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Pumped up: A day the 'One Boeing' tanker team will never forget

Boeing Defense, Space & Security President & CEO Dennis Muilenburg

Postmodern Photo

Boeing Defense, Space & Security President & CEO Dennis Muilenburg addresses cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy minutes before learning that the Boeing tanker proposal had been selected in the hotly contested KC-X tanker competition.

Ask any Boeing employee what they were doing the afternoon of February 24, 2011, and they’ll probably be able to tell you.

That’s the day the U.S. Air Force announced the KC-X – now the KC-46A – tanker proposal submitted by The Boeing Company had been selected in one of the most rigorous defense acquisition competitions in history.

“It felt like we won the Super Bowl,” said Karen Wilcox, a Boeing human resources generalist with Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Everybody was cheering and high-fiving.”

Boeing received a contract from the U.S. Air Force to build the next-generation aerial refueling tanker aircraft that will replace 179 of the service’s KC-135 tankers. The contract calls for Boeing to design, develop, manufacture and deliver 18 initial combat-ready KC-46A tankers by 2017.

Coincidently, Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS) President & CEO Dennis Muilenburg was speaking to an auditorium full of U.S. Air Force Academy cadets on the Colorado Springs, Colo., campus when he received the good news by cell phone from the secretary of the U.S. Air Force.

U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

U.S. Air Force Photo

The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., was where Boeing Defense, Space & Security President & CEO Dennis Muilenburg delivered a speech on leadership to U.S. Air Force cadets on February 24, 2011.

Though asked by the secretary to hold off sharing the information until it was made public at a news conference from the Pentagon a few minutes later, an enterprising cadet with a smart phone read the announcement aloud to the audience from the New York Times mobile website.

After brief applause, Muilenburg told the cadets and audience members that he was elated at the decision but recognized the tremendous responsibility to deliver on the task.

“It’s an extraordinary honor for The Boeing Company,” Muilenburg said. “This has been a long competition; we know how important the tanker mission is to the Air Force and to our country.”

In Seattle, about 2,700 miles from the Pentagon news conference, thousands of Boeing employees were glued to television sets, waiting for the decision.

“I couldn’t believe it, I kept looking at it [the television],” said Farhad Teymurian, a Boeing engineer with Boeing Commercial Airplanes Operations & Technical Integration. “It said Boeing won, it was a news flash. I was in shock.”

Tanker

Boeing Photo

Boeing has received a contract from the U.S. Air Force to build the next-generation aerial refueling tanker aircraft that will replace 179 of the service's 400 KC-135 tankers. In this artist's conception¸ a Boeing KC-46A prepares to refuel a B-1B bomber in flight.

The KC-46A tanker is a wide-body aircraft updated with the latest and most advanced technology and capable of meeting or exceeding the Air Force’s needs for transport of fuel, cargo, passengers and medical patients.

Before leaving the Air Force Academy stage, the leader of BDS Dennis Muilenburg paused to impart one final message to the young cadets who may one day work on and with the new-generation KC-46A tankers.

“On behalf of our ‘One-Boeing’ team, I’d like to say thanks,” he said. “Thank you for what you do for our country, and thank you for the opportunity to support you as our customer.”