Air Transportation: Boom Times For the KC-767

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March 18, 2007: Flight testing is nearly complete for the new U.S. made KC767 aerial tanker. It recently made its first in-flight refueling, and transferred five tons of fuel to a B-52. The KC-767 is being delivered to Italy and Japan this year, and is being considered to replace American KC-135 tankers. Flight testing of the KC-767 has so far consisted of over 200 flights, and nearly 800 hours in the air.

The KC-767 is based on the Boeing 767-200 airliner, which sells for about $120 million. The 767 has been in service since 1982, and over 800 have been manufactured so far. Boeing developed the KC-767, at a cost of nearly a billion dollars, on its own. Boeing also developed the original KC-135 tanker in the 1950s, and has since built over 2,000 aerial tankers.

The four engine KC-135 carries 90 tons of fuel and can transfer up to 68 tons. Consider that a B-52 carries over 140 tons of jet fuel, and an F-15, over five tons. A two engine KC-767 carries about as much fuel as the KC-135. The European firm Airbus, is offering the KC-30, based on the Airbus 330-300, which normally sells for $160 million each. The KC-30 carries 20 percent more fuel than the KC-767, and more cargo pallets (26 versus 19).

The KC-135 has long made itself useful carrying cargo and passengers, as well as fuel, and both the KC-767 and KC-30 have more capacity for this. Another option is a tanker based on the larger Boeing 777-200LR, which sells for about $230 million each. This KC-777 would have 65 percent more fuel capacity than the KC-767, and 95 percent more cargo capacity. Bigger is sometimes better if you're a flying gas station. The KC-767 was developed partly because it is about the same size as the KC-135 (wingspan is 156 feet, ten more than the KC-135). Thus the 767 could use the same basing and repair facilities as the 135. The wingspan of the KC-777 would be 213 feet. Moreover, it would take about three years to develop the KC-777, while the KC-767 is ready to go now. The KC-30 will enter service with Australia next year. Using the KC-777 would reduce the number of tankers needed from 179 to 120, or less, and be cheaper in the long run.


 


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