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Production T-7 Red Hawk Nearing First Flight

 - November 15, 2021, 5:00 AM
The T-7 is a clean-sheet design embodying the state-of-the-art in training systems and the latest manufacturing processes. It comes equipped with a boom receptacle for refueling training. (Photo: Boeing)

The first production example of Boeing’s T-7A Red Hawk advanced trainer for flight trials is taking shape at the factory in St. Louis, Missouri, as mechanics install its final components prior to the beginning of ground tests. Boeing (Stand 1200) hopes to get the aircraft into the air by the end of the year, while acknowledging some delays to the assembly caused by the Covid pandemic.

Another four T-7As have entered the assembly flow. The process of putting together the major subassemblies can happen rapidly thanks to the employment of digital model-based engineering in the design, including the incorporation of self-locating part technology. Splicing the fore and aft fuselage sub-assemblies can take place in around 30 minutes, while attaching the wings and tail surfaces can take 10 minutes for each surface.

Industrial partner Saab builds the fuselage aft of the cockpit, and the initial production of seven sections have started at the company’s factory in Linköping, Sweden. It shipped the third such subassembly in equipped form to St. Louis in September and now forms part of the first production aircraft for flight. On October 13 Saab celebrated the opening of its new factory at West Lafayette, Indiana, which will take over production of the eighth and subsequent aft fuselage sections.

Boeing is under contract to deliver 351 T-7As to the U.S. Air Force to replace the aging Northrop T-38 Talon. The company expects to deliver four aircraft per month but, thanks to the digital design and assembly process, it has the flexibility to increase the rate to at least 10 per month. That could permit the fulfilment of any export orders in a short time without affecting deliveries to the primary customer.

In the meantime, Boeing continues to test the two BTX-1 prototypes it built for the T-X evaluation that resulted in a win for the company’s design in September 2018. The pair has performed more than 300 flights since they first took to the air on December 20, 2016, and have cleared a number of important functions, including mid-air engine restart. In early 2022 the aircraft will undergo high-angle-of-attack testing at Edwards AFB, California. Boeing cured the left-to-right wing-rock phenomenon it encountered in some earlier tests through a control law change.

Boeing envisions a healthy market for the T-7A and already is promoting the model to potential customers such as the UAE. Meant primarily for training aircrew for current state-of-the-art and future tactical aircraft, the T-7A features a digital backbone that allows it to easily embed live-visual-constructive training functions and for the associated ground-based training system to be fully concurrent with the live aircraft. The cockpit’s 10- by 19-inch wide-area display resembles that featured in the F-35 and the latest Super Hornet and Eagle variants.

The Red Hawk’s model-based design facilitates the addition of functions and capabilities to the aircraft, in turn making the adaptation of the design to armed trainer, aggressor, and light attack roles an easier task than for a traditional aircraft. Boeing sees a considerable market for such aircraft, but for now it is concentrating on the development and delivery of the advanced trainer for the U.S. Air Force, and is not yet marketing an armed version. However, the company has said that it is studying an October 12 request for information from the USAF for an Advanced Tactical Trainer, of which at least 100 aircraft it could require for use as aggressors and trainers for initial tactical instruction and air-to-ground operations. Responses to that RFI are due later in November.