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The head of Boeing's KC-46A tanker program is "obsessed" with staving off risks that could lead to delays or cost growth as the $30 billion program to build 179 aerial refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force prepares to enter its test phases.
Eliminating risk from the program means that KC-46 officials will have to focus relentlessly on integrating only the existing technology needed to meet the Air Force's requirements for the Boeing 767-based tanker, program manager Maureen Dougherty said in an interview Wednesday.
The new tanker is based on a modified Boeing 767-200ER commercial freighter design, dubbed the 767-2C. Some its military modifications include 15-inch digital displays featured in the cockpit of Boeing's newest jetliner, the 787; a digital boom operator's station with 24-inch 3D touchscreen computer displays; and a modified version of the KC-10 Extender's refueling boom.
Dougherty said the best way to keep the jet on schedule is to use "just what we need" from the 787 to meet the Air Force's requirements as laid out in the contract. Resisting the temptation to add lots of new -- and potentially unproven -- technologies to the planes will prevent delays and cost overruns, therefore jeopardizing Boeing's effort to deliver the tanker on time and on budget, company officials hope.
Dougherty said the KC-46 team spent the last year since the contract award "focused inward . . . making sure we're aligned" with the Air Force's requirements as laid out in the contract.
The company says it remains on track to built 18 tankers by 2017, with the first delivery to the Air Force scheduled for mid 2016, with no changes to the price estimates since the contract award, according to Dougherty. The last of the 179 KC-46s is expected to be delivered in 2027.
The program just passed its Preliminary Design Review with the Air Force in late April, in which the air service made sure that the plane's initial design meets all of its requirements. Boeing will begin testing the KC-46's commercial 767-based hardware and software based in October and its military hardware and software later in the fall with in flight refueling gear tests starting in 2013, according to Dougherty.
Dougherty's comments came after the Pentagon's Office of Test and Evaluation said earlier this year that the Air Force and Boeing's test schedule for the jet was too aggressive to meet on time, a claim the air service denied.