Boeing has completed structural assembly of the first X-32 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) concept demonstrator aircraft (CDA), stealing a lead on the competing Lockheed Martin X-35. Boeing now hopes to accelerate the start of flight testing.

Pratt & Whitney has been asked to bring forward delivery of the first F119-614 engine, scheduled for late November, to speed up X-32 preflight work. "If we can do that and it goes well, I'll start flight testing early," says Frank Statkus, Boeing JSF general manager. "Every week I pick up is lower risk for the flight test programme."

The engine manufacturer declines to reveal delivery dates for the F119-614 or the -611 version that will power the rival X-35, other than to say the powerplants will be ready to support the start of flight testing. Boeing's current schedule calls for preflight efforts to begin in December, leading to a maiden flight in "spring 2000".

Lockheed Martin has also asked P&W for an accelerated engine delivery to shave more time off its programme. "The answer is they [P&W] can't," says Harry Blot, Lockheed Martin JSF deputy programme manager. He also doubts whether the engine maker will be able to deliver an engine to Boeing any earlier than is now scheduled.

A time-saving option being considered by Lockheed Martin is to configure the initial CDA for short take-off vertical landings (STOVL) from the outset and not wait until the completion of initial conventional take-off landing (CTOL) testing before fitting the F119-611's shaft-driven lift fan. The X-35A is expected to fly in May. The X-35B will fly three months later.

Boeing, for now, has the lead having already "rolled out" its X-32A CTOL demonstrator, which is due to begin proof load testing shortly. It is being fitted with 600 strain gauges, 120 displacement devices and a dummy engine. Electrical and hydraulic systems have been activated.

The X-32B STOVL version is in final assembly, with the forebody fitted and wings to be mated soon.

Lockheed Martin says the X-35A is 50% complete and the second CDA 30% finished. It is to begin proof load testing early next year, but says this is being done in a different sequence to Boeing.

Source: Flight International