AIR FORCE NEWS
JUST IN: New T-7A Jet Trainer Flight Test Could Happen This Year
Courtesy of Boeing
Testing of the next model of the Air Force’s new jet trainer aircraft could happen before the end of 2021, or in early 2022, said Boeing officials Feb. 23.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s toll on the aviation industry, the T-7A Red Hawk program has been moving at pace because of digital engineering, which allowed the engineering team to prioritize staff safety and program efficiency, Chuck Dabundo, vice president and program manager for the Boeing T-7A program, said on a press call.
The Red Hawk is set to replace the Air Force’s legacy training aircraft, the T-38C Talon , a move which is expected to increase safety for trainees and visibility for instructors among other benefits.
Flight tests will continue for the “production relevant jet” model this year, Dabundo added, including one that will take place this summer at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
The first engineering and manufacturing development model of the aircraft to be flight tested is currently under construction at Boeing’s St. Louis facility. Dabundo said that 90 percent of the forward fuselage is complete, and Boeing is awaiting a portion of the aircraft from its partner on the T-7A, Saab. Some of this portion includes software, working instrumentation and some of the structure build of the jet, which will arrive in about a month, he said.
The second phase of production is expected to start at the end of 2021 or early 2022. The T-7A will embark on its first EMD model flight test at that time, Dabundo noted.
“That phase basically takes the actual production jets and confirms what we know, plus do some other testing,” he said.
The flight testing will be jointly executed by the Air Force and Boeing, he noted.
Dabundo said the first delivery of aircraft f slated for fielding is on schedule for 2023 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. Initial operating capability is expected in 2024.
Tom Bresnahan, Boeing’s senior operations and quality manager of the T-7A, said full size determinant assembly combined with model-based systems engineering have allowed the team to build the aircraft digitally.
Because the first models of the aircraft were digital, engineers could do more testing to ensure that the physical iteration was in good shape, he said.
“Looking at the aircraft here, we were able to sit in a conference room, and … talk with the technicians and mechanics about how to most efficiently put this together, as well as what tools [and] processes were needed to make sure we had first time quality right out of the gate,” Bresnahan said.
He added that digital engineering allowed skins and substructure of the aircraft to come in full size from the supply base, eliminating drilling and limiting the shimming necessary. These adaptations keep quality and efficiency high, while keeping employees safe and healthy, he noted.
Boeing’s portion of the aircraft only took three people to assemble, a minimal number for the company, Bresnahan noted.
“It is extremely game-changing for us on the production floor,” he said.
The Air Force’s indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract for the T-7A has an estimated ceiling of $9.2 billion for both the aircraft and ground-based training systems. The service plans to buy 351 platforms.
Boeing is currently working on initial weapons systems and operational flight trainers for its ground-based training systems, and has sectioned off an area in its St. Louis facility to start integration and evaluating the systems, Dabundo said.
“We're making great progress on those,” he said. “They will be meshed up with the aircraft portion of the program, and really support IOC in 2024.”
Meanwhile. Boeing is currently in talks with the U.S. Navy to replace the service’s trainer jet, the T-45 Goshawk, Dabundo noted, although no program of record currently exists.
“Now we're working closely with them answering questions about the platform and capabilities and we're hopeful that we'll be able to play a role in the Navy's training systems as well,” he said.
-Additional reporting by Yasmin Tadjdeh