Boeing’s pre-Farnborough tour: San Antonio and Edwards AFB

Continuing on Boeing’s pre-Farnborough tour last week… From Hurburt Field, Florida, we flew to Kelly Field, near San Antonio, Texas, in a pair of Gulfstream 200 business jets.

Having now flown on a business jet, I can say that it is the best way to travel. I’ve decided I must have one when I grow up. It’s way better than first class–and about a billion (maybe even a trillion) times better than flying in the regular cattle-car section.


Shot by Gareth Jennings my friend Guillaume Steuer at Air and Cosmos (as Gareth pointed out earlier today)- I’m not in this shot… but I was onboard. This is just to illustrate what it was like inside a Gulfstream

So moving on… Boeing’s maintenance and overhaul facilities over in Texas do the depot level maintenance on the Boeing C-17 strategic airlifter and KC-135 tanker. On C-17, they do a bunch of avionics upgrades and other work. On the KC-135, they practically dismantle the jets and completely overhaul the entire aircraft.  

They were also doing some modification work on the 787 and 747-8 too on the civilian side. I saw a 787 that was being worked on. It’s a pretty impressive aircraft. But according to one of the engineers, Boeing made it as light as possible. So there is very little excess structure… so a military derivative might not be possible.

c17sanan.jpgThis was a C-17 from Charleston that was being overhauled… didn’t turn out badly for a Blackberry shot

From Kelly we then flew to Edward AFB in California. While Edwards is a veritable aviation Mecca, we didn’t have access to the really cool stuff. For example, we could see F-22s, F-35s and Global Hawks (and lots of other stuff) on the ramp, but couldn’t go talk to their guys (or play with their equipment)… Nor did they let us see their alien cold storage locker. Most disappointing…

All was not lost though…  My good friend Gareth Jennings over at Jane’s took this photo of Cape Canaveral’s alien storage locker…Alien locker.jpg But while we missed out on the aliens, Boeing and NASA let us take a look at the hydrogen-powered Phantom Eye drone. The aircraft is powered by two modified truck engines which run on hydrogen–it’s apparently much more efficient than a conventionally fueled machine.

The Phantom Eye was damaged during its first flight recently, but the damage doesn’t really look that bad. Granted the damaged section was mostly covered up. Boeing’s guys say the problem was traced back to the nose gear. They’re planning on redesigning it and then getting the plane back in the air relatively soon.  Boeing hopes to eventually fly this thing up to 65, 000 ft.

If it works, they’re planning on building a larger version. There has apparently been a lot of interest from customers.

We also saw the X-48C blended-wing body subscale test bed aircraft. It’s a lot smaller than I expected for a multi-million dollar research project. With this new version, Boeing and NASA are exploring technologies to reduce the aircraft’s noise footprint. Eventually, they hope to build a larger-scale aircraft… Potentially with a pilot even–but that’s in the future. Right now, they just want to fly this thing.

East Kern-20120621-00085v2.jpgThere was also an X-51 hypersonic test vehicle brief, but we didn’t see any hardware. But it was very interesting…

So before heading to LAX to fly off to Portland, we stopped off at the base museum. Inside was this gem–one of the two original YF-22 prototypes that faced-off against the Northrop YF-23. As I’m sure you guys know–this design evolved into today’s F-22 Raptor.East Kern-20120621-00096v-2.jpg


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