Boeing’s T-X bid a bellwether for future

ST. LOUIS — Boeing is consciously taking a departure from its normal design process in coming up with a concept for the forthcoming U.S. Air Force T-38C replacement competition.

This process could help shape the company’s bids for other Pentagon competitions to come — such as the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Surveillance and Strike (Uclass) and next-generation bomber.

The very fact that the company is planning to compete with a clean-sheet design is viewed by some analysts as bold. Senior Air Force officials have said they want to proceed with a program at the lowest possible cost and risk. The likely candidates are thought to be the existing designs now being pitched by foreign suppliers — BAE’s Hawk-based concept, the Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50 and Alenia Aermacchi’s M346. These companies all tout their designs as inexpensive because the development costs have already been paid by other customers.

The ability to build something new is an advantage, though, according to Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Military Aircraft. “We are going to try to disrupt the market with a purpose-built platform that provides the right capability at the right cost at the right time for the customer,” he tells Aviation Week.

Chadwick says the company has embraced a “one Boeing” concept that has allowed for improved collaboration among the different business units – including Boeing Commercial Aircraft and the various divisions of the Defense Space and Security sector. This has facilitated an unprecedented amount of best-practice sharing as well as lessons from failed work.

And, an “immersive development,” or Imdev, concept is allowing for collaborative design work using virtual tools across the company.

This push, coupled with a variety of options for T-X, gives company officials confidence in their approach.

“When you’re starting with a clean piece of paper you’re unconstrained; when you’re starting with an airplane that’s already in flight test or in some stage of production you’re dramatically constrained,” says Darryl Davis, president of Boeing’s Phantom Works advanced development unit. “but [we’ve] got unlimited degrees of freedom here… We would contend, potentially, that for the same amount of investment and a different approach to balancing what’s on the ground with what’s in the air, you could make a different trade; whereas if the airplane is already built you can’t make that trade.”

With its T-X procurement, the Air Force is looking to buy a full, fast-jet training system that will ready pilots for service in the F-22 and F-35. This will include the aircraft as well as a robust, ground-based suite of coursework and simulation-based training.

Davis notes that since Boeing is not bounded by the capabilities of an aircraft that already has been built, the company can tinker with the balance of what learning can be done on the ground and what must be done in high-cost flight hours.

What is unclear is just how much research and development funding Boeing plans to sink into its development before bidding a design to the Air Force. Significant financial pressure at the Pentagon is forcing the service to reduce its R&D spending as much as possible. Boeing may have to underwrite some of its design work, as it is doing with the KC-46A development, to balance out the cost of its design with that of one of the off-the-shelf options flying today.

Company officials declined to outline how far along they are in detailed design work and how much funding they are willing to put into their design for T-X.

— This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

—  By Amy Butler

  • Nicky

    The US Military T-X should have the capability for Combat duty Such as CONUS duty and Homeland defense duty on top of their flight training for pilots as well

  • blight_

    I get the feeling that pulling in commercial and military guys is only going to forment cross-departmental rivalry…

    • Dfens

      The commercial side engineers are used to making their customers happy, not screwing them like on the defense side. My bet is the commercial side guys propose an ME-262 looking airplane, except with a round fuselage. Those people love round fuselages.

  • Lance

    With cuts and sequestration the the USAF funds being sucked up by the KC-46 and F-35 programs I do not see TX going much further than paper work. Fact too is the T-38 dose the job fine now and even F-22 pilots have no problem transitioning from trainer to raptor. The fact all but one entrees is euro-crap again is another alarm. Overall TX was made under the Bush era spend spend spend time and now that money is all gone TX may set for a long time in the file cabinet.

  • Michael

    I’ve seen the Hawk demonstrator at a couple of airshows, and I like what I see. I couldn’t tell the difference between it and the T-45 except for the paint scheme.

    The M-346 looks like kinda like the jet plane from the Cars movie.

    I’ve wondered for a while if the T-50 would be a winner in the T-x competition. I just don’t know. The foreign element is what makes it questionable to me.

    I’d be interested in seeing Boeing’s design. I think they need this right now.

  • XYZ

    I think it’s definitely possible they could pull this off, assuming they are all in.

  • Dfens

    I guess Boeing remembers Senator Pat Schroeder crying on the steps of the Capitol Building because the JPATS trainer would not accommodate most female pilots. Good to see someone learned something from history. Obviously the US Air Force has not. Over the last 6 years the defense budget has gone up 10% but employment in the defense sector has declined 3%. In fact, despite the fact that we spend more on defense now than we did at any point during the Cold War, our defense work force is the smallest it has been since the 1940s. Always good to see that trend continue. Hell, let’s outsource all our weapons. What could possibly go wrong?

  • Musson

    I am just waiting for some idiot to propose we buy the trainer from China to cut costs.

    • Chimp

      Well, the JL-15 does look nice…