The US Air Force has awarded the first contract under the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalisation programme, to Boeing, in a step towards building a new Air Force One fleet.
Under the $25.8m Phase 1 Pre-Milestone B contract, Boeing will undertake risk reduction activities such as the definition of detailed requirements and design trade-offs required to support informed decisions.
Scheduled to be completed by April 2017, the activities will lead to a lower-risk engineering and manufacturing development programme and lower life-cycle costs, the Department of Defense said.
Boeing will perform the works in Seattle and Everett, Washington.
The USAF is planning to acquire Boeing 747-8 commercial aircraft for the new Air Force One fleet.
Presidential Aircraft Recapitalisation programme manager Col. Amy McCain said: "This is the start of our contractual relationship with Boeing.
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"It will allow Boeing to begin working on what will be the next Air Force One.
"This initial effort is about reducing risk, really understanding where the tough work will be, finding affordability opportunities, and getting the best value for the taxpayer, while continuing to meet the needs of our commander in chief."
Boeing will receive contract modifications in future to supply 747-8, as well as to design, modify and test those aircraft to meet the presidential mission.
The Air Force is focusing on the affordability of the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalisation programme.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said: "We will continue to insist upon programme affordability through cost conscious procurement practices.
"We will ensure the next Air Force One meets the necessary capabilities established to execute the presidential support mission, while reflecting the office of the president of the United States of America consistent with the national public interest."
The first contract has been awarded exactly a year after the USAF announced its decision to select Boeing 747-8 as the replacement for the current fleet of VC-25A presidential aircraft.
Two platforms, the 747-8 manufactured by Boeing and the A380 manufactured by Airbus, met the USAF requirements of a four-engine, wide body aircraft for the Air Force One mission.
Boeing was selected based on a Determinations and Findings document, the USAF said last year.
The USAF maintains two Air Force One aircraft at all times, while the third is at depot maintenance.
"The current fleet of VC-25A presidential aircraft has performed exceptionally well.
"Yet, it is time to replace them.
"Parts obsolescence, diminishing manufacturing sources and increased down times for maintenance are existing challenges that will increase until a new aircraft is fielded." James added.
Image: Boeing 747-8 will be modified to meet Air Force One fleet requirements. Photo: courtesy of Boeing.