The effort to replace the Air Force's Eisenhower-era fleet of more than 500 air-refueling tankers has been fraught with controversy from the start.

The effort to replace the Air Force’s Eisenhower-era fleet of more than 500 air-refueling tankers has been fraught with controversy from the start.


October: As the airline industry struggles after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Air Force proposes to lease 100 air-refueling tankers from Boeing at a cost of $20 billion or more. Sen. John McCain quickly becomes the chief critic, calling it “a sweet deal” for Boeing that would cost taxpayers more than alternative plans.


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November: Boeing fires finance chief Mike Sears and Vice President Darleen Druyun after concluding Sears improperly offered her a job while she was a top Air Force acquisitions officer overseeing the tanker contract. Boeing CEO Phil Condit resigns a week later. The next spring, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld effectively scraps the tanker-leasing deal.


September: After a new contract competition is announced, Northrop Grumman officially teams up with EADS — European Aeronautic Defence & Space, the parent of European plane maker Airbus — to bid against Boeing for the first 179-plane contract.


January: The Airbus chief says EADS will assemble commercial jets as well as Air Force tankers in Mobile, Ala., if his team wins.

February: The Pentagon announces Northrop-EADS will build its next generation of tankers, now named the KC-45A.

March: Boeing files a protest of the Air Force contract award. Company Chairman and CEO Jim McNerney calls it “an extraordinary step rarely taken by our company.”

June: The Government Accountability Office backs Boeing’s protest, finding the Defense Department made at least seven major mistakes in the procurement process.

July 9: Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Pentagon will rebid the tanker contract, and that his office, not the Air Force, will choose the winner.

Aug. 6: The Pentagon releases a draft request for bids to Boeing and Northrop-EADS.

Aug. 22: Boeing says it may bail out of the contest unless it gets additional time from the Pentagon to assemble its offer.

Sept. 10: The Defense Department delays the tanker competition, handing a victory to Boeing and leaving the politically charged decision for the next president.


Sept. 25: The Air Force launches its third attempt to award the $35 billion tanker contract, shortly after Gates restores its authority to decide the winner.

Oct. 28: Northrop says the new request for proposals is biased toward Boeing because it prioritizes cost over expanded capabilities.

Dec. 1: Northrop warns it won’t bid unless the Pentagon’s draft request for proposals is rewritten.


March 8: Northrop withdraws from the competition.

April 20: Airbus parent EADS re-enters the race, stating that its goal is to beat Boeing on price.

July 8: EADS submits bid. Boeing submits its bid the next day.

November: An Air Force mix-up releases proprietary bid information to each contender.


Jan. 10: Boeing celebrates the 1,000th 767, the last before the plane’s assembly line is relocated within the Everett plant.

Jan. 27: Air Force Maj. General Wendy Masiello tells a Senate hearing that Boeing and EADS both responded “correctly and professionally” to November’s accidental release of their bid information.

Feb. 10: Both contenders submit their final bids.

Feb. 24: The Air Force awards the contract to Boeing, saying it is “a clear winner” based on price.

Source: Seattle Times archives