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Boeing dropped from competition for Air Force “doomsday” plane

It appears that by mutual agreement the Air Force has eliminated Boeing in the competition to build a new replacement for the E-4B Nightwatch, what the military calls its “doomsday” airplane, designed to survive a nuclear war.

Sources told Reuters that Boeing – the incumbent manufacturer of the E-4B Nightwatch – could not agree with the USAF on data rights and contract terms for the replacement plane that began flying in the 1970s. In other words, the planemaker did not want to sign a fixed-price agreement.

…”Rest assured, we haven’t signed any fixed-price development contracts nor (do we) intend to,” Brian West, Boeing’s chief financial officer, told investors in October.

With Boeing out of the competition, Sierra Nevada (the parent company of Sierra Space) is left as the only bidder. It is also quite willing to operate under a fixed price contract.

As I noted in a comment thread after a reader first posted a link to this story,

Boeing is signing its own death warrant. The entire federal defense and space agencies are steadily switching to fixed-price, and will simply go to others if Boeing refuses to accept those terms.

In fact, those agencies will want to go to others, because Boeing is making it clear it can’t meet its contractual obligations.

This decision also tells us a great deal about Boeing as a company. Its inability to fulfill any contract under a fixed price means it no longer has the discipline to do anything right. It seems buying products from it at this point might be a very foolish proposition.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Jeff Wright

    747 would have been perfect—but nooo…

  • David Eastman

    My first reaction reading this is exactly what Mr. Zimmerman has said. Boeing telling it’s investors “We have lost lots of money on fixed priced contracts due to our inability to fulfill our commitments on time or budget. Our plan to fix this is to stop bidding on fixed price contracts” is just admitting that they are nothing more than a money sponge hoping for locked in customers in a no-competition environment. At the same time, lots of small hungry new companies are moving into the very spaces where Boeing has been the past “go-to” provider. If I was an investor, I’d be pulling my money out of Boeing as fast as possible. And if I lived in a location where Boeing or one of it’s dedicated suppliers was a major part of the local economy, I’d be planning to move before the economic and real estate crash when they close factories, offices, etc.

  • Jeff Wright

    The death of the 747 I lament…not their leadership

  • john hare

    What are the realistic options for another company to move into the airliner business? Boeing and Airbus seems a little lacking as competitive suppliers.

  • “Doomsday Plane” kind of has a new meaning for Boeing, now,

  • I have to agree with Dave Eastman. Thing is that whoever gets the contract will probably use a Boeing airframe as the basis for the aircraft. There is no other U.S. manufacturer of large airframes and there is a probably a requirement for the airframe to be of U.S. manufacture. I don’t remember clearly, but about 50 years ago, what is now L3 in Greenville, Texas was the subcontractor that did the 747 to VC-25 or E-4 conversion.

  • Col Beausabre

    Won’t be a 747 airframe, unless the USAF buys used. “The final 747 was delivered to Atlas Air in January 2023 after a 54-year production run, with 1,574 aircraft built.” Federal procurement regulations prohibit buying used equipment unless it has been rebuilt to “as new” condition with the firm that does that work giving a guarantee the same as a new build purchase.

  • pzatchok

    When your whole business plan involves cost-plus government contracts for your profit margin your pretty much out of the market with any other contract.

    Any large enough commercial airframe could be adapted to the new plane they need.
    Subcontractors build everything else anyway. They just need someone to install it all and bring it together.

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