Boeing: T-X Offering for U.S. Air Force is 'Production Relevant'

 - May 17, 2017, 11:23 PM
T-X2 jet for the Air Force's T-X advanced jet trainer competition is shown in Boeing's delivery building in St. Louis. (Photo: Bill Carey)

The Boeing-Saab offering for the U.S. Air Force’s T-X advanced jet trainer requirement is a “production relevant” aircraft, Boeing asserted this week. The manufacturer batted down the suggestion that its clean-sheet design will take longer to deliver to the service than competing jets based on operational models.

Meeting with reporters on May 17 in St. Louis, Boeing’s T-X program manager Ted Torgerson maintained a tight grip on information about the single-engine, twin-tail, high-wing design the companies rolled out last September, declining to reveal their investment in the program, the workshare with Saab or the number of flight hours flown by now two working jets. The T-X1 flew for the first time on December 20; the T-X2 flew on April 24.

Asked about how many flight hours the jets have accumulated, Torgerson said only: “They have flown a lot, as many as four times in a day.” He added that Boeing has already collected what the Air Force requires for flight-test data, including time-stamped cockpit audio and video, to make the service’s June 28 deadline.

Valued at $16.3 billion, the T-X program calls for 350 jets and ground-based training systems to replace the aging Northrop T-38 Talons the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command uses for undergraduate pilot training. Following the submission of flight-test data in June, competing contractors have until late fall to make final proposal revisions. They expect the Air Force will select one jet type in December, launching the program's engineering and manufacturing development phase.

The Boeing-Saab offering, powered by a GE Aviation F404-GE-402 engine, faces competition from Lockheed Martin and Korea Aerospace Industries, proposing the T-50A variant of KAI’s single-engine T-50 Golden Eagle; and Italy’s Leonardo and its U.S. subsidiary DRS Technologies, offering the T-100 variant of the twin-engine Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master.

At Lockheed Martin’s annual media day in March, executive vice president Rob Weiss said that his company if necessary could deliver the T-50A six years earlier than a clean-sheet design, saving the Air Force $1 billion it would otherwise spend on sustaining the T-38. Torgerson responded: “I have no rebuttal to that because how do they know? All I know is that we have invested to build two production jets that are ready to go…a full development program, SRR [systems requirements review], PDR [preliminary design review], CDR [critical design review] and a full flight-test program. We built two because we wanted to prove that we weren’t just a demonstrator; we have an airplane we can build repeatedly.”

If the Air Force selects the T-50A, Lockheed Martin would assemble it in Greenville, South Carolina. Leonardo and DRS Technologies would assemble the T-100 in Tuskegee, Alabama. On May 15, Boeing announced that T-X assembly would take place in St. Louis, supporting 1,800 direct and indirect jobs. Formerly the headquarters of its Defense, Space and Security Group, the greater St. Louis area is where Boeing builds the F/A-18 and F-15 fighters and the Joint Direct Attack Munition.

“When you look at the skill mix of the airplanes we produce at this site, the capabilities we have at this site, the facilities we have in place; we don’t have to build anything new, we’ve got all the facilities we need right here,” Torgerson said.