Ground-breaking deal paves way for involvement in other advanced aircraft projects

Boeing, Japan Aircraft Development (JADE) and Japan Aircraft Industries (JAI) have concluded a long-expected agreement on research and development for the Sonic Cruiser and other advanced commercial aircraft projects.

It will be the first formal deal between Boeing and a third party on technology development for the Sonic Cruiser, and follows the US manufacturer's 24 January announcement that it would finalise its initial round of "technology team" members for the project by mid-year. Japanese industrial involvement has been on Boeing's agenda since early 2001, and the participation of JAI in the studies follows a recent allocation of related aerospace research and development funding from Japan's trade and industry ministry. JADE and JAI, which consists of Fuji, Kawasaki and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, will focus on materials technology, including advanced composites, which are expected to feature heavily in the Sonic Cruiser.

To meet demanding environmental and performance targets, Boeing plans to incorporate much more composite material in the high-speed transport than any previous design, including the 777 which has around 11% by weight. The baseline design is known to include all-composite primary structures in the twin vertical tails and cranked-arrow delta wing, as well as a high proportion of the fuselage. Boeing's original goal is believed to be an 85-95% composite structure.


Although the Japanese will focus initially on advanced composite technology, other composite specialists in Europe and the USA are expected to become involved. The fact the JAI deal was signed first, however, is seen as of political as well as marketing and technological importance. The Japanese consortium turned to Boeing's project last year after rejecting Airbus's offer to join the A380 team.

The ministry's agreement to fund research and development efforts within Japan prior to the Boeing/JAI agreement is also seen as significant given Boeing's new approach to finding partners for the Sonic Cruiser. Unlike previous programmes, including the 777, for which partners were chosen for design-build teams, the Sonic Cruiser is following the lead adopted by regional jet makers Bombardier and Embraer.

This involves searching for suitable partners before programme launch, and reducing the airframe maker's investment by inviting suppliers to share the risk. The approach is expected to be less costly and more efficient in developing mature technology after launch.

Jeff Luckey, director of supplier management for the Sonic Cruiser, says: "I expect us to make similar announcements at a rapid pace in the months ahead."

Source: Flight International