Air Force Letter To Douglas Spells Out 75 Defects For C-17

LONG BEACH, Calif. - The Air Force has notified McDonnell Douglas that its C-17 cargo jet has 75 deficiencies that must be corrected, ranging from a weak main landing gear to inadequate electric generators, according to a letter obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Senior Air Force officials say the notice - which is the most comprehensive list of C-17 problems to become public - was issued in late March, after the service became concerned that the Douglas Aircraft unit in Long Beach was not putting sufficient effort into solving the problems.

Air Force officials and Douglas spokesmen say the 75 defects do not represent major technical problems that would threaten the viability of the $30 billion program. But the full extent of some problems is still under study, including an analysis of whether the airframe itself will wear out prematurely.

"We weren't seeing enough activity in these areas, and we didn't want them to be last-minute crises," said Col. Charles Siefert, the deputy program manager. "We have had our fill of those."

Siefert said the letter reflects Air Force concern that Douglas was putting its full energy into achieving the first flight of the C-17 - which the company has scheduled for June - but was less attentive to other aspects of the program that would be more important in the long run.

"There were many other items that needed to be addressed. We put it all together and dropped it on them," he said.

The list was accompanied by a cover letter that demanded a corrective action plan in 45 days, a period that expires in mid-June.

The Air Force told Douglas, "This letter is issued with the understanding that it will not result in an increase in funding allotted to the contract or a change to price schedule or any other contractually specified requirements."

The letter appears to underscore the serious problems that McDonnell has encountered in developing the C-17, which is significantly behind schedule and an estimated $500 million over its contract ceiling. The Air Force plans to buy 120 of the four-engine cargo jets.

Douglas spokesman James Ramsey downplayed the Air Force letter, saying that the defects are all minor and that many have already been corrected. But Ramsey declined to discuss the specific defects or identify which had been fixed.

Ramsey said the company has "responded" to the demand for a corrective-action plan, but he declined to describe the nature of the response.

"None of the items mentioned affect the cost, safety or performance or would impact our ability to safely achieve first flight," Ramsey said.

The list of problems includes the notation that the C-17's cockpit "does not present an acceptable habitable compartment for crash conditions. All risks with this hazardous condition have not been reduced to an acceptable level."

Separately, it has been learned that Douglas agreed to provide a $14 million rebate to the Air Force on the first six C-17s that are in production, because the aircraft will fail to meet its required range. That deficiency, along with four others, will be resolved in the next C-17 production contract, Siefert said.