation that considered locations in several states, will be established if the Northrop Grumman KC-30 Tanker is selected as the U.S. Air Forces next generation aerial refueling aircraft. The facility will employ at least 100 skilled workers, and is to co-locate the production operations of EADS North America and Sargent Fletcher into two adjacent facilities at Harrison Countys North Central West Virginia Regional Airport.
EADS North America will supply the KC-30 Tankers fly-by-wire Aerial Refueling Boom System from a new 32,000 sq. ft. production site, while Sargent Fletcher is to build the aircrafts two digital underwing hose and drogue pods at an adjacent 25,000 sq. ft. facility.
We examined a number of sites across the country and chose Bridgeport because it offers a solid combination of location, community support and skilled workforce necessary to execute this critical national security program, said EADS North America Chairman and CEO Ralph D. Crosby, Jr. In particular, Governor Manchin and the West Virginia congressional delegation have a demonstrated record of support for industry. This investment decision – along with our previous selection of Mobile, Alabama as the potential site of the KC-30 Tanker final assembly facility – reflects EADS firm commitment to create jobs and insource advanced critical technologies into the United States.
EADS North Americas Aerial Refueling Boom System (ARBS) is the most capable in-flight refueling system available today. Its fly-by-wire design features enhanced controllability and incorporates an automatic load alleviation system, which greatly aids the boom operator and the receiver aircrafts pilot during refueling operations.

Sargent Fletcher is the leader in the military hose and drogue refueling industry. All under-wing pods presently used by the U.S. Department of Defense are Sargent Fletcher products, and the company is the worlds only producer of an FAA-certified under-wing refueling pod.
Although the Air Force has not completed selection of the contractor to build the new refueling aircraft, EADS and Sargent Fletchers commitment to West Virginia reaffirms that we are making great progress in attracting world-class companies to the Mountain State, West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin said. These would be good-paying jobs with benefits, and it would open the door to additional aerospace and defense contractor opportunities. If finalized, this new aerial refueling center of excellence will be an important addition to our growing aerospace and high-technology industries.
The EADS advanced aerial boom which is 40 ft. long and weighs approximately 2.5 tons is already present on the first of five KC-30B Multi-role Tanker/Transport aircraft that EADS is supplying to the Royal Australian Air Force. With the capacity to offload up to 1,200 gallons of fuel per minute, the ARBS is easily adaptable to future mission requirements, including the refueling of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Sargent Fletcher will supply the Northrop Grumman KC-30s two FRL 905E-series hose and drogue refueling pods, which are the most modern in service today. These all-digital electric pods carry their own power system and can offload approximately 420 gallons of fuel per minute. Fitted with 90-ft. long hoses, they are designed for use with probe-equipped receiver aircraft, and are mounted on pre-existing outboard wing structures under the KC-30 Tankers wings. A Sargent Fletcher fuselage refueling unit, which utilizes the hose and drogue system as well, also will be part of the KC-30s refueling capability. It is located within the aircraft fuselage, near the boom and can be utilized to refuel probe-equipped U.S. Navy/Marine aircraft, along with those of allied forces.
I congratulate our KC-30 Tanker team partners, EADS North America and Sargent Fletcher, on their selection of West Virginia., said Paul Meyer, Northrop Grumman vice president and general manager of the KC-30 program. This industrial announcement is strong evidence of the KC-30 Teams focus on risk reduction, economic expansion in America and commitment to be a catalyst for the creation of new centers of aerospace excellence nationwide.
In addition to ARBS assembly activities for the U.S. Air Force KC-30 Tankers, EADS North Americas West Virginia facility also will provide long-term support and maintenance for the boom on in-service aircraft. EADS North America has significantly expanded its U.S. industrial footprint since the companys creation in 2003. New locations include the rapidly-expanding helicopter center of its American Eurocopter business unit at Mississippis Golden Triangle Region (which is producing UH-72A Lakota helicopters for the U.S. Army, along with other rotary-wing aircraft for homeland security missions); EADS CASA North Americas Mobile, Alabama customer support and training center, which will support the U.S. Coast Guards new HC-144A maritime patrol aircraft; and a facility in Russellville, Arkansas for EADS North Americas Integrated Shelter System operation.

Pinch Paisley

  • Mark Pyruz

    KC’s and Phantoms. I recall the KC 707-3J9C / F-14A combo in service with the Imperial Iranian Air Force. The Iranian tankers were equipped with Beech 1800 refuelling pods, which included an air driven pump, a hose reel and droque basket. Added to that, Iranian KC’s could carry special hose and droque adapters on the tanker’s refuelling booms. Sound familiar? Big news back then, old news now. Still, it performed well for the IRIAF throughout the Iran-Iraq War, allowing Tomcats the ability to chase down MiG-25’s, as well as remaining on CAP stations for over 12 hours at a time.

  • Roy Smith

    Sen. McCain was bragging on Fox News how he sent people to jail over trying to buy a new tanker.I read somewhere that there was a possibility of making a Boeing 777 into a tanker & that it was supposed to be bigger than the 767. I guess they could make an airship(blimp/zeppelin) into a tanker,but it would be absurd to expect a supersonic jet to slow down that much for a refill,at least I suppose so.As far as Mccain goes,is he also going to send people to jail for choosing a Chinook over the H-92 Superhawk or US101 helicopters? I wish he’d send people to jail for the MRAP fiasco,that is if he REALLY cared about the troops.

  • 22lr

    Id say give the contract to Boeing. Look how long those airplanes last, heck the KC135 is still around and flying. I just don’t think Airbus has earned my respect yet. But that is just me, im sure Airbus is good, but I don’t see how anything can be as good as Boeing. Besides it doesn’t hurt to buy American.

  • Pinch

    You caught the underlying gist of my opening comments. Even having the final assembly in Mobile doesn’t take much away from the fact that Airbus is a French-led consortium and buying those 330’s would be a second slap in the face of American aerospace, along with the AgustaWestland/Lockheed Martin VH-7, the new Presidential helicopter.

  • Solomon

    Auburn was LSU Tiger bait and the idea of buying A330’s sucks too. Follow the money (I know everyone has already hit on this) but I find it IRONIC that the Europeans refuse to purchase Boeing aircraft that are as good and cheaper, yet there appears to be a rush to field as many aircraft from EADS as possible! If this thing is about making friends then it would probably be better to buy small arms from Singapore, Cruisers from Australia and Satellites from Japan than sending one dollar more to the European Union.

  • Pinch

    Nice dig on the game there, pal! One in a million catch – gotta hand it to Miles and the Bayou boys. Ballsy move. AU had great coverage, as well, on that pass.
    I agree with your comment. The subsidies that pour into Airbus are by and large the main discriminator between the aircraft. Going with Boeing would be my vote.

  • SMSgt Mac

    I am on record many times as NOT being an Airbus fan for a lot of reasons–most importantly they do not have a true aviation mindset and culture. I also believe as lead contractor, Northrop Grumman (disclosure: my employer) and AF contract management can do for the KC-30 what the AF did with the KC-10,which in early DC-10 guise was a problem-riddled beast. Taxpayer dollars helped make the later DC-10 a great product (the GE CF-34 engine is another example of taxpayer dollars making a better commercial product).
    If the contract is competed sans politics, it will go to the KC-30 if gas/tanker ratio is more important than numbers of tankers and the cargo/secondary mission is given its proper due. If the contract comes down to gas-only considerations (yes there is a “tanker mafia”) the Boeing product will win going away.
    As to where the contract might be going, I find it interesting that in this week’s AV Week, Boeing’s ad punches up the point they aren’t offering any more than what they think the AF needs: a ‘best value’ pitch. This is a marked departure from their past governemnt competion strategies where they just emphasized the ‘best’ aspect.

  • Beancounter

    If you were still flying, perhaps you would think twice about insulting you fellow Americans by calling them “pencil-necked”, when your life depends on the work they do. A few of those “pencil-necks” I knew could pull one of your ears out through the other for such a comment. And what the hell do we care if Boeing loses the contract..let’s give it to the French.

  • George Skinner

    The problem with Boeing’s proposal is that it’s based on an aircraft nearing the end of its product life (i.e. it’s about to be discontinued by the manufacturer.) The key problems with the KC-135 fleet is 1) the airframes are wearing out, 2) the planes are increasingly difficult to support because the parts are no longer available, and 3) they’re not very fuel-efficient. The 767 will address 1), but using an older design isn’t going to do much for 2) or 3). And even 1) isn’t the biggest problem for the KC-135s, as they’re early model 707s without windows. They’ve got a pretty sturdy structure already because Boeing was incredibly aware of the DH Comet fatigue failures a few years earlier, and the lack of windows reduces a major source of fatigue on the fuselage. Unfortunately, Boeing is in no position to offer the 787 as a tanker to get new technology in there, and the 777 is really too big. I think they were hoping to get a fast deal done with the AF to keep the 767 line open a little longer and make some more money from an existing product at the end of its life.
    On the other hand, I’m not sure the A330 is such a great platform either, given the differences in design philosophy between Airbus and Boeing. Airbus has always been more about fly-by-wire for “carefree handling” (i.e. let the computer limit how the pilot can maneuver) and small engines optimized for cruise efficiency. Boeing’s philosophy is to use FBW, but let the pilot bend the plane if needed, and also put on relatively larger engines for take-off power and throttle back in flight. Both approaches work out fairly well for the civilian market, but the Boeing one seems like a better fit for the military application. If you’re trying to avoid a SAM or fly at low level, shouldn’t the pilot have more power and control authority?

  • ak

    Given that the 767 is in service by the 1000s, wouldn’t it’s fatigue life & stress points would be pretty well known by now? The program seems to bordering on the ridiculous as a whole, but I don’t think the aircraft itself is in any way unsuited to the role.

  • irtusk

    > Given that the 767 is in service by the 1000s, wouldn’t it’s fatigue life & stress points would be pretty well known by now?
    the A330 has been in service plenty long, in fact they’re already taking orders for it’s replacement (A350)
    > If the contract comes down to gas-only considerations (yes there is a “tanker mafia”) the Boeing product will win going away.
    how so?
    if the KC-30 carries more gas further and costs less to boot . . .
    as far as ‘booms in the air’ arguments i see certain places, that’s just stupid talk. If they were really concerned about booms in the air, the F-35A would have a refuelling proble like the B and C variants. You can tank 3 planes with probes at once from one plane. Tripling the number of planes that can be refuelled at once seems a heck of a lot more important than some marginal percentage argument about available airports and ramp space.

  • Emmett

    With more than a few years in aviation I can say the following: the Airbus is a competent product from a manufacturer that makes disposable airframes.
    The Boeing product is probably more maintainable and more repairable.
    As a bargaining technique I would look hard at the airbus, then I’d take every advantage of the fact that the development costs of the Boeing are long since paid. I prefer to have military products made within our shores by people I can drag in front of Congress.
    But my biggest concern with either is they are basic civilian airliner airframes. We routinely contract aircraft for a 20 years service life and then fly them for 40 in the military. I want overbuilt airframes. I want carrier-qualified airframes, not because that is thier role, but because they have to last. I worry about both airframes in that respect.
    I personally know of a P-3 that will leave Guam in pieces because we broke something solid in the wingbox in a typhoon. But it brought us home.

  • George Skinner

    I didn’t mean to imply that there are any fatigue problems with the 767 airframe, just that fatigue isn’t the big problem with the existing KC-135 airframe. The bigger problems with the KC-135 are fuel efficiency and supporting an aging design. The 767 is an improvement over the KC-135 in those respects, but not exactly a long-term solution given that it’s also a 25-year old design.
    Regarding boom vs. drogue refueling, 3 drogues vs. 1 boom certainly provides the ability to refuel more than one plane at a time. However, the advantage of a boom is supposed to be a higher fuel transfer rate compared to a drogue. The higher refueling rate is pretty important when you’re trying to refuel large aircraft like bombers or cargo planes, not so much when you’re refueling tactical aircraft. Still, how does the airborne refueling time of a plane on a boom compare to one on a drogue? Could be that refueling 3 planes in succession off a single boom is still faster than 3 in parallel off 3 drogues.

  • irtusk

    > Still, how does the airborne refueling time of a plane on a boom compare to one on a drogue? Could be that refueling 3 planes in succession off a single boom is still faster than 3 in parallel off 3 drogues.
    KC-30 = 1200 gal/min
    KC-10 = 1100 gal/min
    KC-135 = 1000 gal/min
    KC-767 = 900+ gal/min
    center hose:
    KC-30 = 600 gal/min
    KC-767 = 600 gal/min
    KC-10 = 470 gal/min
    wing hose:
    KC-30 = 420 gal/min
    KC-767 = 400 gal/min
    KC-135 = 400 gal/min
    raw offload capacity of KC-30
    1 boom = 1200 gal/min
    3 hose = 600+420+420 = 1440 gal/min
    another important factor to consider is speed of the receiver. No current ‘small’ plane can max out a KC-135 boom (1000 gal/min) except the F-111, and that only for a short period until some of the smaller fuel tanks fill up
    i’m not sure of the actual numbers, but let’s say that the standard fighter can accept 800 gal/min (probably being very generous here)
    adjusted offload capacity of KC-30:
    1 boom = 800 gal/min
    3 hose = 600+420+420 = 1440 gal/min
    that’s a pretty substantial difference
    yes, big planes (C-5, C-17, B-52, etc) should use booms, but there’s no reason for small planes to use them

  • robur

    If the lifespan of the B-52 can be extended by decades, the KCs can be extended as well. If fuel economy is the problem, they can be re-engined. Even that would be cheaper than new aircraft. The services do not need new tanker aircraft.