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Government The Military Transportation United States

US Air Force Selects Boeing 747-8 To Replace Air Force One 293

Tyketto writes Following up on a previous story about its replacement, the US Air Force has selected the Boeing 747-8 to replace the aging Presidential fleet of two VC-25s, which are converted B747-200s. With the only other suitable aircraft being the Airbus A380, the USAF cited Boeing's 50-year history of building presidential aircraft as their reason to skip competition and opt directly for the aircraft, which due to dwindling sales and prospects, may be the last 747s to be produced.
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US Air Force Selects Boeing 747-8 To Replace Air Force One

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  • track record (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Thursday January 29, 2015 @03:50PM (#48934387) Homepage

    which due to dwindling sales and prospects, may be the last 747s to be produced.

    the 747 has been around forever, with many upgrades over that time. it has a proven track record. Now, generally im against no bid contracts, but this one makes sense.

  • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Thursday January 29, 2015 @03:53PM (#48934415)
    So...$1.65 billion to buy the planes from Boeing, and how many millions per year to have Boeing keep a tooling line up for spare parts?
    • Re:Last 2 planes? (Score:5, Informative)

      by TWX ( 665546 ) on Thursday January 29, 2015 @04:02PM (#48934483)
      The entire point in using a massively successful commercial platform for this kind of thing is that spare parts will continue to be in production for decades to support the huge customer base. Even if the -8 has a limited run compared to other 747s, it's not like they've dropped support for the SP even though it too was only built in limited numbers.

      As for why the 747 could be discontinued, at least for awhile; there's an upper limit on the number of superjumbos needed on the planet, and I expect that we're probably not far from that point. So long as the current fleet continues to operate safely then there's simply no need to produce more planes. As the current fleet wears though, eventually new replacements will be needed for those routes where moving this many passengers makes sense, especially if the manufacturers can get the efficiency up. That's part of what's eating into the superjumbos; the ability for multiple flights a day with smaller planes to get equal fuel economy per passenger and at the same time offer more flexibility (ie more than one flight per day) due to the use of smaller planes.

      My wife used to fly fifteen times a year. There was one city that she flew to the most, and she chose the airline with the most daily flights because airlines will often move one up to an earlier flight or two that same day if there's empty space, because they can sell the seats on the later flights to last-minute purchasers. She could come home four or eight hours early if she was done early and didn't need to be there anymore. An airline flying two or three 777s or A320s per day offers her more flexibility than one flying one 747 or one A380, and that's worth something.
      • Apparently, the 747 lost its market-share to twin-jets such as the 777 and the Airbus 320 when the smaller jets were able to fly just as far as the 747. There are international standards on how far you can be from a landing strip based on the presumed flight time of your engines. The 747 has four engines, which was, for a while, necessary to maintain that rating. However, better technology allowed smaller twinjets to have similarly high ratings.

        I agree, however, that the 747 will be around for a super long

      • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Thursday January 29, 2015 @05:22PM (#48935247) Homepage

        Planes last pretty much forever if you want them to. I'm part owner of a 1957 DeHavilland DHC-1 Beaver. It's only three years newer than I am. It's much easier to buy replacement parts for the it than me.

        • caveat (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Your Beaver is NOT pressurized. Airliners have airframes whose service lives are based in part on the number of pressurizations/depressurizations. Every time the airliner ascends it inflates a bit like a balloon and when it descends it contracts again, and each of these cycles not only stresses the Aluminum skin generally but it specifically stresses any area around a hole (like around rivet holes and large holes like doors and windows).

          This is why a B-25, for example, can be kept flying forever but a press

    • Well, sure. Otherwise the money will go to someone who doesn't make campaign contributions...er, that is, isn't American!

    • Re:Last 2 planes? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (ecirpdrahcir)> on Thursday January 29, 2015 @04:16PM (#48934617)

      There will be hundreds of 747s flying for the next three to four decades, so parts are not an issue - Boeing makes the majority of its money on aftermarket care and parts, they won't close those lines down fast.

    • Re:Last 2 planes? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Thursday January 29, 2015 @04:23PM (#48934689) Journal

      So...$1.65 billion to buy the planes from Boeing, and how many millions per year to have Boeing keep a tooling line up for spare parts?

      Since airlines were still ordering new 747-8s (the platform on which the new Air Force One(s) would be built) in 2014 - and might still continue to do so - this isn't exactly an obsolete aircraft. I mean, the first 747-8s weren't delivered to customers until 2011. There are still-flying 747-variant fuselages in commercial (passenger and freight) service that have been in the air since the late 1970s and early 1980s. Based on that history, it seems likely that Boeing will need to support its commercial customers through to at least 2045 or so.

    • by ihtoit ( 3393327 )

      the only difference between the 8 and the other 747 series is the 8 is 19 feet longer. Hell, they're being built on the same plant floor that the first -100 was built on. There is no special retooling required.

  • by outlander ( 140799 ) on Thursday January 29, 2015 @03:55PM (#48934441)

    Even if Boeing stopped building 747 variants tomorrow, they'd be around for ages. They're the mainstay for long-haul travel, and dwindling sales probably are more related to market saturation - as in, there are enough in the air now to meet current demand - than any inherent shortcoming in the design.

    I suspect that there are more refinements to come - it's just too useful an airframe to discard. It may take Boeing a bit to roll in some of the working dreamliner tech but it seems reasonable that they'd try to do that when time and demand permit.

    • The 747-8 has new engines, a new wing definition and loft, new winglets, new avionics and significant aerodynamic improvements across the board. The only thing left to do is switch construction to CFRP or another modern material, and its cheaper to do an all new aircraft for that as you have to redesign the framework completely for the new material loading. The -8 will be the last 747.

      Plus, while iconic, the 747 carries a lot of unnecessary weight around due to its short upper deck (there is a lot of wasted

    • Based on Wikipedia, the freighter variant of the 747-8 is unexpectedly popular. The 747 already dominates the civilian air freighter market so it's a good bet the 747-8 will be around for a very long time, if only due to the numerous freighter versions being operated around the world.

    • by Kagato ( 116051 )

      Outside of Lufthansa (which bought the 747-800) pretty much every other passenger airline has planes on the book to get rid of their 747s. I would expect by 2020-2022 you'll see them confined to cargo use and third world airlines.

      • Well that's good for the presidential budget - plenty of cheap spare 747 parts for decades!

      • by jonwil ( 467024 )

        Looking at Wikipedia, Korean Air, Arik Air, Air China and Transaero have also ordered the 747-8 along with sales of 9 aircraft to what Boeing labels "business jet/VIP" (i.e. sales to entities that aren't airlines). Order numbers for the passenger variant aren't that far behind the numbers for the freight variant.

        The older 747s are going away because they are inefficient and expensive to run and maintain. But the -8 contains technology from their latest aircraft like the 787 and the 737-9 to make it more fue

    • by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Thursday January 29, 2015 @05:16PM (#48935163) Homepage Journal

      Old 747s have terrible fuel economy which is their highest operating cost, plus they have to be completely torn down (seats out, overhead bins out) for a complete airframe inspection, engines rebuilt etc every 6 years or so and it costs millions of dollars to do this "frame off restoration" with qualified FAA certified mechanics. After the fourth or so complete restoration the cost-benefit ratio slips in favor of buying a whole new airplane. This isn't like buying a pickup truck for personal use which you can just drive until the wheels fall off, swap in a new rear axle and drive it another 500,000 miles without ever doing a proper inspection of the frame, wheel bearings, etc.
       
      In addition to the major overhauls, they do slightly less major overhauls every 4 years, and they still do a full 2 day inspection every 18 months or so.
       
      Eventually these old 747s get sold for a song because the maintenance to keep them flying isn't worth it. There's a 747 in the background at the Top Gear test track (which is a converted airfield) that is parked most of the time or used as a prop for movies but is still airworthy when someone needs an extra cargo jet, or needs to fly a football team to Australia or something for top dollar. But they're not economical for daily use by major commercial airliners anymore.

    • The 747-400 is rapidly disappearing from the long haul passenger travel market. The A380 is being used on some high demand routes and on the longest flights (the current world's longest nonstop flight is Dallas-Sydney, operated by a Qantas A380). Virtually everything else is going to twins, with the 777-300ER proving particularly popular by providing near 747 capacity and range on two engines.

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Thursday January 29, 2015 @06:22PM (#48935743)

      Even if Boeing stopped building 747 variants tomorrow, they'd be around for ages. They're the mainstay for long-haul travel, and dwindling sales probably are more related to market saturation - as in, there are enough in the air now to meet current demand - than any inherent shortcoming in the design.

      An individual airframe is typically retired before 100,000 pressurization cycles. This is a limitation of the aluminum used to make the skin, which unlike other ferrous metals does not have a fatigue limit [wikipedia.org]. In other words, aluminum always grows weaker with use. As you get closer to 100,000 cycles, you increase the odds of a catastrophic fatigue failure [wikipedia.org] where the aluminum literally unzips like plastic shrinkwrap after you've cut a notch in it. (Aloha 243 had nearly 90,000 cycles due to its short-duration island-hopping history.)

      The 747 is typically used on long-haul overseas flights lasting 10+ hours. This drastically reduces the rate at which airlines can rack up pressurization cycles. Even if one were flown 2x a day every day, it would take over 130 years to reach 100,000 cycles. By comparison, a 737 used for the 40-minute LAX to Las Vegas route may fly 10x a day and reach 100,000 cycles in a little over 25 years. This is why 747s are hanging around - their skins simply have less wear and tear on them despite being in service for more years and logging more flight hours than other planes.

      The 747-8 was always a bit dodgy. When Boeing made the original 747, they weren't planning to make it with a partial second deck. It was supposed to be a stepping stone to future models with a full second deck (designing the 747 nearly bankrupted the company). Boeing pitched the full two-decker model to the airlines for decades but could never get enough interest to justify actually building it. Then Airbus came with its "who cares if we'll sell enough to make money, our governments will pay for it if it doesn't so let's build it" A380, and Boeing threw together the 747-8 as a possible alternative.

      The slow rate of A380 sales (nearly 10 years old, 318 orders, 147 deliveries) seems to substantiate Boeing's marketing research that there just wasn't sufficient demand (yet) for such a large plane. By comparison, the 747-400 had 465 deliveries in its first 10 years. The 747-8 has 119 orders, 83 deliveries in the same timeframe as the A380. As you state, in the 400-525 passenger category, the market is pretty well-saturated by older 747s which are still airworthy.

      I suspect that there are more refinements to come - it's just too useful an airframe to discard. It may take Boeing a bit to roll in some of the working dreamliner tech but it seems reasonable that they'd try to do that when time and demand permit.

      In terms of airline operating economics, the number of passenger per flight nearly always has a larger magnitude of effect than efficiency gains for new technology. For an airline you are almost always nearly best-off flying a plane with slightly more capacity than the number of passengers. Airbus tried to claim the A380 would be so efficient this wouldn't matter, and you could fly a 747-sized number of passengers on a A380 for cheaper than a 747. I was very skeptical, and the fact that airlines aren't tripping over themselves to replace their old 747s with A380s is a pretty good indication that it's still cheaper to fly a 747 for 747-sized passenger capacities.

      The next place to watch is to see if Airbus will roll out a twin-engine competitor to the 777 (maybe a longer A350-1000?). Airbus' competitor to the 777 had been the A340 (both are in the 300-450 passenger range). But the A340 is a 4-engine plane which uses much more fuel. Consequently, the 777 beat the A340 into a bloody pulp in the market. The 777 has had 1827 orders in 20 years, vs 379 orders

  • After all, they are expected to be flying for *another* 50 years....

  • Was anyone really expecting anything else? They certainly wouldn't ever have considered Airbus, the GOP and the public would have slaughtered whomever made the decision to buy non-American, regardless of the benefits the alternatives might have had. That plane is as much an ambassador for the US, as the passengers flying on it.

  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Thursday January 29, 2015 @10:52PM (#48937163)

    Why not convert a C17 - its more manoueverable, and can use smaller airfields

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