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Boeing T-X Headed Toward First Flight

November 29, 2016 (Photo Credit: Boeing)
ORLANDO, Fla. — The Boeing-Saab T-X trainer is on track to fly by the end of the year after completing afterburner engine runs last week, Boeing officials said. 

Only a few more major tests remain before the plane makes its inaugural flight, said program manager Ted Torgerson during a Nov. 23 interview ahead of the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC).

“We are clicking off all of our test points, we have tested around somewhere around nearly 1,200 test points on the jet on ground tests,” he said.

The next test involves putting the plane, engine running, through the motions of a flight — takeoff, climb and landing — with the aircraft tied down to the runway, Torgerson said. The company will also check how the airplane responds to simulated system failures. After that, a Boeing-Saab board will clear the aircraft for flight, and the Federal Aviation Administration will certify it. Finally, the company will conduct low-, medium- and high-speed taxi tests before flying the jet.

“We’re looking to fly soon, before the year is over” Tom Conard, the company’s T-X capture team leader, reiterated during a Tuesday briefing at I/ITSEC. “And as we’re preparing that jet to fly, our flight crews are training in the training system devices to prepare them exactly what they’re going to see in the jet.”

A second Boeing T-X was revealed to the press during a September rollout ceremony shortly before it went through structural proof tests. The company is currently powering all of the systems on the airplane, will fuel the plane in a matter of weeks and plans to move quickly through tests for an early 2017 flight, Togerson said.

The Boeing-Saab team is competing against one other clean-sheet design, manufactured by Northrop Grumman. Two other teams are banking on less risky existing designs. Lockheed Martin has partnered with KAI to offer the T-50A, a version of the Korean company’s T-50 trainer. Raytheon joined with Leonardo and CAE on the T-100, which uses Alenia Aermacchi M-346 as the basis.

If all goes according to schedule, the Boeing-Saab plane will fly around the same time as the US Air Force issues its final request for proposals, which officials have targeted for a December release. The service has already put forward several draft request for proposals, which detail threshold requirements as well as objective requirements that could knock hundreds of millions of dollars off a company’s total evaluated price.

Boeing, for its part, has stressed that its clean-sheet design was tailored specifically for the threshold requirements, and officials have not detailed how close it can get to the objective.

"We're going to meet all the requirements and growth provisions for the future,” Conard said. "It has no radar, it has no weapons, it is not doing anything except advanced fast jet training."

Asked whether Boeing plans to incorporate such features for potential opportunities currently under discussion by the Air Force — such as an exercise of light-attack aircraft that could inform a program of record, or a proposal to hire industry to play the aggressor role in training exercises — Conard demurred.

“We’ll look at that after we win T-X,” he said. “We’ve got to win T-X, and then from there we will able to adapt and work in future variants. And I’ll leave it at that.”

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