The US Department of Defense (DoD) announced an extension of $12.4m to the contract for two VC-25B aircraft intended to replace the two current Air Force One aircraft that serve as transportation for the US President, the presidential staff and guests.
Delays in the programme stem from a need to resolve ‘technical and certification issues in the previous supplier’s design’ and a ‘large number of unexpected design errors’, which led to suspension of wiring fabrication in March, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report published in June 2023.
The VC-25B program does not involve the production of new aircraft, instead modifying of 2 existing commercial aircraft, largely by the introduction of electronic and communication systems to a Boeing 747, but also the inclusion of a self-contained bag loader, front and aft stairs, and the capability for in-flight refueling.
An earlier GAO report from 2020 stated that program officials were incorporating lessons learned from the KC-46 program – which also used a commercially derived aircraft – by conducting a comprehensive wiring review. Boeing experienced a 7-month delay on the KC-46 programme due to wiring issues on the KC-46, and it was anticipated that the VC-25B’s 250 miles of wiring would mean some delays for the introduction of a new Air Force One aircraft.
The concerns over wiring and ongoing workforce issues mean that programme officials doubted test plans would be completed by first flight, which was scheduled for April 2024.
Officials from the program also stated that numerous stress-corrosion cracks on specific aircraft support structures were discovered on the 747-8 commercial fleet, including crack locations on each VC-25B, and that they must be repaired. According to VC-25B officials, approximately half of the cracks have already been repaired as of December 2022, with the remainder to be repaired by summer 2023.
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According to program officials cited in the GAO report from 2023, an Independent Review Team comprised of Air Force, Boeing, and Federal Aviation Administration experts concluded that the cracks pose no safety risks to the VC-25B aircraft as long as planned inspections are performed during scheduled VC-25B maintenance periods.
The contract extension for $12.4m announced by the DoD brings the total cost of the programme up to $4.229bn, with work expected to be completed by October 2026.
For this cost, the VC-25B contract modifies two Boeing 747 aircraft structurally, making electrical power upgrades, adding mission communication system, introducing military avionics, providing executive interiors, as well as other systems.
In April 2019, the Air Force and Office of the Secretary of Defense, Acquisition and Sustainment determined that of the 12 technologies being installed, all are considered mature and are being installed in a relevant environment, reducing the burden of testing.