Software Hurdles May Follow KC-46A Wiring Woes

Software Hurdles May Follow KC-46A Wiring Woes

The surprise disclosure last week of a wiring flaw on the Air Force’s new KC-46A refueling tanker made by Boeing Co. may not be the end of the program’s development challenges.

As part of its second-quarter earnings results, the Chicago-based aerospace giant on July 24 announced a $272 million after-tax charge to redesign wiring on the aircraft. The expense was necessary to deliver 18 of the 767-based planes by August 2017 as planned under a $4.9 billion contract with the service, according to Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney.

“While challenges resolving engineering and systems installation issues on our tanker test aircraft are resulting in higher spending to maintain schedule, the issues are well understood and we remain on path to begin flight testing fully provisioned tankers the first part of next year,” he said in a statement.


Indeed, the company previously predicted the cost overrun. Boeing estimated costs for the acquisition program would be over the contractual ceiling price by about $271 million, according to an April report from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

However, the Air Force’s program office put the figure at $787 million and cited as more significant areas of concern the “challenging” schedule for software verification testing and “aggressive pace” of flight testing, according to the document.

The refueling tanker, known as Pegasus, will require some 15.8 million lines of code, the vast majority of which — 83 percent — is slated to come from existing software, according to the report. While Boeing plans to recycle most of the software from the 767-2C, it will still need to modify or write new code for the military subsystems on the KC-46, it states.

“Approximately 735,000 lines of the code are new and relate in large part to key military unique systems,” the auditors wrote. “Moreover, Boeing’s software integration lab that simulates the KC-46 cockpit will be at near capacity between February and June 2014. Boeing could have difficulty completing all testing if more retests are needed than expected.”

What’s more, some 600 software problem reports were filed as of January, more than a third of which were “urgent” or “high-priority,” according to the document. Many of the problems stemmed from faulty avionics flight management code supplied by a subcontractor, which later dispatched two dozen employees — up from just three — to deal with the backlog, it states.

McNerney downplayed the assessment that the risks could delay the aircraft’s operational start date of August 2017 by six months to a year.

“Other than the problems that Greg described on the wiring separation … the rest of the program is moving along well,” he said during a conference call with analysts and reporters, according to a transcript provided by the website www​.SeekingAlpha​.com. “It doesn’t mean that something can’t crop up in the future, but we don’t see it now.”

The Air Force plans to buy a total of 179 KC-46A tankers at a total cost of almost $50 billion through 2028, according to Pentagon budget documents. Boeing envisions a long-term potential market of 400 planes valued at $80 billion.

Boeing in 2011 beat the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., now part of the Airbus Group NV, for the award after a previous deal in 2004 was canceled amid a scandal involving Air Force and Boeing officials. The company submitted its bid knowing it wouldn’t make a profit on the first four aircraft.

“Given the company’s experience building over 1,000 767s and eight KC-767s for two customers, you think they’d have a better handle on the costs and risks associated with turning the plane in to a tanker,” Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group, a Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant group, said in an e-mail.

“On the other hand, the circumstances of the competition forced them to submit an aggressive bid, which is probably the root cause of the problem here,” he added. “In other words, some company-funded overruns were inevitable, but it probably won’t get too terrible.”

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Shocking.… that was Bogdan’s last gig before being boss of the Just So Failed. Credit to him though that hopefully Boeing picks up most of the tab.

Software, Wiring wonder what will be next to cause a delay or cost overrun. Must be using the code from the Italian and Japanese tankers that they sold then that were a couple of years late in delivery

Any bets on how far to the right Boeing will be on their timeframe for this tanker?

Easy solution if Boeing screws up and the plane needs updates before it enters service the company should pay for them.

Wow, why didn’t the USAF think of this? Then Boeing would be taking a took a charge, not the USAF! Oh wait.…

“The Air Force plans to buy a total of 179 KC-46A tankers at a total cost of almost $50 billion through 2028, according to Pentagon budget documents. Boeing envisions a long-term potential market of 400 planes valued at $80 billion.”

Part of the reason for the long-term viability of the KC-135 platform is that civilian airlines were buying its cousin the 707 in large numbers for years afterwards, ensuring plenty of industry attention and a deep pool of compatible spare parts.

But a milspec 767 derivative in a buy culminating in 2028, a staggering 45 years after the original entry into service of the original civilian 767, will not enjoy the same advantages. The 767 has already been largely eclipsed and displaced in airline service by newer-generation, higher-technology designs.

It’s sad that it takes multiple failures directly related to flawed software, and yet we still fail to see we are becoming too over-dependent on software to perform an ever-increasing list of tasks that mechanical systems have proven successful in doing for so long.

There was a day and age when we built aircraft with mutilple redundant back up mechanical systems.
Nowadays, software goes down, so whole system sits uselessly.

Also, simple classic mechanical systems aren’t vulnerable to cyberattack.

I think the right answer is because it is our money they are playing with, not their own.

Yes, remember how much better off we were when one wire would carry just one signal instead of many megabits per second of data? And remember how much better life was when a circuit did just one thing instead of it being programmable to do many different things? Yeah, technology sucks because it gives us way too many possibilities. We were way better off when we had fewer choices.

So long as mechanical is actually good enough to be useful. Sure a Norden bombsight can’t be hacked, but you can’t bomb anything smaller than a city.

Lets not fall to mythology when it come to cyber attack. It only became possible when an entry point exist like a data link or something indirect like compromising the equipment that connect to it.

It’s a pitfall to believe that every numeric is vulnerable to cyber attack. And it might worth mentioning that a cyber attack is a form of electronic warfare, and even an analogic system can be vulnerable to electronic warfare.

It’s very hard to ask the average person to realize that too many numeric system are what they are because of a “scam”, negligence or both. Windows is that hackable because it carry unsecure feature and it’s a scam to force . A check engine light mean $$ because car manufacturer want to make money out of these great on board diagnosis features; in reality it makes maintenance so much easier … once you’ve paid the $$$ to communicate with that computer –because it has been designed that way as it give an advantage over the local mechanics.

The hard truth about a PC is that it’s partially documented, and every single useless feature you can imagine are enabled by default whereas a micro-controller tend to carry only what is necessary, and it can’t re-flashed without physical access, unless it was a desirable feature and designed that way. That is if someone can hijack a drone because its console running windows got a virus it does not necessarily mean that they can tamper with the onboard computer because of that, even though it may not be necessary.

There is no way that a someone will hack into a microwave unless it have been designed to communicate with something outside i.e. via wifi. But a pacemaker that conveniently feature some wireless functionality *is* hackable.

TL;DR I feel very concerned by all those system that are deemed vulnerable to cyber attack, usually because they haven’t been designed that way because it make everything more complex and expensive. Even the 777 (the aircraft not the howitzer) had to be upgraded because of fear of being vulnerable to cyber attack. I think that it was about isolating the mission-critical system from the rest like the multimedia.

While its true that bug-free software is delusional a “secure by design” approach can make it much, much more secure.

>Yes, remember how much better off we were when one wire would carry just one signal instead of many megabits per second of data?

What do you mean by just one signal? Analogic vs. numeric? A wire has and will always carry one signal even though that single signal can be the vectorial sum of many, but that’s more an analogic nightmare. And that precisely where numerics offer its advantage. By offering a high enough bandwidth a data bus can effectively be shared among many component. Is that what you were talking about?

I think that a bigger problem is that everything get so dense –I am sure it’s not unusual to have a board with over 30 or 60 layer those system– which mean that putting a man in the loop is less and less feasible, and more and more expensive. And by dense I mean that according to brochures some multi-GHz amplifier require the discrete component to be placed … at most ~50mils from the chip. Indeed all other thing equals a wire carrying a low frequency signal is less delicate than one operating in the GHz but size and weight can be is usually a quality of its own –especially when it has to fly.

Everything is about the design.

The last passenger version of a 767 was delivered this year. No more orders for passenger versions are expected. In the early years of the 787 years before first flight this new aircraft was offered for less than the old 767.

The 767 was chosen over the A330 because the A330 was not so “fuel efficient” as the 767 due to tweaked flight profiles. Years ago I wrote many comments about US Air Force can’t expect a civil 767 with new engines but an A330 with new engines. The A330NEO was announced by Airbus this month. According to Boeing’s assumptions an A330-200NEO will have a range of 8,200 nm about 300 nm more than a 787–8.

Many Air Forces around the world did choose the A330MRTT. Why is quite simple. The A330MRTT is already in service and many airlines around the world operate A330s. Therefore I expect South Korea also to order the A330MRTT. Singapore Airline operates many A330s and the MRTT is low risk.

While we’re at it, let’s go back to carburetors instead of fuel injection, because we liked getting poor gas mileage while getting crappy performance out of our engines.

Boeing agreed to in because they didn’t want to lose out to Horthrup/EADS, who after congress f’d over the first time said “we won’t even try to compete by bidding. Congress wants Boeing. We aren’t wasting our time or resources.”

Two for EADS, zero Boeing.

Fighter Pilots want Boeing…Boeing is a superior platform for air refuelling due to its stiffer wing and their experience with booms. The Airbus wings are way more flexible and as such move in turbulence. This causes the hose to swing wildly up and down making refuelling extremely difficult with drogue. Second the boom on the Airbus fell off in testing and years later is still not certified for use on the jets they have already sold many countries. Boeings experience with air refuelling is worth it to the guy who isn’t going to make it home on that dark stormy night after a long combat mission without that fuel.

For sure an F-16 fighter pilot already has flown behind a KC-46. As a self proclaimed fighter pilot you should know that a boom lose is not a rare event to US Air Force. In the whole certification and testing process Airbus lost one boom. Aerial refueling was and will never be an easy business: http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​1​9​6​6​_​P​a​l​o​m​a​r​e​s​_​B​-​52_

Boeing’s big experience with aerial refueling is probably pensioned or dead. Boeing did have huge problems with KC-767 for Italy due to fluttering wings. Problem solved for KC-46? The yet to fly KC-46 will have another wing. So much about “stiffer wings”…

BTW the Airbus boom is in operational use: http://​www​.ainonline​.com/​a​v​i​a​t​i​o​n​-​n​e​w​s​/​f​a​r​n​b​o​r​oug

The KC-46A will be required to refuel Drones that requires very sophisticated software gentlemen. Please get your heads into the Twenty First Century. The Boom will require two operators for Drones: one to fly the drone and the other to refuel it. As more autonomist aircraft come on the scene, like the X-47B and RQ-180 these unmanned aircraft will need refueling, get over yourselves.

Refueling Drones by boom is nonsense. The only reason for booms are the higher flow rate to fill up bomber aircraft. Therefore the US Air Force already had tankers equipped with booms and the fighters were afterwards also fitted out with a receptacle for booms. Most fighter aircraft can accept the full boom flow rate.

Northrop Grumman already did unmanned drone to drone aerial refueling by a probe-and-drogue system. To keep the systems simple only the tanker drone has the logic to do refueling. Therefore the receiver flies in front and the fuel is pumped forward. The tanker drone makes the contact. The receiver drone just release the drogue and waits.

Correction: Most fighter aircraft can NOT accept the full boom flow rate.

I highly doubt that the next long range Bomber will be manned or it will be either-or an autonomous and/or manned aircraft. The Space Shuttle was actually an autonomous vehicle but was never flown as one. There are a number of current aircraft that are capable of autonomous flight operation too.

At a cost of probably 700 million, adding a crew is probably a good idea if it can make it more effective and give the possibility of better defense against enemy planes.

What current US aircraft are capable of autonomous flight operations?

One of the reasons for the 767 airframe selection by the US Air Force was to save the money required for apron and taxiway modifications required at numerous bases and airports required to use the larger A330 aircraft.

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