April 2005 
Volume 03, Issue 11 
Integrated Defense Systems

The next step in refueling

The KC-767A tanker/transport makes its formal debut


The next step in refuelingThe newest Boeing aerial refueling tanker/transport, the KC-767A, is undergoing preparations for first flight after making its formal debut. Bathed in lights of the green, white and red of the Italian flag, the aircraft rolled out at the Boeing plant in Wichita, Kan., in late February.

The KC-767A builds on a six-decade tradition of Boeing leadership in air-to-air refueling that would amaze those who first transferred fuel between aircraft in flight using a five-gallon gas can more than 80 years ago.

Italy's air force launched the tanker program with its selection in 2001 of four KC-767s for its tanker/transport modernization, and will take delivery of the rollout aircraft in 2006. The Japan Defense Agency also has ordered three KC-767As, with a fourth expected to be ordered in 2005.

Leaders from the Italian Air Force joined senior Boeing executives, supplier and customer representatives and several hundred teammates at the rollout ceremony as gossamer curtains dramatically dropped to reveal the aircraft.

"In this century, the armed forces have to meet the demands of the less predictable and more complex operational environment," said Gen. Giovanni Sciandra, who represented the Italian Air Force at the event.

"These require concentrating on the traits of speed, precision, agility, deployability and sustainability," said Sciandra, who leads the Italian Air Force Logistics Command. "The KC-767A represents the fulfillment of one of the most important goals in the Italian Air Force transport and support fleet modernization process."

Million engineering hours

Fuel for thought

The Italian KC-767A has a maximum fuel capacity of 160,000 pounds (about 72,600 kilograms). The first air-to-air refueling, however, involved substantially less fuel and was more show than substance.

In 1921, a wing-walker named Wesley May was taken up in a Lincoln Standard plane. Once airborne, with a gas can strapped to his back, he crossed over to a Curtiss JN-4. He then poured the gas into the tank of the JN-4.

Just two years later the U.S. Army began more serious aerial refueling tests. Boeing began work on refueling shortly thereafter. For more on the Boeing history in aerial refueling, see the "Historical Perspective" in the March 2005 issue of Boeing Frontiers.

Boeing leaders noted the importance of the leadership of Italy to the program.

"Words alone cannot express how much we at Boeing appreciate the Italian Air Force being the first customer to recapitalize their tanker fleet with the KC-767A," Jim O'Neill, Boeing vice president and KC-767A program manager, told the rollout audience.

"Our heart and soul is in this aircraft behind me as well as in this program," said O'Neill, adding that Boeing and the Italian Air Force dedicated nearly 1 million engineering hours and 200,000 manufacturing hours to reaching the rollout.

"This is the most advanced and capable tanker produced to date," said Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

In addition to the aircraft's impressive performance and systems characteristics, it has been designed to be easily upgradeable.

"It incorporates an open architecture that allows for the information and communication advances of tomorrow to be easily integrated into this system ... ensuring that this airplane will remain relevant for many decades to come," Albaugh said.

The next step in refueling'Worked as one team'

Not only does the aircraft represent new milestones for performance and technological advancement, it achieved new heights of cooperation, teamwork, integration and Lean manufacturing in the way it was designed and built.

One example: integrating the mechanics who would perform the work into preplanning.

"It started way before the plane even got here," said Cary Awtrey, a Modifications mechanic in Wichita and a 19-year Boeing veteran. "Mechanics, engineers, planning and other support groups worked together as one team." The team continues to work shipside as the aircraft modification progresses.

"The leanest thing we did was working with the mechanics up front," said Steve Reichard, KC-767 Operations manager. "They really increase the efficiency because they are the people who need to know what's going on. I wouldn't do it any other way.

"This coordination extended outside Boeing and even overseas. "We had teams in Italy working with Alenia and with Vought (in Fort Worth, Texas)," said mechanic Ben Stegman. "We had a lot better fit on all the parts because of better coordination." Alenia played a key role in all phases of the KC-767A program, including design, development, production and logistics support; Vought produced the 767 tail section, which houses the refueling boom.

Another key was the cooperation within Boeing between IDS and Commercial Airplanes, which built the 767-200ER base airplane that was converted to tanker configuration by Boeing's Wichita Development and Modification Center. This gives the KC-767A the advantage of an existing, worldwide commercial airline logistics network that allows it to operate at a lower cost than any tanker before, program leaders said.

The Mod Squad

"Modification" might seem to be an understatement for the work that the Boeing facility in Wichita, Kan., did on the KC-767A. Among the changes:

  • Replaced 1,000 square feet (93 square meters) of sheet metal skin
  • Installed 54 miles (87 kilometers) of wire
  • Installed 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) of tube and ducts
  • Installed a 24-by-20-foot (7.3-by-6-meter) cargo door
  • Installed two wing refueling pods
  • Installed a refueling boom
  • Installed a hose and drum unit
  • Replaced 14 frames in tail section
  • Replaced main cabin floor

"This first airplane is an excellent example of bringing together the many parts of Boeing, and it resulted in a product that is the most advanced tanker in the world," said Dan Rahkonen, 767 Military Derivatives leader, Program Management Office in Commercial Airplanes.

And O'Neill told the rollout audience the result of all the inter- and intra-company collaboration "is the most modern, most capable and affordable refueling aircraft in the world." Among its capabilities:

  • The ability to refuel two aircraft simultaneously through two wing-mounted hose-and-drogue systems, and a third aircraft either through the tail-mounted advanced refueling boom or the under-tail hose and drum unit.
  • The ability to refuel all types of Italian Air Force and NATO nations aircraft.
  • Single operator control of all refueling operations, using an advanced Remote Aerial Refueling Operator Station.
  • A convertible passenger/freighter interior that can carry 200 passengers and bags, or 100 passengers and 10 cargo pallets, or 19 cargo pallets.
  • Open architecture flight deck.
  • The ability to take off at maximum weight from an 8,000-foot (2,400-meter) runway.
  • An in-place worldwide support network for the 767.

That unparalleled performance puts the KC-767A in the running for a number of upcoming international tanker/transport buys."We are also ready to provide the most advanced aerial tanker solution for the U.S. Air Force when they determine their tanker recapitalization needs," O'Neill said.

First flight, scheduled for April, will lead to a year of flight and systems testing. The KC-767A also is scheduled to be on display at the Paris Air Show in June. Boeing teammates in Wichita are looking forward to seeing the plane airborne—and having others see the plane fly. "Once other customers see it fly and see what it can do, they will be impressed," said Joe Massullo, a Modification mechanic. "There's not another tanker out there like this."

Gen. Sciandra agreed. "I am looking forward to seeing this magnificent bird landing at our base in Pratica di Mare," he said.



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