More problems at Boeing, this time with military aircraft


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In this article about Israel’s desire to obtain the new KC-46A airplane tankers being built by Boeing for the Air Force, it is revealed that Boeing has had numerous disturbing manufacturing problems on this particular plane.

Earlier in 2019 the U.S. air force resumed, after a two-month delay, accepting new KC-46As. That two-month delay was because of FOD (Foreign Object Debris), including tools and other metal objects, still showing up in various parts of the aircraft. This indicated a serious lapse in the management of assembly and quality control while producing these aircraft. By March, after nearly a month of effort to check out aircraft nearly ready for delivery as well as factory inspection procedures, the air force agreed to begin accepting KC-46s once more. Deliveries continued despite the recently discovered cargo lock (unreliable cargo tie down latches) problem. The Americans are now concerned about Boeing, the manufacturer while also needing the KC-46As as soon as possible. This is the same firm that is having worse problems with its new 737 Max commercial airliner.

In mid-2019 Boeing planned to deliver 36 KC-46As by the end of 2019 and later expected to meet that goal even though only 19 had been delivered by early September. At the end of the year the goal of 36 was missed but Boeing did fix the cargo lock problem and this allowed cargo to again be carried. There is one problem left with the accuracy of the remote viewing system used by the 46A boom operator. That does not prevent operation of the aircraft, just slows down refueling in some cases.

Boeing has had problems with its 737-Max commercial jet (now grounded), with the construction of the Space Launch System (SLS) for NASA (a decade behind schedule and billions over budget), and with its manned Starliner space capsule. The list of issues above for the KC-46A is equally troubling, and indicates that the management and quality control problems indicated by the other projects might very well be systemic to the entire company. Not good, not good at all.

Hat tip to reader Norm Donovan.

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9 comments

  • pzatchok

    Boeing needs to put its management and engineering staff back into each manufacturing facility.

    Reconnect those people with the real process of manufacturing their products.

  • mike shupp

    But golly! Boeing has been so profitable! and paid its upper management so well! What else can anyone ask of a modern corporation!

    Somewhat less sarcastically … I think most of us, including me, carry around a mental image of how businessmen and corporations operate, looking out for employees, investing for the future, steadily improving products, that dates back to the 1950s or thereabouts — or advertising from the 1950s. We’re leaning real hard on Ayn Rand’s novels and the Econ 101 courses we took in our college years, and scattered memories from own employment history over the decades. I don’t think that notion of ersatz-1950 “capitalism” matches up too well with the modern economy, stirred about by globalism and venture capital and management consultants and downsizing and leveraged buyouts and all the other games modern financial types have learned to play.

    I think we ought to fiddle a bit with modern capitalism to get it closer to the way we think it should operate. Maybe quite a bit.

  • F16 Guy

    The 737 Max issue has been mis-categorized. As one who has flown thousands of ours in models of the 737, I need to state that properly trained crews never had a problem with the design of Max. The issue is almost 100% the fault of inadequate training by non-American pilots. Had the crews followed checklist procedures and maintained control of the aircraft, these 2 accidents would never have occurred.

    Yes, the software was faulty and needed some well deserved updates, but the emergency procedures for “runaway trim” was simple, and was no different than any other 737. The pilots in these 2 crashes did NOT follow emergency procedures as written by Boeing.

    The rumor floating around the airline industry is that foreign pilots PAY to get hired and trained, and many pay their instructors to pass checkrides. The training of foreign pilots by foreign airlines will be proven to be the underlying cause of the issue with the 737 MAX.

  • Mitch S

    Ouch, my head still aches from reading that article.
    The KC46A developed from a 737, called the KC767 or is it the KC47…
    Makes me wonder if it was written by a hung-over human or a piece of software.

    Mike shupp wrote: ” I think most of us, including me, carry around a mental image of how businessmen and corporations operate, looking out for employees, investing for the future, steadily improving products”.
    A mental image perhaps but not reality. Even in the 50’s businessmen and corporations were driven by competition and profits. “Looking out for employees” was for the purposes of employee retention and avoiding expensive strikes. Steadily improving products worked for General Motors but in the aerospace sector, vision and risk taking were the path to success.

    I think too an extent Boeing has been damaged by the “Jack Welch effect”.
    When Welch took over GE, his cost cutting and push for performance was appropriate. And it resulted in over a decade of growth and profitability. But when Welch retired the execs who followed saw cost cutting and squeezing for short term results as the key to sustained corporate success. They wen’t steeped in the business of the businesses they ran. Welch was an engineer with a nose for the financial/business side. Jeff Immelt, Bob Nardelli and Jim McNerney are B-school grads who thought Welch’s prescription for GE was a magic pill that could supercharge any business in any era.
    Immelt oversaw GE’s diminished quarter by quarter. Nardelli almost ran Home Depot into the ground (even I stopped shopping there, then saw the improvements after he was kicked out) then presided over Chrysler until it was given to Fiat.
    And McNerney (who followed Harry Stonecipher – another GE/Welch alum) probably continued the squeeze out short term profit way of doing things.

    The Boeing of the 50’s and 60’s was and amazing visionary/risk taking company.
    The B47, B52, KC135, 707, 727, 737, and then 747. Also the aborted SST.
    After that? Seems to be mostly improvements on the 707 until the 787.

    Hopefully they learn the lessons and get good people in the right places.
    Can Alan Mulally be coaxed out of retirement?

  • BSinSC

    These are build in Washington state. Any chance that the UNIONS, that were DEFIED by Boeing by opening their plant in South Carolina, are letting dysfunctional ee’s SABOTAGE the planes? Any IRANIANS OR IRAQUIS working there? I’m sure there must be SOME reason for the shoddy, DANGEROUS mistakes – maybe SOMEONE needs to BE FIRED!

  • ggm

    Has Boeing adopted affirmative action policies for management promotions ? That is the most likely explanation.

  • Dean Vanderlinde

    The KC-46 Pegasus is based on the 767 platform. The Navy’s P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft is based on the 737 platform. Is the Navy having any problems with P-8 deliveries?

  • Occasional Commenter

    Remember: Airbus originally won the KC-46 competition, but the Obama administration intervened to steer it into Boeing’s hands. Airbus was going to build its plane in non-union Alabama, while Boeing has a unionized work force, which donates generously to the Democrats.

  • Matt

    How about several problems the U.S. Army has had with Boeing’s AH-64 Apache attack helicopter? Failing strap pack nuts, E model transmissions, Mission Processors……. the Army stopped accepting AH-64Es in 2018 for a few months over issues.

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