Boeing Pulls Wraps Off New Jet for Air Force's T-X Competition

 - September 13, 2016, 2:03 PM

After three years of secrecy, Boeing Defense rolled out a new single-engine, twin-tail, high-wing training jet during a rousing ceremony at its St. Louis headquarters on September 13. The manufacturer and partner Saab have nearly completed two of the jets to compete for the U.S. Air Force’s T-X advanced training jet competition.

The BTX-1 jet, registered as N381TX, is powered by the GE Aviation F404-GE-402 afterburning turbofan engine that powers the Boeing F/A-18C/D Hornet. The jet’s twin canted vertical tails also resemble the F/A-18’s, but it features a more bulbous canopy with a stepped tandem cockpit for the instructor and training pilots.

Boeing and Saab signed a joint development agreement to contend for the T-X program in December 2013. Darryl Davis, Boeing Phantom Works president, declined to reveal specifically what Saab is contributing to the new jet. It has already been reported that the Swedish manufacturer is supplying the rear fuselage, and Davis suggested Boeing is responsible for the wings and tail structures.

The design melds elements from the F/A-18 and Saab’s JAS 39 Gripen single-engine fighter, Davis said immediately after the roll-out ceremony. “There’s a lot of reuse throughout this whole jet to include some of the design and manufacturing things Saab is doing, some of the things the Boeing company does, and it’s all packaged together in this offering behind me,” he said. Saab “brought a tremendous amount of expertise, technical detail, a lot of reuse of subsystems out of the Gripen.”

Davis, Boeing Defense president and CEO Leanne Caret and Saab president and CEO Håkan Buskhe spoke during the roll-out ceremony. Accompanied by Boeing T-X program manager Ted Torgerson and Saab deputy program manager Eddy de la Motte, Davis later met with reporters in a separate hangar where a second BTX prototype was undergoing assembly. The two jets will participate in a flight-test program that should begin “before the end of the year,” Davis said.

The new jet has one hardpoint on its center fuselage to carry what Davis described as a cargo pod, but it will also accommodate wing hardpoints if desired, he said. The companies plan to make the jet available to other customers, Davis confirmed.

“That’s something our soft partner brings to this with their global footprint,” he said, referencing Saab. “Our presumption is we will provide the U.S. Air Force with 346 trainers” and five additional jets under the T-X program’s engineering, manufacturing and development phase, Davis said.

The Boeing-Saab jet is arrayed against a new GE F404-powered jet built by Northrop Grumman’s Scaled Composites subsidiary; the T-50A advanced by Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries; and the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master proposed by Raytheon and Leonardo.