The cabaret known as the U.S. Air Force's KC-X tanker competition is getting in some high-kicks now, baby. This summer, a little known company with 30 employees called U.S. Aerospace, which had changed its name from New Century only last March, and which has had some recent questions surrounding its debt situation, announced that it plans to furnish the Air Force with its next aerial refueling tanker.
As you might guess about a 30-person company, U.S. Aerospace has no airplane of its own. It plans to offer the Antonov An-70, a cargo plane manufactured in Ukraine. The Russian and Ukranian governments have been turning their nose up at the An-70 for two decades. The first prototype was destroyed in a mid-air collision with a chase plane in 1995. The second prototype was damaged in an emergency, wheels-up landing during cold weather tests in 2001. No production models have come off the line, but Ukraine's Air Force hopes to take delivery of the first An-70 in 2011, and the second one in 2012.
It gets better, according to this story in Aviation Week. The proposal deadline—which U.S. Aerospace had asked be extended but was denied—was 2:00 p.m. on July 9. Bids were to be submitted at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Boeing's 767 bid was in with plenty of time to spare. EADS was a day early with its Airbus A330 bid, having sent one copy of its proposal by air and another by ground just in case. Then, 30 minutes before the deadline, U.S. Aerospace's messenger showed up at the gate at Wright-Patt (riding a donkey?) where, the company claims, he got the runaround by Air Force personnel. First he was denied entry, says U.S. Aerospace, then he was given wrong directions. The proposal was finally accepted at, oh gosh, 2:05 (trombone please). AvWeek quoted Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morell: "This is a $30 billion-$40 billion bid. This is not a high school homework assignment."
As to why U.S. Aerospace thinks it can handle the huge job of coming up with 179 tankers, and make it happen with a Ukrainian airplane that has struggled for 15 years to get bought by its own country—no one has the faintest clue.
The Air Force continues to insist the company didn't make the deadline, and will consider only the bids from Boeing and EADS. As for U.S. Aerospace, they filed a protest on August 2 with the Government Accountability Office.
Here's what the An-70's rollout looked like a decade and a half ago: