|Boeing X-32 JSF|
|Boeing X-32A CTOL variant|
|Maiden flight||September 2000|
|Primary user||Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)|
In 1993, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched the Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter project (CALF). The project's purpose was to develop a stealth-enabled design to replace all of US DoD lighter weight fighter and attack aircraft, including the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18 Hornet, and STOVL short takeoff / vertical landing AV-8B Harrier II. Around the same time the Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) project was started. In 1994, the US Congress ordered the two to be merged into the Joint Strike Fighter Program.
Many companies took part in the first phase of this project, which involved drafting concept aircraft designs for submission to the Department of Defense. However on 16 November 1996, only Boeing and Lockheed Martin were awarded contracts, allowing them to produce two of their concept aircraft each. Under the contract, these fighters were required to demonstrate Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL), carrier take off and landing (CV version), and Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL). They were also expected to include ground demonstrations of a production representative aircraft's systems, such as the Preferred Weapon System Concept (PWSC).
One major departure from previous projects was the prohibition of the companies from using their own money to finance development. Each was awarded $750 million to produce their two aircraft – including avionics, software and hardware. This limitation promoted the adoption of low cost manufacturing and assembly techniques, and also prevented either Boeing or Lockheed Martin from bankrupting themselves in an effort to win such an important contest.
The X-32 featured a large chin mounted air intake and a large one piece carbon fiber composite wing, neither of which contributed to the sleek, awe-inspiring look expected from a high tech fighter, though the design does resemble the design of some Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). The wing would prove a challenge to fabricate. Boeing had proposed in the 1960s a similarly aesthetically challenged supersonic fighter with a mid-center-of-gravity mounted engine with vectored thrust nozzles, but this never proceeded beyond pictures published in Aviation Week. By comparison, the Lockheed entry looked like, if anything, a sleeker version of the large F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. Aesthetics would play no role in official scoring, but many defense analysts commented that fighters usually looked right, though the highly successful "double ugly" F-4 Phantom was a notable exception to this rule.
The first flight of the X-32A (designed for CTOL and carrier trials) took place in September 2000, from Boeing's Palmdale plant to Edwards Air Force Base. The X-32B demonstrated STOVL flight, first flying in March 2001. The X-32 achieved STOVL flight in much the same way as the AV-8 Harrier II with thrust vectoring of the jet and fan exhaust. The Lockheed Martin team used a riskier alternative, a shaft-driven lift fan powered by the main engine which was designed to generate more thrust than possible with only direct exhaust gases. A successful design would have more payload, and thus, longer range than a simple thrust vectored turbofan.
The experimental prototype had a delta wing, but the design had changed to one with a conventional tail which would make it more agile. It was judged that the prototype was sufficient to demonstrate the technology. The Lockheed aircraft would demonstrate a full transition from vertical to supersonic flight, and back to a vertical landing. The Boeing jet was not configured to do a transition, and was tested separately in vertical, or rolling takeoff / landing modes. Flight testing of both companies' aircraft continued until July 2001.
On 26 October 2001 the Department of Defense announced that the Lockheed Martin X-35 (later named the F-35 Lightning II) won the JSF competition. One of the main reasons for this choice appears to have been the method of achieving STOVL flight, with the Department of Defense judging that the higher performance lift fan system was worth the extra risk. When near to the ground, the Boeing X-32 suffers from the problem of hot air from the exhaust circulating back to the main engine, which causes the thrust to weaken and the engine to overheat.
The loss of the JSF contract to Lockheed Martin in 2001 was a major blow to Boeing, as it represented the most important international fighter aircraft project since the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The production run of the JSF is estimated at anywhere between 3000 and 5000. Prior to the awarding of the contract many lawmakers pushed the idea of retaining the losing competitor as a sub-contractor, however the "winner takes all" principle was not changed.
Boeing views its investment in the X-32 as a strategic investment, yielding important technologies which it has been able to adopt in the F/A-18 Super Hornet and other studies.
In 2005 the Boeing X-32A was transferred to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. Its condition had deteriorated due to sitting outside for several years following the end of the JSF competition. The X-32B was restored and is now on display at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station's Naval Air Museum in St. Mary's County, Maryland.
- Crew: 1
- Length: 50.77 ft (15.47 m)
- Wingspan: 36 ft (10.97 m)
- Height: (5.28 m)
- Wing area: 590 ft² (54.8 m²)
- Max takeoff weight: 38,000 lb (17,200 kg)
- Powerplant: × Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan military thrust classified, possibly about 26,300 lbf (117 kN) , 35,000 lbf (155.7 kN) each
- JSF Nova program on PBS
- Joint Strike Fighter - Federation of American Scientists
- PBS Documentary. NOVA: JSF Selection
- X-32 - Global Security
- X-32B - Patuxent River Naval Air Museum
- Boeing X-32B Aircraft Transferred to Pax River Museum
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