Boeing Out Of Doomsday Plane Competition


Boeing says it’s opting out of a multibillion-dollar competition to build the Air Force’s next “Doomsday Plane” because it can’t afford to risk losing money on it. Reuters reported that the company and the Air Force failed to come to terms because the Air Force insisted on a “fixed-price” contract for the planes. Boeing has lost billions of dollars on fixed-price deals to build Air Force One replacements for the Air Force and the problem-prone Starliner spacecraft for NASA. “We are approaching all new contract opportunities with added discipline to ensure we can meet our commitments and support the long-term health of our business,” Boeing said in a statement to Reuters.

That leaves Sierra Nevada Corporation as the only publicly known bidder for the contract to replace four 50-year-old Boeing 747-200s modified to serve as airborne command posts capable of maintaining communications during nuclear attacks. The company announced it was in the running in August but isn’t saying what it proposes. It has, however, built new hangars in Dayton, Ohio, designed to accommodate Boeing 787-8s. The Air Force wouldn’t tell Reuters whether there were any other bidders, nor would it discuss details of the contract. It wants the new airplanes by about 2030 because the existing ones are just about at the end of their service lives.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. I flying in the DC area and my airport, VKX, is just south of Andrews AFB. We see one of these at least once a month flying in or out of Andrews.
    It will be curious to see which aircraft is chosen to replace them

  2. The US government continues to shoot itself in both feet. For further information check the voting records of the congresspersons and senators.

  3. I think the Air Force has two very good options. They could use the same airframe as the new KC-46 tanker. The Air Force already operates this aircraft and would have a ready supply of trained maintainers for the main airframe as well as all the inventory and parts already in the supply system. Removing the extra tanks, boom, and boomer station would make space for the extra comm gear. The KC-46 was designed to be both a tanker and cargo carrier so modifying it to fit this role should be a no-brainer.

    Another option is to use the 737 airframe. This aircraft has been adopted by the US Navy for the P-8 Poseidon and will soon be adopted for the US Air Force’s replacement for the E-3 AWACs as the E-7 Wedgetail. The 737 airframe is also flown by dozens of airlines all over the world with an extensive parts network. Using this airframe also offers the same advantages noted above though being smaller than the KC-46 and 747 may require some downsizing with the mission equipment and crew.

    The Air Force should follow its own experience with the 135/707 airframes from the past. Using these airframes a multitude of aircraft, many still flying today, were produced, i.e. KC-135, RC-135, EC-135, E-3 AWACS, and E-6B.

    Of course, when has common sense ever been applied to government contracts?

    • None of those airframe models will come close to being a platform for a new generation AF1. The days of building a specialty plane at a loss just for the prestige of being the most capable flying command center in the world, are gone.

  4. A fixed-price contract without allowance for inflation is a recipe for disaster for any vendor. Or maybe the doomsday timetable has advanced so much lately Boeing is concerned they wouldn’t get the last payment installment in time.

    • It’s one thing to allow cost increases for inflation, but a completely different thing to allow companies to pass increases on to the government for mistakes, mismanagement, or initially underbidding the contract just to get it.

  5. We cannot afford a fixed price contract on a new doomsday device? What is this world coming to? First the gap in mineshafts and now this!

  6. I’ve seen first hand how a program manager, NAVAIR, can totally destroy a good product with incompetence at each level. As a contractor I watched these clowns add useless things that added thousands of pounds in weight and drive the cost of each unit from tens of millions to hundreds of millions per aircraft. Don’t walk Boeing, run!

  7. I think it’s a horrendous waste of money in any event: The idea of having four airplanes that can withstand the effects of a nuclear war is idiocy, because the idea of surviving a nuclear war is the epitome of idiocy. Just imagine what good things could be done with the billions of dollars that will be spent on this fundamentally useless hardware.

  8. It has gone full circle. I was a young 1st lieutenant in the Pentagon working in Air Force Studies and Analysis when the word came down from “the highest level” (i.e. implied presidential level) that there was an immediate national security need to purchase four 747’s for the NEACP or E4A program. It was the job of Studies and Analysis to justify that four 747’s should be purchased right away and with the 4th being the development plane, then the others would be retrofitted. It was clear to all that Boeing was in financial trouble and this was the way they could be rescued. I wasn’t involved with the “study” and lost track of what happened. But the planes were purchased and became the NEACP several years later in 1973. At any rate Boeing is in trouble again, but no “highest level” rescue this time. Where is Haldeman when you need him!