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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Boeing’s Strategy: Holistic, Enduring and Innovating

By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief, reporting from St. Louis, Mesa and Seattle

Boeing demonstrated the AH-64E and AH-6 to the media ‘up close and personal’ in the early morning desert sun
When Boeing calls asking if you would like to join its pre-Farnborough/Le Bourget media briefing week, it is unwise to say “no.” The schedule is always hectic, crisscrossing the United States on variously timed early and late flights, but the agenda always makes the effort worthwhile. Hence Rotor & Wing was in this year’s select group and while I had completed the course with more than enough information to fill a small book, this article has been tailored to reflect the aspects relevant to our rotorcraft sector audience.

“Customers need innovation, ideas and affordability. They want more capability at the right time and the right price,” said Chris Chadwick, executive vice president, and president/CEO of Boeing Defense, Space and Security. (See more on page 20).

He said that there was a rebalancing of social as well as military/security forces worldwide.

Condensing his points into the rotorcraft side of the business, he emphasized the importance of keeping the helicopter portfolio current and continually attractive to international buyers: “That is one of the challenges that Boeing is facing with aircraft that were originally designed in the last century,” he said.

The simple fact is that Future Vertical Life (heavy) is still a long way off. Chadwick said that until that is reached, the existing product line has to be kept healthy and growing in adding capability.

Returning to Farnborough, Chadwick said that it was important to keep the dialogue with international customers fresh and to understand how they were evolving and even rebalancing in line with the world’s changing social as well as defense/security needs. He revealed that the commercial side of Boeing was playing an important part in helping the defense side of the business get access to customers, whether that was fighters, transport aircraft, intelligence gathering aircraft or helicopters.

Down in Mesa, Ariz., where Apaches can still quickly emerge from the surrounding hills [the AH-64E and AH-6 were demonstrated to the media in a low level display of capability early one morning], Boeing officials confirmed that there will be at least one further version of the AH-64 attack helicopter and probably two more versions of its CH-47 heavy lift helicopter before any aircraft developed through the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) FVL initiative are fielded.

The idea for Boeing’s Phantom Swift came from an engineer in Seattle.
Boeing’s outgoing director of attack helicopters, Mike Burke, stated that the Apache AH-64E was a sustainment program but that the aircraft is likely to still be flying for many years beyond the initial introduction of the new Future Vertical Lift (medium) fleet. Boeing has a joint venture with Sikorsky to present the SB>1 Defiant as the Joint Multi-Role technology demonstrator (JMR TD) as the first step on the path to realizing the FVL (medium) platform, which is intended to replace all of the U.S. Army’s AH-64 Apaches and UH-60 Black Hawks.

Dave Palm, director of Vertical Business Development, added that the company expects that the Chinook would benefit from “at least two more turns of technology” after the CH-47F. Boeing’s senior management has already said that the Chinook will come close to having a 100-year service life from its initial introduction in 1962.

The U.S. Army’s approved Multi Year II buy of CH-47Fs is planned to flow through to 2019, while the first of eight new build Special Forces MH-47Gs will be delivered this September. Potentially all 61 of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) aircraft will receive upgrades to the same standard. With FVL (heavy) not expected until around 2060, Palm said that the next version of the CH-47 could be expected after 2019 ensuring that there was a continuous production line and skills retention. He said that new rotor blades are currently being tested that should increase lift by over 1,800 lbs.

Interestingly, Jeff Shelton, Boeing’s SB>1 Defiant business development manager, stated that the JMR TD team agreement with Sikorsky “allows us to use technology developed on JMR or FVL to backward place onto our current fleets – Apache or Black Hawk.”

Boeing’s Phantom Swift prototype was born when the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) X-Plane program arrived for consideration at Phantom Works, Boeing’s advanced prototyping division, originally founded by McDonnell Douglas. They threw it out to Boeing’s wider innovation community for feedback.

“We had some great ideas coming back,” said Brian Ritter, Phantom Swift program manager, based in Mesa. But it was one from an engineer in Seattle that caught their eye. “He sent a rendering that looked more like a Star Trek space ship; it had a pair of coaxial fans in the center and funky wings. It was cool enough for us to play with.”

Ritter describes the DARPA program as searching for “that ever-illusive configuration of something that could hover more efficiently than anything we have today, fly faster than any VTOL rotorcraft, have a lift to drag ratio double that of a typical rotorcraft and with a 40 percent useful load. Most of those have never been done individually, never mind together.”

The Phantom team ran combinations of fans and wings and thrusters, which eventually resulted into the concept that they are working with today. “Suddenly we said that this could really work,” said Ritter. The initial flying mock-up was built by a group of six guys working on their own time on a six-foot model. DARPA’s proposal is broken into three phases, explained Stu Voboril, director of the Special Pursuits Cell. Phase 1 is conceptual and preliminary design; Phase 2 progresses into detail design and final assembly; while Phase 3 comprises the flight test program. The vehicle that the Phantom team is designing will weigh 12,000 lbs, be 44 feet long and 50 feet wingtip to wingtip. It will also be unmanned. Ritter said that the challenge was to fly a full-scale technology demonstrator in four-and-a-half years.

“Looking at existing technology for this first demonstration,” explains Ritter. DARPA allowed the four participants in the program – Boeing, Sikorsky, Aurora Flight Sciences and Karem Aircraft – the option of their platform being manned, unmanned or optionally manned. At this stage the four all chose unmanned platforms.

“The key technology is the ducted fan technology,” stated Ritter. “This is something that Boeing is now investing in and we are bringing materials and approaches toward meeting something that has to be both efficient in hover and high speed flight – two extremes that need to be brought together.”

“The lift to drag ratio in most helicopters is in the 5-6 range, whereas this has to be over 10. This first demonstrator is not designed to deliver any mission. It is a very early clean sheet design of an aircraft that hasn’t been done before and we are setting out on a journey to prove that this is technically viable. The potential once we have proven that could produce a family of products,” he said in summary.

The team would have liked to consider using electric drive but knows that the technology is not yet ready to deliver today. In terms of power, the Phantom Works team is looking at a combination of body fans in the fuselage and tilt wing fans. They have selected GE CT7-8 engines for the demonstrator. Said Ritter: “The wing tip thrusters take over at 80 mph cruise and the body fans close.”

Related: Airframe News

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