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Tanker Saga Becoming Real Star Wars Trilogy

Tuesday, 1 Jul 2008 | 9:07 AM ET
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Northrop Grumman Advertisement

Check out the new ads Northrop Grummanis running in some newspapers, once again promoting its tanker, this time portraying the Boeing KC-767 tanker as a “paper airplane.”

It’s going to be a long, hot summer until the Air Force decides whether to reopen bidding, and, if so, whether to start over completely with a new set of rules.

I’m beginning to think the entire tanker saga is like the original “Star War” trilogy. First there was Episode I (ok, it’s Episode IV to George Lucas, but not me), “A New (Tanker) Hope.” That ends with Darth Druyun and Darth Sears going to jail for turning the tanker into the Death Star of all ethics breaches.

The contract finally goes to newcomers, Northrop Grumman and EADS, which leads to the next installment, “Boeing Strikes Back,” where Boeing…strikes back. Big time. Now, buy your popcorn for “The Return of the Euros.” After a couple of weeks of not talking, Northrop Grumman has reemerged to tout its Airbus-based tanker entry with the new, edgy ads, and with a new press release. The release announces that the KC-45's refueling boom has completed its 100th flight.

"Unlike our competitor's offering that has yet to leave the drawing board,” says Northrop’s tanker chief Paul Meyer, “we have a mature, state-of-the-art boom…” But he’s not done. "The Air Force needs tankers now and had a choice between a yet to be built tanker concept and boom system against a flight-proven KC-45 to meet the critical, time-urgent refueling needs of the warfighter. The Air Force selected the KC-45, the only system that can fully meet these requirements today."

Sigh. Whoever ends up winning will certainly be a master of The (air) Force.

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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