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Could the Boeing 787 Dreamliner be the New Air Force One?

Air Force One.

There is probably not a more recognized plane in the whole world than the one that carries around the President of the United States.  It has been photographed more than any other plane in the world, it was the centerpiece of a major movie starring Harrison Ford, and it is getting pretty old and worn out.

Just to be totally accurate, Air Force One is technically the callsign of any Air Force aircraft that is carrying the President, just as Marine One is a Marine aircraft carrying the President.  Multiple aircraft have carried the title of Air Force One over the years, but it is currently associated with two Boeing VC-25As which are highly customized 747-200Bs.

The first VC-25A was delivered in 1990 which means that these aircraft are coming up on a quarter century of flight around the world.  While that is not exceptionally old by some standards, this platform is getting old as most airlines have retired these older models of the 747 which means that maintenance costs continue to rise as parts become less common.

So what aircraft is going to replace this iconic platform?

The Air Force put out a request for a replacement back in January of 2009 to have a new plane in service by 2017.  A couple of weeks later, EADS(Airbus) took themselves out of the running leaving Boeing as the sole bidder, with the 747-8 and the 787 Dreamliner as the proposed offerings.

President Obama tours the 787 production line with Jim McNerney, Chairman, President & CEO of The Boeing Company (right) and Jim Albaugh, President & CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Photo by Marian Lockhart.

Interestingly, President Obama toured the facility in Washington where the 787 Dreamliner is assembled.  I don’t think that is necessarily an indication of an impending decision as much as a political move of some sort, but it certainly gets the wheels turning.

The 787 Dreamliner is arguably the most innovative aircraft in the world right now.  Its carbon fiber construction, and high-tech roots make it incredibly suited to all types of applications.  One of the biggest appeals is the fuel-efficiency and eco-friendly buzz words that make so many people swoon these days.

From everything that we can tell the Dreamliner is a great aircraft that is living up to the hype, but it is hard to know how good a plane really is until it has some real-time in service.  That being said, I can think of a couple of reasons that this would be a very appealing choice for the most powerful office in the world.

As I already mentioned, being able to use those great buzz words of fuel-efficient and eco-friendly are just the type of thing that a president who is so worried about his image on the international stage would eat up.  America has a terrible reputation when it comes to fossil fuel emissions and replacing the biggest fuel burner in the US government would definitely help that image.

Being in an election year where the economy is far and away the number one issue, picking the Dreamliner would be a great move from a political standpoint.  The purchase itself wouldn’t mean a lot since it is only for three planes, but it could make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.

I’m sure Boeing would love to have their new baby shown off to the whole world every time the President gets on and off his plane.  How many airlines would at the very least take a more serious look at the Dreamliner if the President of the United States called it his personal jet?

It is one thing to go and tour the plant and say that it is a great airframe, and all of the factory workers are doing a great job, but it is quite another to pick that plane to replace the most photographed, highly recognizable plane in the world.  Like so many other companies across the country, Boeing can use all of the help they can get.

 

February 21, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

United States Air Force Fast Tracking New Bomber to Replace B-1 and B-2

For anyone familiar with the inventory of the United States Air Force, you have to be wondering what the Air Force is doing with their bomber fleet.  The B-52 is on track to become the first 100 year airframe, the B-1B is slowly being removed from service as maintenance costs increase and its identity is forced to change.  The B-2 is a phenomenal airframe but its extremely high price of $2.2 billion is just not realistic in the long-term.

There have been rumors of the development of a new bomber for quite some time because of the impending retirement of these aging bombers.  This new bomber is now being put on the fast track by the DOD according to DoD Comptroller Bob Hale who spoke at an Aviation Week-sponsored event in Arlington, VA.

The new bomber, known as the Long Range Strike Aircraft, will hopefully be ready for initial operations in 2020, though I would not hold my breath.  Based upon the timeline for the F-35 and the new tanker that is currently in the process of coming on-line, eight years just seems way too short.

Personally, I would love to see a new bomber come into service in 2020 because by that time I would be at a point in my Air Force career that I would have enough experience in my airframe to maybe switch over and be part of something new and exciting.  But beyond my selfish desires, I just don’t see it happening this fast.

The Air Force has set aside about $300 million in their 2013 budget to aid in development which is definitely a step in the right direction.  They also plan to use a lot of existing technology which will greatly reduce research and development time.  Hopefully, the biggest incentive to work quickly is the advanced age of the current fleet.

The three current bombers are fulfilling their mission admirably and they will continue to do so backed by the best maintainers in the world for as long as they are asked to do so.  But as the costs continue to increase, a solution must be found in the form of replacement aircraft that will not require such intensive maintenance as the B-1, and will not carry such a hefty price tag as the B-2.

The estimated cost of the new bomber is approximately $550 million per aircraft with an expected fleet of 100 aircraft.  The plane will fulfill the roles of the B-1 and B-2 using stealth technology, evading advanced aerial defense systems, as well as fulfilling a nuclear mission.

Either way we are at least a decade away from seeing this aircraft being used on a regular basis, but it is exciting to see that it has become a high priority.  Hopefully, the process will be much faster than other recent development projects so that we will be able to reap the benefits that much sooner.

February 17, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

The Wonder of Flying: The Sights, Sounds, and Smells

I am currently in training as a Combat Systems Officer for the Air Force which is an 11 month program involving massive amounts of academics, seemingly innumerable simulator missions, and some fun flying in the T-6 and T-1.

Right now I am in the midst of a long stretch of time spent in a building with no windows studying, which can be incredibly draining when you go days without seeing the sun.  As you can imagine it is easy to forget about the wonder of flying when you are in a classroom watching presentations and listening to lectures.

That being said, all it takes is a step outside and seeing a jet fly overhead to remind me why flying is so wonderful.

Pretty much anyone can appreciate the wonder of flight in all of its many facets.  There is just something magical about a giant piece of metal soaring through the air at extremely high speeds.  I have spent countless hours just watching planes take off and land.

While many people enjoy flying or even watching planes, there are not many people who would say they like the sound.  I, on the other hand, absolutely love the sound of jet engines in the morning.

Hearing the igniters firing, the engine light-off, and the slowly growing whir of the turbine, really gets my blood pumping in the morning.  Even more incredible than that is hearing a military jet push the engines up and seeing the whole airframe shake just aching to be let go and lift off into the sky.

It is the type of sound that works its way into your whole body and is not just something that you hear, but something that you feel in every part of your body.  The kind of feeling that cannot be described with words, but that can only be understood by those who feel it and love it.

I am paraphrasing here, but I love the saying that, “Once a man has flown in the air he will never be content to be on the ground because his heart will always long to be back in the sky,” and that is more true than I could ever have imagined.

I am incredibly tired of being in classes, and spending week after week in a closed off building, but it is a small price to pay for a career which gives me the opportunity to spend hundreds of hours a year in the sky, in essence living where only the birds do.

 

February 14, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.