KC-135 planes grounded for profit

At this moment, Congressman Manzullo and his fellow members of Congress and the Senate want to replace the Air Force KC-135 (the plane that does the midair refueling of the bombers and fighters to increase their range) with a variant of the Boeing 767. They want to do this with a six-year lease of this airplane from Boeing rather than to buy it outright. This represents more profits for Boeing.

The KC-135s were built in the late ’50s and early ’60s. It was state of the art, and Boeing also built America’s first civilian jet airliner on this platform—the Boeing 707. In the last decade, the KC-135s were equipped with more modern engines for increased power and efficiency.

Several points need to be made. First, according to the Center of Defense Information (CDI), there is plenty of life left in the KC-135s. Although aging, they do not have the same wear as the civilian versions and are still a very capable aircraft. The new engines have increased the life of this plane far into the future.

Next, the Boeing 767 is itself an aging program. They are having difficulty selling this plane to the airlines because of its shortcomings. If the current KC-135s have lasted more than 40 years, shouldn’t we expect a replacement to last more than six?

Finally, if the fleet of KC-135s needs to be replaced, it should not be with one whose technology is already 20 years old. Boeing just announced a new model to replace the 767s presently called the Boeing 7E7. This would be the plane to acquire, as it will be state of the art, it will have a 20 percent better fuel efficiency over the 767, and they are willing to deal with the airlines to get it started. Shouldn’t the Air Force also be able to make a favorable deal?

Replacing the KC-135 at this time makes no sense. Replacing them with the 767 instead of the 7E7 makes less sense. And leasing the plane instead of buying is nonsense. Unfortunately, as the president and Congress put profits of the major aerospace contractors over the defense of the country, you can count on the KC-767 coming to an air base close to you soon.

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