We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

No gas, no glory

Anyone who follows defense issues closely is aware of the global air tanker problem. A) There ain’t enough of ’em, and B) What one’s there is are a gettin’ a mite long in the tooth.

Modern air warfare is highly dependant on tankers. Whether for long distance ferry operations, maximum range missions or extending battlefield loiter time, the tanker aircraft is a crucial element of modern warfare.

Many countries face the same problem. The UK finds itself with insufficient capacity to handle any sort of operational surge. For America it is an aging fleet of Boeing 707’s. Yes, you heard me. That classic 1957 jetliner that started it all. There were plans to upgrade via a leaseback arrangement for new Boeing aircraft, but congressional support collapsed amidst a scandal.

So, what does one call a situation like this? Why, a market opportunity of course!

Dublin-based Omega Air has teamed up with US company Evergreen International in a joint venture to launch the Global Airtanker Service (GAS) KDC-10.

GAS is pitching the KDC-10 airliner conversion as an interim solution for the faltering UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) programme as well as targeting other potential customers such as the USAF and US Navy.

They will not be supplying green Jet fuel for Saint Paddy’s day.

9 comments to No gas, no glory

  • Pedantry, although I am sure Dale knows all this stuff and left it out just so he could get to his point quicker.

    Boeing in 1954 built a prototype jet transport called the 367-80. From this they developed a jet that the military called the C-135 (of which the most numerous variant is the KC-135 tanker) and which Boeing called the 717. These make up the bulk of the USAF tanker fleet. Pan Am thought that the fuselage of the prototype was too narrow, and Boeing consequently widened the aircraft for the passenger variant, and that was given the model number 707. (There were later military variants that were genuinely of the 707 (of which the most important is the E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft) and for this reason the 707 remained in production until 1991).

    So it is not strictly true to say that the KC-135 is a variant of the 707. It is more a separate (but very similar) aircraft developed from the same prototype.

    (To further confuse matters, when Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas a few years back, the 717 model number was reused for the latest version of the aircraft that was once the DC-9, but which had several different names at various intermediate times, and these are still in production).

    Even though there is a tanker shortage, the good thing is that it is not necessary to build all new models of aircraft to do the job, meaning that it is at least possible for the USAF to get a fleet of new ones in service fairly quickly if the procurement process (and money to pay for them) is sorted out. Commercial airliners are about the right size and shape, and can be refitted to perform the job. (There are lots of ex-airline DC-10s and even (genuine) 707s in tanker use in various air forces). There is something to be said for using second hand aircraft to do the job, too, as aircraft are designed for a certain number of flight cycles, and military tankers don’t generally have the same punishing multiple flights per day schedule that airline operations do. Therefore aircraft that have only a few years life left in them in civil aviation can have a substantially longer life (in terms of years) in the military. This is also why some aircraft (tankers and also B-52 bombers) have managed to have such extraordinarily long lives. The air force has replaced the engines and updated theh electronics, but as long as the airframes are structurally sound, there is no reason to stop using them.

  • Mark

    I wonder if this is Evergreen out of McMinnville Oregon. Mr Smith has done well over the years with government contracts. Evergreen was “Air America” during Vietnam and he has quite a spread with a huge private airospace museum housing the actual Spruce Goose, a SR-71 several WWII planes ME109, P51, B17 and many other aircraft and helocopters.

  • Dale Amon

    Michael. Yes, I skipped a lot of detail about the KC135/707 relationship. The trouble is, these aircraft are getting pricier to keep flying and I suspect quite a few are getting near their airframe fatigue life limit… which in practical terms means expensive rebuilds to keep them flying. Tankers are workhorses that rack up flight hours, much more so than bombers.

    My main point is that a private venture has sprung up to fulfill a need. DOD needs new (and more) tankers badly and yesterday, as does MOD.

  • Julian Taylor

    The RAF’s stalwart, if ageing, fleet of air-to-air refuelling tankers is made up of 4 (active) TriStar 500s, formerly under British Caledonian Airways (remember those adverts?) and later under British Airways and an additional 19 (active) Vickers VC-10s.

    Such a move by G.A.S does seem to be ideal for the RAF, especially given the current review of the RAF’s future requirements. The KDC-10 would certainly make far more sense for them to purchase – surely the conversion from one aged 3-engine configuration to one more modern 3-engine configuration would not be as hard as the proposed Airbus A330 or Boeing 767 alternatives being bandied as the Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft project replacements?

  • bender

    hmm – business opportunities….

    I ran across another one of these while on holiday in south america. It turns out that Chile has a HUGE shortage of ships that can transport goods to China.

    The problem is apparently about to get wildly out of control.

  • zmollusc

    Hooray, old clunker 1957 era aircraft can be replaced by snazzy modern 1968 era aircraft.

  • Dave

    A little quibble: Surely, this(Link) 1951 aircraft started it all – at least in terms of ushering in the jet age. Ok, so it was withdrawn because of the crashes – but that was possibly a good thing for the Boeing engineers.

    Not to mention that the airframe is still in service in Nimrod aircraft.

  • Dale Amon

    I have no quibble that the Comet was first, and if not for being felled by the being the pioneer with the arrows in its back, it might well have kicked off the Jet Age in passenger flying. But it didn’t. The real takeoff did not happen until perhaps 1959… I can remember that as a child that was when I started seeing a lot of jet airliners instead of just Viscount’s, assorted pre-jet DC’s, and those absolutely gorgeous Constellations on final for the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. My childhood home was just a few miles from the airport and the commercial and USAF traffic went right over head. And my mother rented out rooms to stewardesses’, pilots, ATC’s, USAF guys… and you wonder why I’m a flight nut!

    Comet gets the history book notation for first. But the 707 started the Jet Age. Chance perhaps, but fact.

  • Dave

    I suppose we’d have to quibble lots about what actually constituted the “jet age” for passenger travel. I’d take it fromm when sheduled airlines were running routes – which IIRC BOAC to South Africa in 1952 – 17 hours, 4 stops (I think) which is something to chuckle about now.

    The lower end mass market was probably a bit later than 1957 – mid-60’s as package holidays in Europe brought the costs down to mass market levels.

    Heh. I still remember the first time I flew on a jet – didn’t realise then it would become something I’d do every other week 😉