Boeing is considering bringing forward the first flight of its X-32B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) demonstrator by several months, pending the successful completion of engine tests in Florida and final assembly in Palmdale, California.

The company is building two X-32s for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) concept demonstration programme, and plans to fly both in competition with Lockheed Martin's X-35 design in 2000. The X-32A, which will demonstrate the conventional take-off and landing and carrier variants, is to fly by March 2000. The X-32B STOVL version is due to begin a shorter test flight programme around four months later, but "-we are looking to do this sooner if possible", says Boeing JSF technical director, Fred May.

This is looking increasing feasible, thanks to faster than expected progress in making the subassemblies. "The X-32B is considerably ahead of schedule - partly because of some of the design processes and methods we have been using. Parts have been almost clicking together," he says. Assembly of the X-32B forebody began in St Louis last September, almost three months ahead of schedule. Completion could be before mid-1999.

Final assembly of the X-32A at Palmdale will begin "before mid-year with the wingbody join", says May. The first Pratt & Whitney JSF119 engine for the X-32A will be shipped to California by early December and "-we will actually have power on the aircraft by the end of the year", says May - although this will still be from ground power sources.

Boeing plans to conduct load and ground vibration tests in December.

Source: Flight International