Pratt & Whitney throws F135 a learning curve

When F-35 program executive Brig Gen David Heinz last month said that he does not believe that “Prattfeels compelled to act as though they are in competition”, I did not know what to make of that statement. So I asked two of Pratt & Whitney business development executives yesterday how they interpreted it. The answer became the basis for a news story that will be posted on Flightglobal.com later today.

The F-35 program holds suppliers to standard learning curve theory. This predicts that suppliers become more efficient as production rates grow. According to the theory, a 100% learning curve means costs will never decline. The supplier essentially has to re-learn the production process with each new unit. The F-35 program expects suppliers to achieve an 88% learning curve. This rate projects that costs will fall by 12% every time the production rate doubles. 

According to P&W’s executives, the F135 is “about halfway” between the 88% standard and the 100% level — so about 94%. This means that the projected cost savings for doubling the production rate will be less than 12%, but I’m not sure by how much.

A “blue ribbon” panel created by Heinz accepted two weeks ago a plan by P&W to achieve the 88% learning curve benchmark over a period of years. The plan will require some additional upfront costs.

It’s not clear how this will affect the debate about funding an alternate engine for the F-35 — the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136. The F136 is about five years behind the development of the F135. Its first production order is not scheduled to come until next year, if Congress decides to insert $600 million in the budget to pay for them. The GE/Rolls team has not yet faced the pressure of keeping yearly production lots for the F136 on an 88% learning curve.

But the issue may help explain why Heinz has become an outspoken advocate for promoting the principle of competition within the F-35′s supply chain.

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2 Responses to Pratt & Whitney throws F135 a learning curve

  1. Aygar 1 July, 2009 at 3:10 pm #

    Double post?

  2. ELP 1 July, 2009 at 10:51 pm #

    Lots of work to do. There aren’t all that many flying hours on this engine.

    Good to see Walmart supply chain pressuring has been put to other uses.

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