Boeing today unveiled its long-awaited proposal for the US Air Force’s T-X advanced pilot trainer competition. The rollout ceremony took place at the company’s factory in St Louis, Missouri, and finally sheds some light on the previously secretive design.
Boeing was first to break cover with plans for a ‘clean-sheet’ T-X design way back in 2010, but many speculated at that time that it would be prohibitively costly when having to factor design and development costs over an existing design. When the T-X program was first announced, the Air Force hinted to industry it was looking for an affordable, off-the-shelf system. However, Boeing stuck to its guns and remained confident with its strategy, while playing its cards close to its chest.
It was Boeing’s teaming with Saab that really changed the game when it came to clean-sheet solutions for T-X. Saab has a strong track record of keeping development and flight-testing costs down, driving down production costs through smart new processes. It started to look like a clean-sheet design, built exactly to Air Force requirements, at an affordable price point, could be a way to win T-X — but the pressure would mount on the USAF to keep costs in check.
The US Air Force released its eagerly awaited formal requirements list for its T-38 Talon replacement program in March 2015, kick-starting the process that will lead to selection of a new fast-jet training aircraft. This was the last step before contractors will be invited to respond to a request for proposals (RFP) for the T-X competition — expected to be released by the end of 2016. This will lead to a down-select in 2017 and then by a contract award.
Boeing’s military aircraft production plant in St Louis staring in the face of a black hole at the end of this decade as Super Hornet, Growler and Eagle production is set to end. There can be little doubt that the desire to maintain St Louis through the award of a deal such as T-X will be a major consideration for the US military aerospace manufacturing base.
In a statement pre-released on its website, the manufacturer said: ‘Boeing T-X is an all-new advance pilot training system designed specifically for the US Air Force training mission. It includes trainer aircraft, ground based training and support – designed together from the ground up. Today’s young teens will be among the first pilots to train on T-X. We’re excited to design a new airplane, as part of a complete training system, for their generation. Boeing T-X is safe, agile and affordable so that the US Air Force can continue to train generations of pilots for decades to come.’