Defense Technology International - September 2008 - (Page 32)
AIRCRAFT DEVELOPMENTAL LEAN AND ME Economy and innovation will be key to USAF’s next-gen bomber BILL SWEETMAN•MINNEAPOLIS n October 1948, a group of Boeing engineers gathered in the Van Cleve Hotel in Dayton, Ohio. In a Friday meeting at neighboring Wright-Patterson AFB, they were told the company’s contract for a turboprop bomber was to be canceled—the same goals could be achieved by hanging jet boosters on the Convair B-36. Over the weekend, the Boeing team developed a better, pure-jet proposal based on new engines, the aerodynamics of the XB-55 medium bomber and the use of inﬂight refueling. Aerodynamicist George Schairer bought balsa wood, paints and tools from a hobby store and built a scale model to accompany the proposal, which was presented to the U.S. Air Force on Monday. The model, now part of the Museum of Flight collection in Seattle, is recognizably a B-52. Not only was it a successful bomber, but the last successful such program that USAF executed, despite total expenditures in the high tens of billions of dollars. The B-1B is at best a compromise; the B-2 una ordable to upgrade or support; the supersonic B-58 was an inﬂexible widow-maker; and the B-70 and 32 I B-1A were scrapped before production. Now USAF wants to develop a Next Generation Bomber (NGB) by 2018, a shorter timescale than any recent program. In some ways, the project has started: DTI reported in June (p. 16) that Northrop Grumman received a $2billion boost in classiﬁed programs revenue in its Integrated Systems sector— responsible for manned and unmanned air vehicles—in the first quarter. The most likely reading of this, combined with what is known about Northrop Grumman’s work on the NGB and the unclassiﬁed funding line for that project in Pentagon budgets, is that the company won a sole-source contract for a large, stealthy platform to demonstrate critical NGB technologies. DTI’s story was followed by a gag order from USAF covering the program. Squelching public discussion of a new bomber, however, is seldom a good idea. In the case of the B-2, it led to the unchallenged piling of one requirement upon another, vastly increasing costs. However, conversations over several years with engineers, participants and planners about NGB and its precursors point to a clear set of challenges and opportunities for the bomber. The main challenge is a ordability. Historically, U.S. bomber projects have been approved in times of booming defense spending and canceled or cut back in lean years. USAF cannot count on boom years between now and 2018. In terms of the systems development and demonstration (SDD) budget, NGB can start to see serious money in 2011, when the Joint Strike Fighter SDD passes its peak. There is unlikely to be enough money available early enough to base the NGB on fundamentally new materials, propulsion, weapons or avionics. The Northrop Grumman demonstration program (assuming DTI’s assessment is correct) will prove out an e cient, stealthy conﬁguration based on the best of today’s technology. Under the skin, however, a 2018 bomber will have JSF-like sensors and materials, commercial processing and most likely derivative engines. Another aspect of a ordability is that the aircraft will be expensive and procured alongside the JSF, which USAF is AviationWeek.com/dti DEFENSE TECHNOLOGY INTERNATIONAL SEPTEMBER 2008
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