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
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.