The “Way Back Machine” meets the “fact files”

Welcome back to The DEW Line after this blog’s extended hiatus for the holidays.

To kick things off for 2008, I’m going to share with you the fruits of a little investigative project of mine over the holiday break.

Using the Way Back Machine (thank you, Jon Ostrower – aka “Flightblogger”), I hunted for any changes in the US military’s official performance specifications for its major aerospace programs.

The Way Back Machine is an archive of millions of web pages, allowing you to track changes made to individual web pages over time. The US military keeps “fact files” on all the major weapon systems, allowing snoops like me a chance to prowl for any changes in their official performance record.

I wasn’t looking for news so much as hoping to dig up questions.

In that spirit, I didn’t find a great deal of meaningful performance changes, but a few interesting fact file tweaks did appear. Here they are:

1. The US Navy has quietly increased the maximum takeoff weight for the Boeing P-8A by two tons, from 184,200 pounds to 188,200 pounds. This is not scandalous, even despite aircraft weight challenges that have plagued the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and doomed the original Aerial Common Sensor. But it raises the question, why? The P-8A is the Boeing 737-800ERX, a derivative that blends the 737-800 fuselage with the extra fuel capacity of the 737-900ER wing. The new maximum gross weight remains within the 737’s previously-established limits, but would seem to eat deeply into the potential for growth margin as the program’s design matures. This is definitely a question for my next interview with the US Navy or Boeing on the P-8A.

2. The US Air Force appears to have declassified the supercruise speed for the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor. The air force’s fact sheet previously listed the F-22’s speed as “Mach 2+”. But the fact file’s speed listing was updated in October 2007 to read “1,140 miles per hour (Mach 1.72); supercruise at altitude”. This clearly means that the USAF has clarified the F-22’s supercruise speed, but the still-classified maximum speed is presumably still somewhere in the region of Mach 2.5. But, again, that’s another good question for the next time I talk to Lockheed’s Larry Lawson.

3. Probably most puzzling change occurred with the BellBoeing CV-22 Osprey, the Air Force Special Operations bird. In November 2007, the USAF updated the fact sheet, boosting the CV-22’s maximum speed from “218 miles per hour (230 knots)” to “277 miles per hour (241 knots)”. The 218 mph number is obviously a typo, as 230 knots actually converts to about 260mph. Regardless, somehow, the CV-22 picked up some extra speed during the last year. Perhaps the USAF was being conservative in its speed projections, or perhaps something changed with BellBoeing’s aircraft to add about 11 knots to the famously fickle tiltrotor’s top speed.

One Response to The “Way Back Machine” meets the “fact files”

  1. elp 7 January, 2008 at 3:56 pm #

    Lets see… about the 737 weight. Maybe they decided to make allowances for crewing the jet with reservists? You know, they tend to be heavier :) .

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