Northrop Grumman, in partnership with Scaled Composites and BAE Systems, is offering a ‘clean sheet’ design for the T-X competition.
Northrop Grumman was initially teamed with BAE Systems to offer the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) as its T-X platform. However, with the release of the USAF’s Key Performance Parameters (KPP) in 2015 it was clear that the Hawk would no longer meet specifications. NGC had little choice but to ditch the Hawk bid in favor of a brand-new design. Company executives said that decision was made after the service requirements became clear. Responding to questions, Northrop stated: ‘In 2011 we entered the fight with the Hawk and with an RFP schedule to be on the horizon in early 2012. We stood behind the Hawk as the best solution at the time. As the program moved to the right and the timeline grew, the Air Force requirements began to evolve and we gained greater insight into what capability was really needed for T-X. It became more and more clear to us that the Hawk was no longer the optimum solution in terms of requirements and affordability. We as a team made the decision to no longer offer the Hawk and to incorporate a new air vehicle into our T-X solution.’
While this came as a blow for BAE Systems and for the Hawk, it wasn’t all bad news. BAE Systems’ experience and capabilities in pilot training is seen by Northrop as crucial to its bid when it comes to ’embedded air vehicle training capability’. The embedded synthetic training afforded by the Hawk AJT is viewed as being essential as Northrop develops its contribution for a T-X solution.
Northrop Grumman progressed with an internally-funded ‘clean-sheet’ solution, abandoning an off-the-shelf proposal. ‘Divided tracks lead to divided focus, and our team is committed to offering one integrated family of systems solution that affordably meets the requirements of the Air Force’, the company stated.
Northrop Grumman tasked its subsidiary Scaled Composites of Mojave, CA, with developing a ‘clean sheet’ T-X design. Northrop Grumman gave reporters a sneak preview of its T-X concept in late 2015, with a model shown that many described as being ‘much like a T-38’, of which Northrop was of course the manufacturer. The model showed a low-wing, single-engine aircraft with conventional tail arrangement.
Northrop Grumman’s T-X website states:
‘Northrop Grumman has used advanced design and prototyping techniques to build a purpose-built aircraft for the competition. The aircraft combines Northrop Grumman and Scaled Composites innovative approach to aircraft design, development and rapid prototyping.
Our partnerships with BAE Systems and L-3 positions our team as the industry leader in pilot training experience. For decades, we and our partners have designed and delivered more training platforms in service than any others, with over 95,000 pilots trained and more than 17 million flight hours logged. Together, our team is pulling from our many successes in the pilot training arena to deliver a high performing, affordable T-X solution.
Combining our purpose-built aircraft with BAE Systems’ embedded training capability and an L-3 ground based training system, we have created an integrated training solution designed specifically to US Air Force requirements. That’s why we’re a leader in trusted and affordable combat pilot training.’
A rollout and possibly first flight of the new T-X demonstrator was expected in the second half of 2016, according to reports in January 2016.
On August 19, the first images appeared on social media of what appeared to be Northrop Grumman’s ‘clean sheet’ aircraft. The images were taken at Mojave Airport, California, during what was reported as a high-speed taxi trial. Indeed, logs from FlightRadar 24 reveal the test.
The aircraft, registered N400NT, was manufactured by NGC’s subsidiary Scaled Composites at Mojave, and according to the FAA registry it is powered by a single F404-GE-102D turbofan engine and is known as the Model 400.
With the design having broken cover, the NGC design clearly owes much to Scaled Composites. The aircraft shows clear lineage with the T-38 and indeed the F-20 Tigershark.
BAE Systems offers considerable weight to this contender. The Hawk T2 in UK Royal Air Force service has synthetic embedded training that is possibly only matched by that of the M-346 (T-100). Marrying up these advanced synthetic training opportunities with the new, possibly high-performance airframe, may offer NGC a good chance in T-X, however proving maturity will be tough when a brand new, immature airframe, is compared to the T-50A and T-100.