JFACC 10 US/BattleoftheX-Planes (subs to 23 min 52)

JFACC 10 US/BattleoftheX-Planes (subs to 23 min 52)


We’re here today to announce the
largest acquisition program in the history of the Department of Defense. “Roger, copy.” The Joint Strike Fighter. “And just for the record, pilot.” “Yeah?”
“You are my hero.” In the skies over the Mojave Desert a battle
of X-planes has begun. “That looks good.” Over the next year, two different planes will
take to the skies, again and again, on a relentless quest to be crowned
the fighter of the future, perhaps the last manned fighter
the U.S. will ever build. “It smoothes out beautifully.” “Woohoo!” “This is fun.” “Great, it was super. Yeah.” “God, it looked so awesome!” “It felt great.” “We’re going to fly the shit out of
this airplane and just kick ass every day. That’s what it’s all about.” It’s all part of a top-secret competition,
locking two of America’s aerospace giants in a furious engineering dogfight
to the death. “You couldn’t have a more interesting
competition- two very different companies, two very different designs,
conservative heavyweight against a radical newcomer.” “We’ve got a hell of a smart team, so lets
go figure out how to make it work.” “There’s never really any time to relax.” “Would I like to be further ahead? Yes.
Would I like to be farther done? Yes.” “I think we truly believe that we’ve got
the right vehicle for the customer.” “It’s starting to look like an airplane,
that’s what really neat about it.” “Well I see a future contract.” “Well, that, too.” Not just any contract, but the most lucrative
contract in military history, at least 200 billion dollars. “We’re flying.” “Nose close steering is off.” And the winner won’t be just any fighter.
It will need to land on a carrier, evade enemy radar, hover like a helicopter. “But trying to build a fighter that can do
all three, it’s a tremendous challenge.” “It’s not a natural thing for a
jet airplane to do.” “Come on, Simon.” Experimental new designs come with
their share of risks and failures. But now the U.S. military desperately wants
a winner, claiming that aging fighters and shrinking budgets threaten to
undermine its command of the skies. Will a one-size-fits-all fighter, a Joint
Strike Fighter, work for the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines? Will it rescue them
from the death spiral of defense costs? With unprecedented access from the
Department of Defense, NOVA’s cameras take you into the U.S. military’s
most classified facilities, from the beginning through repeated
trial and error. “.. RTB.” “Can I reset?” “Negative.” “We’re recommending we abort.” “The original design wasn’t
going to hack it.” “How much effort is ahead of us
to make it work?” Watch two teams struggle to get their
daring ideas off the drawing board and into the air. “The Joint Strike Fighter will be the
world’s premiere strike platform. With the decision to proceed now made,
it is now appropriate to announce the winner of the Joint Strike
Fighter competition.” In the end, only one winner takes all.. in The Battle of the X-Planes..
up next on NOVA. Inside this bag is the future of
American fighter power. There will probably never, ever be another
program as complex as this, or as big as this, when you start
talking about dollars. It’s called the Joint Strike Fighter Program.
For five years, the JSF has held a competition between two titans of aerospace
to see who will build the next generation fighter. It’s a prize worth
up to 200 billion dollars, and the winner’s name is in the bag. The winner of the JSF competition is going
to dominate the fighter aircraft market, not only here in the US,
but worldwide. Fasten your seatbelt and put up your tray
table. NOVA and the Department of Defense have cleared you to enter places
where cameras have never gone before, from secret installations to the cockpits
of the latest experimental fighters. You’ve landed in the classified
world of the X-planes—both hi-tech and handcrafted—where pilots fly into the
unknown with just you by their side. This is the battle to build the fighter
of the 21st century. In the first strike in the war on terror,
fighters are the front-line warriors. Navy fighters join squadrons from the Air
Force and the Marines to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda positions in Afghanistan. These aircraft play a key role in
routing the enemy; just as they did in the Gulf War
in the early 1990s. In fact, some of the fighters
are literally the same planes. Built in the ’80s, designed in the ’70s, to fulfill Cold War objectives
from the ’60s. The most important weapon
in America’s arsenal is based on ideas almost a
half-century old. Our airplanes, they’re wearing out. They’re
tired. Thirty-year airplane.. is still a great airplane, serves its
purposes well, but it’s, it’s old. These aircraft, in the future battlefield,
they’re going to be a bit like dinosaurs. Not just in their sort of physical age,
but their electronic capability. They may not be survivable. We now have to go to higher altitude instead
of lower altitude. We need to make ourselves as small as possible
from a radar perspective. We have to do the same job,
but the world has changed. Almost all of America’s fighters
will one day wind up here.. at the boneyard at Davis-Monthan
AFB in Arizona. Old generals may fade away, but old fighters are cannibalized for parts. The Air Force still relies on thousands
of these, the venerable F-16. But the F-16 is past its prime.
In the age of stealth, this fighter shows up on radar
the size of a small flying house. This is an F-18, the mainstay of the Navy;
but Navy planes get old fast. The controlled crash known as
a carrier landing, and the rapid acceleration of a catapult launch, will
eventually create irreparable stress fractures and send them all here. This is the subsonic AV-8 Harrier jump jet,
flown by the Marines. While it remains the only successful vertical
landing fighter, it dates back to the British invasion of America by
the Beatles. Though later refined by McDonnell Douglas, by any measure
the Harrier is ready for retirement. The goal of the Joint Strike Fighter program
is to replace all of these: the F-16, the F-18 and even the vertically
landing Harrier. It is an absolute vital necessity to have,
not only a replacement airplane for the older airplanes, but to have an airplane that
is a 21st century airplane to meet the needs for tomorrow. The plane for the 21st century, at least for
the Air Force, would appear to be already here: the new F-22 Raptor, scheduled
for deployment in 2005. The Raptor is the ultimate fighter, so stealthy
its radar signature isn’t much bigger than a bird. And it can fly at supersonic
speeds longer than any other fighter, and that means it can strike
deeply and invisibly an opponent. But the Raptor has a huge vulnerability that
the JSF program must overcome: a giant price tag. Each plane costs about
100 million dollars. The F-22 is a spectacular aeroplane. The problem
is it’s expensive. And that means the Air Force will never really have
enough of them to attack the many and varied small and large targets that
make up the modern battlefield. The F-22 is just the latest example of a trend
that goes back decades. Each new generation of fighters costs more
than the last, so fewer are purchased—ever more expensive fighters in
ever decreasing numbers. In defense circles, that’s known
as the death spiral. Where the death spiral could lead is the prediction
that in the year 2054, the U.S. defense budget will only buy one
airplane. So the Air Force uses the airplane in the morning, the Navy uses it
in the evening, and the Marines, unfortunately, only get to use it every leap
year on the extra day. So that is the JSF’s mission impossible- to
break the death spiral by coming up with a new fighter that costs a third of an
F-22, replaces all of these, and meets the needs of the Air Force, the
Navy and the Marines. They absolutely said, “You’ll never pull this
off- impossible.” In the past, the fiercely independent services
would have fought for their own weapons programs. In the sixties, when
the cost-cutting Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, forced the Navy and Air Force
to use the same plane, the F-111, the joint program was a resounding flop.
But these days, with smaller post-Cold-War budgets, the spreadsheet is
mightier than the sword. The Joint Strike Fighter program was a huge
leap of faith for the services. The enabler, though, was they didn’t have
any choice. They knew that they had to modernize their fighter force structure,
and the funds were not available to do that. With no other options, the effort to design
the Joint Strike Fighter begins and almost immediately there’s a disagreement.
The services can’t even agree on the number of engines. The Navy’s
F-18 Hornet has two engines for safety. If one goes out, you don’t have
to ditch. But two engines are a deal-killer for the Marines because
of their weight. We cannot build, today, a two-engine, vertical
short takeoff landing airplane. So the Navy wanted two engines, the Marine
Corps had to have a single engine, and the Air Force wanted a single
engine, because it was much more affordable and they don’t have.. they’re
not out over the ocean at night, all by themselves, like we are. The decision hinges on how dependable one
engine can be. Steady state 255 started. After talking with jet manufacturers, the
JSF team ramps up the specs for engine reliability. Rear Admiral Steidle convinces
a reluctant Navy to go with just one. That was another piece that was necessary
to pull the program together, because without that we could not have
a common production line. I think the effort that’s gone on here to
create a joint requirement is astounding. And it’s really.. it’s what’s
allowed the program to get where it is. And it will be what allows the program to
continue, because if the services keep saying, “We all agree what we want, and
we want this aircraft,” then it will happen. Even with everyone on board, there’s
rough air ahead. We know how to build a stealth fighter. We
know how to build a long-range agile fighter. We may even have a good way
of building a fighter that can land and take off vertically. But trying to build
a fighter that can do all three is very, very difficult. The Pentagon spent over three billion dollars
in research to see if it was possible, and the answer? Sort of. The airplanes are not the same aircraft, but
the building blocks are the same building blocks, for the most part: same engine,
same major avionics. In fact, it’s not important to have every
piece- part- the same, but the expensive parts or modules. Through the life
cycle of the aircraft.. there was the potential to save 60 billion dollars.
And that’s a lot of money in anybody’s calculus, even in the Department of Defense. With the services in agreement about the requirements,
the Joint Strike Fighter program launches a competition for innovative
designs for the new affordable ‘family of fighters’. Like a high-stakes
game show, only two contractors can make it to the final round
and build test planes. With billions on the line, U.S. defense contractors
hold their breath as the Pentagon announces the two finalists for “Who
Wants to Build the Next Generation Fighter?” These contractors are Lockheed Martin
and Boeing. The announcement sends shockwaves through
the aerospace industry, dealing a deathblow to one of the most
respected names in aviation. McDonnell Douglas, a company with a fighter
legacy that seemed to guarantee a spot in the final round, doesn’t make the
cut. The impact for the company and its employees is devastating. Within two years, McDonnell Douglas is sold..
to Boeing, one of the JSF winners. A world leader in commercial jets, the Seattle-based
company is seen as an unlikely contender in a fighter battle, for
good reason. Boeing’s last fighter was built in the 1930s—the P-26 Peashooter,
a fighter from the age before jets, before even a closed cockpit. Boeing hadn’t built a fighter in a long time,
and I think early on Boeing was considered, literally, a dark horse
in this competition. But the Boeing acquisition of McDonnell Douglas,
the builder of the Navy’s F-18 and the Marines’ Harrier, makes
a dark horse an even bet. By acquiring McDonnell Douglas, Boeing suddenly
moves from becoming the least experienced JSF team to possibly
the most experienced. Clearly leveled the playing field. “I’m in this job to win, and going back to..” Boeing’s JSF effort is lead by Frank Statkus,
an engineer and thirty-year company man. When you shoulder the weight
of a potential 200 billion-dollar contract, stress comes with the job. “A year ago I had hair, and it was dark. And
now I have less of it, and it’s a race to see what goes gray
versus goes away.” While Statkus runs the project, he isn’t the
creator of Boeing’s design. These days with the complexity of fighters,
no single person can claim that role. State-of-the-art fighters, they’re all designed
now by computers, and it’s.. these are big teams of engineers
who sit down, you know, and do these CAD/CAM drawings. It is very tough to
find, you know, one person who can sit there and tell you that
“I designed that airplane.” At the heart of the Boeing design for the
JSF is a large delta, or triangular wing. It’s an unusual approach, but the big
advantages of that are that it’s structurally simple, and that it contains
an enormous amount of fuel. Though there hasn’t been an American fighter
built with a delta wing since the ’60s, the design has its advantages. The
fastest jet ever to fly, the SR-71 Blackbird, has a delta wing because it decreases drag
at supersonic speeds. The Space shuttle was also built around one because
it provides great lift. But neither the Shuttle nor the SR-71 are
exactly agile. A delta design pays a price in speed when executing turns, and
the control surfaces near the tail don’t have the leverage to turn
the plane sharply. European designers have overcome these handicaps
in their new fighter, the Typhoon, by adding canards near
the front of the plane. But in the U.S., delta fighters have been
out of favor for decades, until the JSF picked the Boeing design
as a finalist. Why the new interest? Deltas can be
cheap to build. Boeing took a step back and said
“What makes aeroplanes expensive? How can we leave it out?” And they got a
very, very simple design. Boeing’s expertise in wings has kind of taken
a different tack. Our engineers have chosen to build this wing as one piece
from tip to tip. We have always studied the idea of building a one-piece wing
and attaching the fuselage to the wing. And so this time we had an
opportunity to really try it. Boeing has taken to heart the JSF concept,
meeting the needs of the Air Force, Navy and Marines through a versatile
common design. And it even accommodates the biggest JSF challenge,
landing like a Harrier. While it gets a bad rap for safety, the Harrier
is no doubt the most adaptable fighter ever built. Matching its capabilities
will drive many of the design decisions of the competition. When fully loaded with fuel and bombs, a Harrier
takes off in as little as 500 feet, a third of that needed by most fighters. That
short takeoff distance makes many roads into potential runways.
After an attack, it returns, a lighter fighter, ready to execute its trademark
Buck Rogers move. A Harrier hovers using rotating nozzles that
direct engine exhaust downward. This mode of flight, called direct lift, demands
an enormous amount of power, and it’s dangerous. Before computer
control, balancing a Harrier on its own engine thrust was like trying to
sit on a geyser. Even today, its accident rate is four times that of
a Navy Hornet. But through their flexibility, Harriers have
proven their value. In fact, in the Gulf War, Harriers flew more missions than
any other kind of fighter. For the British, the Harrier remains essential.
British aircraft carriers are smaller than their American counterparts.
The Harrier’s short takeoff ability overcomes the problem and creates
a portable fighter force. The Harrier has allowed the U.K., basically,
to be where it couldn’t be. The Falklands is a classic example. I mean,
without the Harrier, we could not have defended the Falklands. We couldn’t
have got anybody.. any aircraft down there. But the ability to put a reasonably competent
combat aircraft onto a deck and get it down there,
and then fight, was just the difference between
success and failure. But the Harrier can’t fly supersonic, a serious
limitation in a modern fighter. In terms of its turn performance, its range
and endurance, its maximum speed, whichever metric you want to look at, it fairs
unfavorably with any modern aeroplane. The British search for a replacement Harrier
brings them to the JSF table. They’ve become full partners. It’s the first
time a foreign government has been included in an American fighter
development program. The addition of the British only heightens
what many consider the central technical challenge of the JSF competition,
landing the fighter vertically. Alternatives to the Harrier’s direct lift
system have been studied by both contractors, but Boeing has come to
a surprising conclusion. Over the years, all contractors have looked
at all of these various lift methods, and the least impact to the design
always has been direct lift. The Boeing lift system is basically the modern
version of the Harrier, taking the engine thrust and putting it
through a pair of nozzles that direct it downwards. The advantage that Boeing has
is that you basically strap on the lift module around the engine. So the
changes are pretty minimal. The fewer the changes between the Marine fighter
and the other versions, the better the bottom line. Boeing has made
an ally of affordability. So, I believe when we’re all finished doing
a flight test, we’ll have proven that direct lift offers the absolute greatest
affordability because of the greatest commonality. While direct lift is affordable, other parts
of the plane must pay a price. For balance during hover, the engine must
be in the middle, and that leads to a gaping inlet to feed it
air. To some, Boeing has designed a plane only its mother could love. It’s a strange looking airplane. It’s short.
It’s squat. The engine’s in the front, not the back. It has this huge air inlet in
front that reminds me of a hippopotamus. This is a fighter competition not a beauty
pageant, but there is an adage in aerospace that if it looks right, it flies right,
and appearance may be a deciding factor. Appearance aside, Boeing’s proposal is a cunning
entry for the JSF competition. Throwing over fighter tradition, the company
delivers a radical but simple design that promises to be cheap to build.
Boeing’s ready to give its aerospace opponent a flight to the finish. When I daydream, I see it hovering;
I see it taking off from airfields; I see it operating around a ship.
And sometimes I even see it shooting down the Lockheed airplane. “Only in your dreams,”
is the likely response of Lockheed Martin, America’s largest
defense contractor. For decades, in this secret facility in California,
the legendary Skunk Works, Lockheed has designed and built aircraft
that have blown through the boundaries of imagination. The Lockheed’s Skunk Works’ reputation is
founded on its ability to put together a small team of very
motivated people, get everybody else out of the way, and leave them
to solve a problem that everybody else thinks can’t be solved. The whole history of this place has been,
“There is nothing that we can’t do, there is no project that we can’t accomplish.” There’s a huge amount of pride,
of “We can do anything.” By the time Lockheed earns its place in
the final JSF competition, Chief Engineer Rick Rezabek and his team
have already spent five years designing their fighter. Now they must build
a pair of test planes in just two. If Lockheed wins, their work will live on
for decades. If it loses.. The stakes are horrendous on this. This program
will end up running from today out through the year 2050, long after
my retirement. The performance of this team and the decision-making
that goes on during these next two years are very key. The mystique of the Skunk Works
remains unrivalled in aviation. It’s the birthplace of America’s first
operational jet fighter, the P-80. In the ’50s and ’60s, this covert design house
created the ultimate spy planes for the CIA: the high flying U-2 and the high
velocity SR-71 Blackbird. Later, for the Air Force, it built the F-117
Nighthawk, the first stealth fighter. Unveiled to the public during the Gulf War,
the Nighthawk was the only U.S. aircraft to strike targets in downtown Baghdad.
The image of anti-aircraft guns aimlessly blazing away at invisible
attackers is a surreal salute to its success and that
of the Skunk Works. They’ve conducted many of their most
advanced programs in complete secrecy, such that nobody else in the world even
had a clue what they were up to. It’s got to be very, very scary going up
against those guys. The F-117 sacrifices speed and
handling for stealth. It’s been superseded by the current gold
standard of American fighters, the F-22 Raptor, built by Lockheed. While
very expensive and not the all-in-one fighter for the JSF, the Raptor
provides a wealth of proven design design ideas, including a radical
new shape for stealth. It’s no surprise the Lockheed design for
the JSF inherits the Raptor’s contours. Built around one common airframe,
Lockheed’s proposed fighter is modified for each service. Most visibly,
the Navy model has a larger wing and tail
for carrier landings. The exterior design of Lockheed’s fighter
holds few surprises. On the surface, it looks like the company
doesn’t want to gamble. It’s on the inside, for the Marines
vertical-landing requirement, that Lockheed’s bet the farm. The company’s
gone with a daring new propulsion system known
as a lift fan. The lift fan has been a..
engineering challenge, because there has not been a
lift fan built before. In the lift fan design, the engine sits in
the usual fighter position in the tail. A drive shaft connects it to a large fan
placed behind the pilot. To hover, engine exhaust is directed downward,
but the fan is also engaged, taking in air from above the plane and blowing it out below.
That creates two balanced sources of thrust, potentially a more powerful
and stable arrangement than the Boeing solution. But to accomplish
this feat, the drive shaft must be spun
at an incredible rate. Think of taking the propulsion system in
a Navy destroyer, shrinking that down into a smaller package, putting it
into a jet fighter airplane. It’s a technological challenge in the tradition
of the Skunk Works. If successful, the lift fan will be revolutionary; but on the drawing boards, it doesn’t
blow away its critics. It’s a very clever solution, but it’s got
gears and bearings and a lot of moving parts. And in an operational airplane,
you’ve got to make sure they work 100 percent of the time.
If you’re a pilot hovering at 50 feet and one of those parts fails, it’s going
to spoil your day. Despite its complexity, the lift fan offers
another benefit, invisible to the JSF’s sensors and test equipment
but plain to the naked eye: aesthetics. You can look at the Lockheed Martin airplane
and say, that looks like what I would expect a modern, high performance,
high capable jet fighter to look like. You look at the Boeing airplane
and the general reaction is: “I don’t get it.” Lockheed will build its test planes the same
way it’s built its successful prototypes of the past, as hand-crafted machines,
here in the Skunk Works. This facility provides a well-worn path to
winning the JSF competition. Lockheed will try to triumph through daring
new technology, while Boeing tries to win with a bold cost-saving design
combined with manufacturing know-how second to none. You couldn’t have a more interesting
competition— two very different companies, two very different designs,
a conservative heavyweight against the radical newcomer. If Lockheed wins,
it continues its decades of fighter manufacturing. If Boeing wins, it could go
on to dominate the fighter market like it dominates the airliner market. I think we will look back at this time, at
this competition between Boeing and Lockheed, and I think it will be
remembered as the great fighter war. The next battle of the fighter war will feature
close combat. Less than a mile away from the Skunk Works is Boeing’s
top-secret complex, the Phantom Works. In these two classified installations, the
JSF competition is ready for takeoff. The schedule will be fierce by
aerospace standards: in 24 months and on a budget of a billion dollars,
each company must build and fly not one, but two experimental planes. Adding to the tension, Boeing and Lockheed
will remain in the dark about each other’s progress. NOVA is among the
select few cleared to enter both facilities; its footage locked away each
night by security personnel. Boeing may not have built a fighter since
the 1930s, but from day one the company rolls out innovations to simplify
the job. This scaffolding holds the parts as they arrive. The team uses lasers
to position each component precisely in three-dimensional space without
having to wait for surrounding pieces. The parts themselves are designed so precisely
that they fit together like puzzle pieces with hardly any adjustment.
Techniques like this lead Boeing to claim it can reduce assembly
costs by as much as 75 percent. It’s a very interesting process, very new.
Boeing’s ability to demonstrate how the airplane is put together is certainly
a plus, and that will weigh in their favor. The frame for the single massive delta wing,
the heart of the Boeing design, is already in the works. But the skin that
will cover it is being cooked up over a thousand miles away..
at Boeing’s headquarters in Seattle. Engineer George Bible has spent
the last year experimenting wit a revolutionary material for the surface
of the wings. It’s a resin and carbon fiber mix called “thermoplastic.” In small
quantities, it’s been used on fighters before, but no one has ever
tried to create anything as large as a 30-foot wing skin. It’s very challenging. We have no time or
schedule to design something else, so we, we have to make it
work the first shot. Thermoplastic wings will be lighter and
more durable than conventional wings. There may even be other undiscovered
benefits, according to another engineer, who first experimented
with the material in the ’80s.. Frank Statkus. I personally would love to have
thermoplastics on this airplane, because I know that there’s value in the future.
Even though I can’t tell you in all the areas where we might find that
value, I do know it’s there. The future in a word: thermoplastics. But right now, George Bible needs to solve
some pressing problems. Making thermoplastic begins with
these sheets of graphite, also known as carbon fiber, the same lightweight
material used in fishing rods and tennis rackets. For the wing, it’s laid
down up to 90 layers deep on top of a giant metal mold or tool. We take layers of these graphite fibers and
set them on top of each other, and then we put the resin in between
to hold them together. After three weeks of lay-up, the wing skin
is tightly wrapped in protective bags, ready for the next step, a massive
oven called the autoclave. The huge chamber acts like
a pressure cooker. The autoclave, for me, is always the
most stressful part. You have nightmares at night thinking about
all of the terrible things your autoclave could do to it. First, all oxygen will be removed to
prevent a cataclysmic explosion. Then, with the wing heated to the melting
point of lead, nitrogen will be pumped in, raising the pressure and exerting
tons of force upon the thermoplastic, forcing the fibers to blend
with the resin. In short, this is literally hell on earth. For the next 30 hours, George Bible will hold
his breath, until the cooked skin from the autoclave and a perfectly formed
wing skin is revealed. Oh, she looks beautiful doesn’t she? Looks
good, looks very good. But this skin is only the first. Boeing will
need three more, one for each side of its two delta-winged X-planes. And although
Bible is elated at his success, he knows that the next skin, for the lower
wing, will be far trickier. It involves a more complex curved shape. And, in fact, when the next skin emerges from
the autoclave, the first signs are ominous. Creases and folds on the
surface hint at hidden structural flaws. Man, that does not look good, those wrinkles.
I’m afraid we’re dead in the water. An instrument scans the surface of the panel
using water and sound waves to probe for air pockets that could fatally
weaken the wing. When we have a gap in the plies, the sound
will not transmit through there well. George Bible’s worst fears are confirmed.
The skin is riddled with defects. Right now I’m just, just exhausted. We can’t
get a break, I mean it’s just downhill. So we’ll have to do what we have to do to
get a panel down to Palmdale as fast as we can. After hundreds of hours of work, the wing
skin is worthless. With the first wing frame nearing completion down in Palmdale,
Bible’s team and its bold experiment are simply running out of time. Lockheed is facing a crisis of its own. The
problem that has brought its entire assembly program to a grinding halt hinges
on the hold up of a single crucial part. We can have 99 percent of everything it takes
to assemble the airplane, but if there’s one part that hasn’t been delivered
yet, and it’s buried somewhere in the middle of the aircraft, you
have to wait on the assembly work until that actually shows up. Like Boeing, Lockheed engineers have tried
to save money by reducing the number of parts needed to build the plane.
One part in particular, bulkhead 270, has ended up especially complicated.
It will join the front of the plane, including the cockpit, to the fuselage. As a key piece holding the plane together,
it’s made of the metal alloy titanium. The combination of strength and lightness
make it a natural choice for the bulkhead. But nobody at the Skunk Works
had anticipated how hard it would be to carve such a complicated piece
out of this super hard metal. Machining the 300-pound Lockheed part means
whittling away at a solid five-ton slab and the drills running 24 hours
a day, using diamond bit saws and a special lubricant to reduce heat. The pressure to get the Bulkhead done is enormous,
but so is the price of any mistake. If this part fails, it could almost ultimately
be the end of our competition with Boeing in the JSF program.
I mean it would really set us back. On top of the crisis on the shop floor, bad
money management threatens to get Lockheed fired from the competition. In
a program in large part about affordability, the company admits it’s
100 million dollars over budget; Lockheed blames part of the overrun
on a 30-million-dollar accounting error. In essence what it was is..
we were writing checks without going back into the check register
is what it amounted to. Lockheed, yes, had a problem in the subcontractor
management business in their manufacturing end at Palmdale. It
wasn’t discovered until late, very unfortunate, very disappointing. And the lesson there is, “Take nothing for
granted.” It’s a make or break point in the program.
Under a powerful escape clause, the government can end the competition and
award the fighter contract to Boeing. In the first real test
of the military’s commitment to fiscal limits, the JSF lets Lockheed off the hook. They’re
saved by the growing number of international customers now lining up to
buy the Joint Strike Fighter. We’ve got Canadians, we’ve got Italians, we’ve
got Danes, we’ve got Dutch. We’ve got a little bit of everybody. It ensures
that for tomorrow, in coalition warfare, we’ve got partners with
the same capability to fight the same wars as we do. Ending the competition early would be a domestic
and diplomatic debacle. The government realizes that this program
is so big, and so influential on a national, and in fact an international
level, that their best bet is effectively to sweep this anomaly under
the carpet. Let’s forget about it, and let’s move on, and let’s work under the
assumption that Lockheed has learned a lesson and they won’t let this happen
again. Well, as disappointing as that was, the silver
lining there is that we’re doing business a lot, lot better and we’ll continue
for the future. In the end, Lockheed gets slapped on the wrist
for bad budget controls and presses on with the program, nearly a
year and a half behind schedule. We can’t let one minute go by without paying
attention to something out on the floor and getting it done. We can’t be
slackers anymore. But back at Boeing, it’s hardly been smooth
sailing. The latest results from computer simulations are pointing to an alarming
conclusion. Boeing’s entire delta wing design may be fundamentally flawed. The Navy has refined its requirements and
wants a more maneuverable plane that can carry more weapons. Boeing’s delta
wing design is now seriously overweight. Months into building the test
planes, Boeing’s lead engineers conclude that the only way to lose the pounds
is to abandon the delta and come up with a new wing and tail design. We are at a point in the process here where
we need to make a decision on the tail. I think we’re really struggling
with which way to go. An engineering team led by Dennis Muilenburg
must come up with a new tail design that will work on a reconfigured
fighter. The conventional choice is called a four poster
for its four control surfaces, the tail design for all modern U.S. fighters,
including Lockheed’s Raptor and its proposed JSF fighter. But there is an experimental alternative,
a novel two-post tail with just two angled control surfaces. The
Pelikan tail is named after its inventor, an engineer inherited from McDonnell
Douglas, Ralph Pelikan. He argues its merits. Sure I understand you’re all nervous about
this new concept. I think it can be done. Proponents of the Pelikan tail argue that
the design is less visible to enemy radar. In other words, it has a smaller stealth signature. For Boeing, this is an important plus, since
Lockheed is the originator and acknowledged master of stealth technology. We can’t afford to have any question at all
over our signature and whether we leave a signature. I don’t think that we really know enough about
the Pelikan tail. We think we can make it work, but how much
effort is ahead of us to make it work? Those supporting the traditional four post
tail argue it’s a known quantity. The word on the street is that the JSF program
managers favor it for the same reason. There’s a slight benefit, from a strategy
standpoint, that we can negate a perceived Lockheed advantage by going to
a four poster. On the other hand, we end up looking like the follower with two
teams that have the same design. I vote for the Pelikan tail. I think we’ve
got to bite the bullet and go there. I guess maybe I’m still more conservative
than Fred, and I would stick with the four poster and
try and get the signature to work with the airplane with the four poster. The room is deeply divided. In the end, Muilenburg
must break the tie. Now, I’ve been a four poster fan up until
about an hour ago, all right? I think we can beat the pants off Lockheed
when it comes to working weight, handling qualities and aerodynamics.
Whether its real or not, they’re perceived to have a signature advantage,
so we need to do something to our configuration that will give us a signature
advantage. I think the Pelikan tail does that. All right? Feeling pressure to make a bold choice, Muilenburg
chooses the Pelikan tail. So we’re going to go with the Pelikan tail.
We’ve got some unknowns, we’re nervous about some things, so lets go
figure out how to make it work. But just days later, after Frank Statkus and
senior management review the choices, Boeing changes its mind. Concerned about weight
and performance, it commits to the more conservative four post
tail. The four poster is a little safer way to go,
so I was a little torn from a personal standpoint. But when we stood back and looked
at the data, I think we made the right decision. Boeing radically changes the wing and tail
design, which gives the proposed fighter a fresh new look. The new plane is
projected to be 1,500 pounds lighter and more agile. But it’s too late to incorporate the design
changes into Boeing’s two test planes, now eight months into assembly. Instead,
the company will submit the new configuration with its final
proposal. By testing the new design in simulations and wind tunnels, and
flight testing the old design, Boeing believes it can prove the soundness
of its approach. To those of us watching JSF from the outside,
this is the first sign that all is not well with the Boeing design. Both
designs are evolving as the requirements evolve, but it seems that Boeing’s
design is not as adaptable as Lockheed’s. The requirements are still evolving,
so there must be concern within the government that Boeing’s design
can keep up. There was a lot to be made of the fact that
their design’s all screwed up, and they couldn’t fly, and they couldn’t do
this, and they were behind and so forth—not the case at all. To me, it
was just an improvement in their design according to the requirements. It was
very normal, very, very normal. Whatever the future holds for the redesign,
at least one of Boeing’s nightmares is finally over. George Bible’s
team has finished the troublesome wing skins and is ready to rush
them from Seattle to California. The last pair of panels is loaded onto a C-5
Galaxy, the largest cargo jet in the Air Force. Boy, I hope that wind doesn’t tip our wing
over. Bible scrapped the temperamental thermoplastic
and cooked up the wing skins from a more conventional composite.
Though heavier and less durable, the new wing coverings are finally
on their way to Palmdale, still more or less on time and on budget. And that’s just what happens when you’re reaching
in technology, sometimes you’re successful and sometimes
you’re not. Emotionally, it will be over for me when I
see that airplane disappear over the horizon heading south. With the wing skins safely in Palmdale, Boeing
wastes little time attaching them to the wing box. But before the upper
skin can be mated to the structure, critical wiring must be
installed. Let’s go terminate. A lone electrician crawls in between the skin
and wing box to connect wiring. Working in the dark under the 700-pound wing
skin is a grueling job. I’m going to need a heat gun. Hour after hour.. Doing good. .. wire after wire, each connection is tested
and doubled checked. How you doing, Lonnie? Almost done. You’re almost done? Yeah? How many connections
you have to do? Two. He’s been in there for four and a half hours..
has not come out yet. That’s dedication. Now here he comes. Let’s
see if his legs are still moving. All right, Lonnie, my man. Oh.. With the wiring done and the skin lowered
into place, mechanics will spend the night hand-tightening thousands
of fasteners. Before the wing can be mated to the aircraft
another major piece must first be attached to the fuselage. Like a giant
gift, the entire front end of the airplane arrives in the Phantom Works hangar. I can’t believe my eyes. We waited for all
this time and we’ve finally got it. I can’t wait to hook it up. The front end, which includes the cockpit
with all its intricate electronics, was built in St. Louis, at a former McDonnell
Douglas plant, now part of Boeing. Bring her back another three inches. But will this front end, built 1,800 miles
away, mate up with the rest of the fuselage? The fit must be
as precise as the width of a human hair. If we bring this down a little further we’ll
get the flushness a little better. Yeah. Both up together.. bring it back just
a little bit more. Bring it back about a half an inch and we’re
there. That’s good, that’s good. In less than two hours, the installation is
complete, and the Boeing X-plane has its distinct face. It’s starting to look like an airplane, that’s
what’s really neat about it. Well I see a future contract. Well, that too. With the precision fit of the wing, an apparition
appears at the Phantom Works: the recognizable outline of the first of the
Boeing X-planes. The company is now weeks ahead of schedule, and morale couldn’t
be higher. It went great. It looks like an airplane now.
Look at it. Lockheed, watch out! What Lockheed is watching out for is an end
to its crippling parts delay. Mechanics finally install Bulkhead 270, which
took five long months to carve out of titanium. Ed Beurer nervously waits
to see if it will fit. If it does, a plane will quickly take shape around it.
If it doesn’t, it’s game over for Lockheed. Designed on the latest computers, cut with
diamond tipped bits, only to be installed with a sandbag. That is a beautiful piece of job. In the race to complete its X-planes, Lockheed
still trails Boeing by months, but the manufacturing team plans to fly full
throttle to the finish. Basically this place is, you know, populated
by a bunch of airplane nuts. So it’s a very high pace, and that pace is
not going to slacken up at all. It’s going to continue. To underscore its commanding lead over Lockheed,
Boeing stages a public relations coup at the Phantom Works. In a
surprise move, Boeing has assembled both of its test planes for the
media event. Ladies and Gentlemen, the X-32A and the X-32B
concept demonstrator aircrafts. What do you think? In an aerospace tradition called rollout,
the company shows off its brainchild, in two different versions, to the world. It’s
a moment of high emotion for Boeing Program Manager Frank Statkus. It’s everything that we’ve done for the last
three and a half years. It’s all your successes, it’s all your thoughts, it’s all
your weekend work, it’s all your overtime. It’s the soul that’s in that airplane,
because each and every one of us sweated bullets to put it there. Rollout is a milestone for the Boeing team.
But as things stand now, Frank Statkus with wings would get in the
air faster than the X-planes. They may have soul, but they don’t yet have
brains. Hundreds of thousands of lines of vital software
code is still under development, to manage every function of the
X-planes. That work gets tested here in a multi-million dollar
simulator. Boeing’s lead test pilot Fred Knox puts the faux fighter
through its paces. How about we look at twenty knots crosswind?
Just give it a little on the side. Modern fighters are designed to be aerodynamically
unstable. Under computer control, that aerial volatility transforms
into acrobatic agility. Okay, now I have crosswinds. Roger that. Every simulated flight by Knox helps refine
this essential software. The flight control software, it controls the
airplane, the way it flies, but it also turns on the air conditioner. It raises and
lowers the landing gear. It navigates for us. It does every critical
element, every critical safety element in the airplane. If we haven’t done the development
here the airplane will not fly. Touchdown. But less than two months after rollout, the
software development suddenly goes off line. Boeing is crippled by the largest white-collar
strike in American history. Seventeen thousand aerospace engineers are
off the job, including more than a hundred developing the X-planes
flight controls. Progress inside the Boeing Phantom Works grinds to nearly
a halt, while outside, a small group of engineers joins the strike. It’s a bad situation for everybody. You know,
everybody really has real mixed emotions, I think, and is real conflicted
about it. Forty days later the strike ends, but Boeing
doesn’t escape unscathed. The strike on our program is a terrible wound.
We lost weeks of schedule. Those weeks will not be recovered. With the setbacks, Boeing’s lead over Lockheed
evaporates. After years of jousting back and forth, these two combatants
are galloping toward the tournament grounds, toward the arena where
X-planes and test pilots meet their fate. It’s time for this battle to take to the air.
Just 30 miles away from the Skunk and Phantom Works lies the proving grounds
for all of America’s X-planes, Edwards Air Force Base. Edwards Air Force Base is a tremendous facility,
and one of the hallmarks of that facility is the lakebed.
It’s about 12 miles wide, it’s 20 miles long, and it’s a very hard flat surface. And
you can put the airplane down, and you don’t have to worry about running
out of runway because you’ve got the whole lakebed in front of you. With these wide-open spaces, Edwards and experimental
planes go back to the first supersonic flights. Here the original
X-plane, the X-1 flown by Chuck Yeager, broke the sound barrier over
half a century ago. Since then, aviation triumphs and tragedies have made
Edwards the hallowed ground of X-plane history. Now these skies will hold an epic contest
never seen before, a battle between X-planes. Historically, we have 47 X-airplane programs.
This is the first time in history, ever, that any two of those X-airplanes
have competed against each other for a production contract. It’s
unprecedented. It’s time for Boeing’s dream to take flight,
while Lockheed can only watch from the ground. After years of derision as
a second rate contender, Boeing proves even an underdog like its X-32
can have its day. This is Freddy Knox from The Boeing Company.
We’re getting ready to launch the X-32 on its first flight this morning,
and I wonder if I could get a little forecast for the winds? Say from
about 7:30 a.m.? Fred Knox, Boeing’s Chief Test Pilot and a
key developer of the X-plane, will take the craft on its maiden flight. I appreciate your help this morning. Bye bye. Good day to go? It’s an excellent day to go. With the fate of the Boeing effort resting
on his shoulders, Knox receives a final blessing from Frank
Statkus. Have fun. We’ll see you at the other end. Absolutely. For me, it’s about as big a day as a test
pilot is ever going to have, a chance to go do a first flight. It’s a big day for me.
It’s a big day for the rest of the team. We’ve spent four years now, working very hard—everybody,
from flight controls to A.P.U. pumps, to structure, a
lot of hard work— and we should get a nice, safe flight in. Have a great flight. It’s a big day for all of us. See you guys
at Edwards! It couldn’t be a nicer day. I’m excited, I’m pumped. We’re ready to go.
Everybody’s smiling. Look at that. Looking sharp sir, F-8 forever you bet. There’s my team. If Fred Knox is nervous, he doesn’t show it.
Even after finding some stray tools in the cockpit. Two of them. Home, sweet home! Knox is alone in the plane, but he has plenty
of company in the air. Two chase planes flown by other test pilots
will monitor his flight. It’s going to be exciting.. finally. All of
our life is in there, blood, sweat and tears. Like proud parents, the weary engineers and
mechanics of the Phantom Works gather to see their fighter
off. Ready for takeoff on Runway 7. Be an airborne
pickup from Salty Dog, and NASA 852 will be joining us. Control copies. Read you loud and clear, and
we are ready. And I’m going to go flying. Today’s flight isn’t a round trip. The Boeing
plane is leaving the Phantom Works for good to take up residence at Edwards Air
Force Base, a short distance away. Yes! Woohoo! Holy Christ! I was bawling like a baby. Yeah, I mean, it
was, it was excitement. I mean, mainly a huge sense of relief. Within minutes the X-plane is in the airspace
over Edwards, wheels down, just in case. Knox has flown this plane for
hundreds of hours in a simulator. Now he gets to see if the real thing handles
the same way. I’m happy with the plane. Then Boeing Test Pilot Dennis O’Donoghue,
in his chase plane, spots a problem. This is Irish on the starboard
side. You’ve got hydraulic fluid leaking from about
the forward mid-fuselage. I’m just guessing it’s the first flight stuff
going out a little bit, but uh, we’ll watch it. It doesn’t appear to be dissipating. I’ll
keep an eye on it. Roger. With the source of the leak uncertain, Knox
is told to cut short his long awaited flight. and we’ll set up for a landing here. Congratulations, Fred. Well done. Hey, we got airborne. There she is. Got one flight under her belt. We dropped a little fluid out of it. We never
lost.. everything stayed up. It was full normal landing. The flying quality
is about eleven. O’Donoghue was getting nervous. He couldn’t
stand the fluid any more. Hey, so it was time to land, huh? Yeah, it was definitely time to land. The
moment I saw it, it was time to land. The hydraulic leak turns out to be minor,
a tiny glitch in an otherwise triumphant day. Over Edwards, Boeing begins a series of test
flights. During each one, the pilot puts the plane through a specific
set of maneuvers known as test points. Sensors document the plane’s flying characteristics.
The results go to the JSF. So far, the plane’s performance closely mirrors
the Boeing simulations, a sign of just how sophisticated computer design
has become. Every pilot has been astounded at how closely
the airplane actually matches what we thought it would do, from air speeds
and flying qualities and system performance. That’s just been really a good
surprise. While this version of the Boeing X-plane is
intended for both the Air Force and Navy, it’s the Navy requirements that
will be the most demanding. Commander Phil Yates, call sign Rowdy, is
the official Navy Test Pilot assigned to the Boeing effort. For him, it
was an unexpected honor. I received a phone call: “How would you like
to be the first Navy pilot to fly the JSF?” Well, after picking my chin
up off the ground, I said, “Yeah, I think I’d like to do that.” Carrier landings are a testament to the precision
skill of Navy pilots, and Rowdy is one of the best. In preparation for testing the Boeing X-plane,
he takes an F-18 Hornet out for a spin. Okay, good nozzles, good hydraulic pressure,
good RPMs. There’s the salute, here we go. And we’re off, man. Carrier landings are probably the most demanding
task a pilot may be faced with, especially at night in adverse condition,
pitching deck, bad weather. You have to be able to precisely control the
airplane. Flying at about 150 miles per hour, Navy pilots
aim for a target zone of only 120 feet, about the size of a tennis
court. They must catch one of four arresting cables. Pilots don’t apply brakes. In fact, at contact
with the flight deck, they gun the engine to full power so that if the plane
misses the cables there is enough thrust to get airborne. If landing on a runway is like threading a
belt through a belt loop, landing on a carrier is like threading a needle. A test pilot’s job is to jump into a plane
in which he may have little experience and report on its pros and cons. When you start doing that in an airplane that’s
never been flown before, then it, it really is what gets a
test pilot, I think, excited. What’s exciting to a test pilot would be sheer
terror to most people. Here at Edwards, Rowdy will put Boeing’s X-plane
through the precision maneuvers of a carrier landing. We all recognize that these are unproven airplanes,
but we, as test pilots, deal with that, that we’re going to be able
to handle any situation that the aircraft presents to us. If we don’t feel
that way, we wouldn’t be flying. The Boeing team has worked hard to minimize
the danger, but the test requires Rowdy to fly so close to the ground,
any error or technical problem may be fatal. A section of runway has been
marked off, equal to the landing strip on a carrier deck. God, IT goes. Roger that, Phantom 3. From a control room miles away, a team of
Boeing engineers monitors the X-plane’s every move. The pilot learns what kind of corrections
and control inputs he has to make, and then it’s also the aircraft’s
ability to respond to those control inputs. It’s that combination that ultimately
determines how well the airplane is going to do at the ship. As he would on a real carrier, Rowdy receives
visual cues from an optical landing aid called the Fresnel Lens. If he
can line up an amber light called the meatball correctly, Rowdy knows he’s approaching
at a safe angle for a successful touchdown. He gets additional tips from a landing signal
officer on the ground. On a real carrier this officer would give
a score to every landing. Low start in the middle. We’re not really trying to grade the pilot
on what Rowdy’s doing. He’s a skilled aviator who knows how to make
the corrections.. Roger, Paul. .. so what were trying to look, is find out
how the airplane is performing with certain deviations applied to it. With each attempt the degree of difficulty
goes up. To recreate real-world conditions, Rowdy begins an approach
descending too fast, or at too steep an angle, and then tries to
correct for it. Man, that’s amazing. The X in X-plane means experimental, but occasionally
it means unexpected. On one test flight, pilot Dennis O’Donoghue
runs into trouble. We were just doing a routine test with the
aircraft, to see if we ever lost the engine could we crank the engine back up and
get it relit. Caution. Suddenly a warning light comes on indicating
the X-plane’s landing brakes have failed. Flight control. Talk to him. Do you want to reset or stall? He can’t reset. He’s got to bring it home. Phantom 3? Control. We need you to RTB. RTB? Can I reset? Negative. Suspecting the warning light is at fault,
O’Donoghue brings the plane in to land on the runway. Without brakes, he will quickly
run out of room, risking injury to himself and his reputation. Wrecking a
multi-million dollar X-plane doesn’t look good on the resume. On touchdown, I press the brake pedals—no
response. So it was just a matter of adding power and getting airborne
again. Phantom 3? Control. We need you to RTB. With the brakes definitely gone, it’s time
for Plan B: saving a 21st century plane using a two- million-year-old
lakebed. I had plenty of lakebed in front of me. I
touched down and just let the aircraft roll to a stop. Had we not had the lakebed,
that would have been a much more critical emergency, much more critical. After a month of successful flights, Boeing’s
luck has run out. Repairing the brakes reveals a major software problem
and the plane’s grounded. To make matters worse, Boeing no longer has
the skies over Edwards to itself. That very day, Lockheed’s X-plane
is finally ready to leave its factory home and head into battle. Do the funky chicken here. The X-plane’s first flight is in the hands
of Chief Test Pilot Tom Morgenfeld. Having flown everything from the first Stealth
fighter to black aircraft that are still classified, Morgenfeld has unrivaled
experience. Yet he is all too familiar with the dangers
of flight test. In 1992, while piloting an Air Force prototype, a computer
malfunction sends Morgenfeld’s aircraft into a violent oscillation.
After skidding in flames for more than a mile, Morgenfeld walks away
unharmed. Now, nearly a decade later, the legendary
test pilot is about to climb into another untested fighter. No turning back now. I think I’ve committed
myself, huh? The first time you fly an airplane it’s a
tremendous thrill, your heart’s pumping and the adrenaline is flowing, believe
me. In a Lockheed tradition, Morgenfeld carries
with him the wallets and car keys of Assembly Manager Ed Beurer and
the rest of the senior X-plane team. It’s a sign of confidence. Go, Tommy. We’re airborne, gang, and it’s flying great. Roger, copy. I am so filled with emotion right now. Oh,
man. Woohoo! This is fun. All complete, feels great. Roger. Gear coming on my count. Three, two,
one, now. And the doors are open. Smoothed out beautifully. Roger. Copy that, Hat Trick. After 22 minutes the first flight is over.
Lockheed’s X-plane touches down at its new home. Welcome to Edwards, and you’re cleared for
the shutdown. Roger that. That’s a beautiful man up there right now,
taking care of my baby. What an airplane! We did it man, we did it.
What a thrill! Thank you, brother. Sorry. I had to hold you, I had to hold you. You set me up. Good job, man. Ah, Les. Good
job, man. What an airplane, what an airplane! Magnificent! It felt great.
It was super, yes. Thank you so much. God, it looked so awesome. Yeah, that’s great. Thanks, Rick. I wish we
had done a little bit more. I was waiting for it to just keep on flying.
The airplane’s ready, too. It feels great. We’re going to fly the shit out of this airplane
and just kick ass everyday. That’s what it’s all about. True to Rezabek’s word, the Lockheed X-plane
is back in the sky the very next day. A carefully orchestrated series of maneuvers
slowly reveals this jet’s true capabilities. “Baby steps” is a very good way to put it,
very small analytical, incremental steps. We don’t want go out and push the airplane
or the pilot or the test team beyond their capabilities. Lieutenant Colonel Paul Smith, call sign T.P.,
is the JSF’s chief test pilot, brought in from the Air Force and assigned
to the Lockheed effort. Like all the pilots, he’s spent hours in the
simulator. But it didn’t quite prepare him for the feel of the real thing. Probably the most incredible experience I
felt was the enormous power behind me of the engine. I’ve never
had this happen to me, but it’s probably synonymous with being shot
out of a fire hose. Just a very steady, incredible amount of acceleration,
right through your back. And the feeling like this was a stallion that
was ready to go anywhere, any place I wanted it to. And if I just let
it go, it would go there. The Lockheed plane is like a stallion in another
way as well. Like all fighters, when it comes to fuel, it eats like a horse.
While not a JSF requirement, Lockheed wants to tank up its plane through
aerial refueling. And to make up for lost time, Lockheed’s ambitious test
schedule depends on it. There was a lot of pressure to get the aerial
fueling certification done so we could start tanking. The amount of time we
could spend in the air before that was about 30 minutes, realistically, and that
was just not enough time to get everything done that we need to get done. With only two flights in the X-plane under
his belt, T.P. will attempt one of the most dangerous missions of the Lockheed
program. Air-to-air tanking has always been kind of
intimidating to me, because throughout my career I’ve been taught, “Don’t
let anything touch your airplane. Don’t let another aircraft hit it, don’t let
ground fire hit it, don’t let missiles hit it.” And then the first thing you do is you go
up to this tanker and the tanker hits you. At 20,000 feet, T.P. rendezvous with a KC-135,
heavily loaded with fuel. The tanker slowly extends a boom toward a
receptacle located behind the cockpit of the X-plane. It’s really a basic feeling of trust between
you and the guy flying the boom to make sure he doesn’t hit the airplane
where he’s not supposed to. T.P. cautiously edges closer. At that point you just have to fly very stable
because he’s trying to plug that boom in the back of the aircraft. Running low on fuel with only minutes before
having to abort, T.P. makes contact. You can actually feel it in the airplane.
You feel like you’re part of the tanker and it can actually fly you around. At that
point, you just kind of relax or try to relax and stay in that same position while
you download gas. X-plane and tanker are now coupled in tight
formation at 350 miles per hour. Less than five minutes later, the crucial
maneuver is over. This airplane flew tremendously well on the
boom, better than any other airplane I’ve flown. And so it was very easy
to get confident in yourself and confident in the airplane very quickly. For the competition, Lockheed designed its
X-plane to use the Air Force system of aerial refueling, but
Boeing’s gone with the Navy’s version. With its software bugs fixed, Boeing’s X-plane
is back in the air. Navy planes have a fuel probe designed to
plug into a drogue basket at the end of a hose dangling from the tanker. But during
Boeing’s first refueling attempt, the basket flies dangerously close to instruments
mounted on the nose. These test sensors are used only for evaluating
the plane’s performance, but if the basket breaks them off, they may
be sucked into the engine. That could bring down the plane. And that’s not the only problem. When the
refueling basket makes it onto the probe, it fails to seat properly, sending
gas everywhere but the tank. In a blow to the Boeing effort, aerial refueling is
ruled out as too dangerous. I’m sure that Boeing’s engineering staff was
somewhat puzzled by all this. There was some serious study work done, there
were a lot of engineering studies that were conducted, but converting
that data to the full-scale finished artifact is often times a little
bit of a magical process, and it doesn’t always work out. For the remainder of flight testing, the Boeing
X-plane gets its gas on the ground. And the company’s month head start
on Lockheed drips away. Every time they have to land and refuel they’re
losing time. While they’re doing that, Lockheed Martin is in the air and their
completing all of their flight test objectives. For Lockheed, one goal has remained out of
reach. In a month of test flights, its X-plane achieves mach 0.98, just short
of breaking the sound barrier. Like aerial refueling, the JSF doesn’t require
a demonstration of supersonic flight. But with only three more test flights
of this version of their X-plane left, Lockheed wants to hear the boom. Today we’re going to go supersonic for the
first time. It’s an emotional victory as much as anything
else. People understand supersonic that work in
this industry, and it’s a very, very big thing. The crew has worked out here
for, now, approaching 30 days, 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, and
it’s nice to give them a lift. The Lockheed X-plane team has struggled with
a host of small but stubborn problems that have kept the plane
subsonic. But at the end of a long day of flying, with test pilot Morganfeld
at the controls, all that is forgotten when the Lockheed plane crosses the boundary
originally shattered in the same skies by the very first X-plane. Lighting the afterburner provides the extra
push needed to go supersonic. Yeehaw. That was so amazing! It means a very successful end to a hugely successful
first month of flying X-35s. Lockheed arrived late to flight test, but
made up for it with a record-setting performance for an X-plane, 27 flights in
30 days. A month later, Boeing’s X-plane goes supersonic
as well. The aircraft’s grace in the air and strong test results have quieted
the critics of its less than sleek shape. Driven by the competition, each company has
taken its X-plane to new levels of performance only to see its adversary
do the same. You had two aircraft prototypes and yet they
were flying several times a day, and this is unheard of for X-planes.
And it’s a testament to both designs and both design teams that they were
able to do this. Both teams set out to demonstrate a certain
number of test points. They both seem to have done it. Both aircraft
flew; they were pretty reliable. I don’t think there’s anything that’s come
out of this stage of the program that would say that one or the other is going
to win. That Boeing airplane is much more a competitor
than anybody- and particularly Lockheed- really expected.
I don’t see any distinct advantage to either airplane. At this stage
in the game, I’d have to tell you that it is neck and neck. Both Boeing and Lockheed realize the entire
competition and the largest military contract ever, may come down to the
JSF’s final requirement, achieving the Harrier trick of landing vertically. Houdini once made a five-ton elephant disappear.
Lockheed plans an even greater feat: to levitate over three times
that weight, a 17-ton fighter, using its radical new lift-fan. The fate of
the competition and perhaps even the fate of the company rests on this untested
system. All of their eggs are in this one basket.
If they do lose, effectively, Lockheed Martin as a fighter production entity in
the United States, that will come to an end. They have nothing else to keep their
front doors open. Lockheed engineers install their lift fan
system into the X-plane, hopefully transforming it into that hybrid of the skies,
a vertically landing jet. While it remains unproven, the concept behind
their unique lift-fan system exudes engineering elegance. Two columns of
air, instead of one in the Harrier, balance the plane’s descent.
One column is the engine exhaust directed downward. The other column
is created by a lift-fan connected to the engine by a drive shaft.
The fan takes in air from above and blasts it out below. It’s an ingenious
system, but in practice it requires a symphony of moving parts. Lockheed has chosen a very complex solution.
If something goes mechanically catastrophically wrong during the hover, you
have very, very little time to get out. A former Royal Navy pilot with Harrier combat
experience in the Falklands and Bosnia, Simon Hargreaves will attempt
the first hover in the Lockheed X-plane. He’s spent years in preparation.
Still, there’s no question he’s about to take a ride on the wild side. Nobody’s ever tried to model a propulsion
system that’s quite as complex as this, as, quite as integrated as
this, so there may be some areas there where the airplane doesn’t respond exactly
as I’m expecting. The vertical landing tests will start over
a hover pit, ten feet deep and covered by a steel grate. The hover pit
is designed to minimize the chance the engine will suck in its own hot exhaust.
Hot gas ingestion is a familiar danger to Harrier pilots. If the exhaust used
to float the plane somehow enters the engine’s air intake, the engine will start
to choke. What happens when you ingest hot gas, your
thrust decays; your thrust decays, you lose lift; you lose lift, you start descending
at a rapid rate, and can lead to a catastrophic accident. Venting the hot gases out the side of the
hover pit provides some protection. Here we go. Seventy percent, throttle up.
Come on, Simon. Come on, baby. Up the power. Hargreaves holds steady twenty feet in the
air. At 35-thousand pounds, it’s the heaviest fighter ever to hover. Wow. The lift fan performs without incident and
produces 1,500 pounds more thrust than predicted. That was great. That was incredible. Let’s do that again.
Incredible. After nearly two years of struggling to keep
up with Boeing, the Lockheed team now has reason to display their usual
abundance of self-confidence. We’ve never had a doubt in our minds at any
point in this program that this is the right type of airplane and propulsion
system. And we’ve felt very sorry for the competing team against
us. I never felt sorry for them. Yeah, that’s true. While the lift fan works, Lockheed still hasn’t
accomplished the tricky mid-air maneuver called conversion, going from level
flight to vertical landing, with its complicated dance of moving parts. The same morning Lockheed lifts off, Boeing
plans a dramatic demonstration of its own vertical lift system. The company’s
second X-plane has been flown across the country. The new proximity
to Washington decision- makers and lobbyists doesn’t hurt, but the
real advantage is invisible. The air at sea level has greater density than
at the high altitude location of Edwards Air Force Base. Thicker air means
better engine performance. In this test of its direct lift system, Boeing
hopes to outdo Lockheed. Test Pilot Dennis O’Donoghue will start in
level flight, slow the plane down to nothing and hover. His slow speed will make
the wings useless, and a failure of the lift system will mean the plane falls
from the sky. To give O’Donoghue a chance to eject, Boeing
has conducted its early tests at higher altitudes gradually working lower
and slower. Now, after 43 flights, Boeing is ready to go all the way, to attempt
zero airspeed. I’ve got butterflies. O’Donoghue’s family is among the spectators
of today’s historic event. The boys are really excited, too. I think
Dennis slept because he knew he needed to. The boys slept. I didn’t sleep
a wink. Look, Daddy’s airplane. Yes. Two hundred feet above the runway, O’Donoghue
slowly decelerates to zero airspeed and hovers. A 28,000-pound airplane
hangs frozen in the sky. Irish. It looks good here. Yeah, the hover
performance looks real good, numbers were looking pretty nice. And just for the record, pilot, yeah? You
are my hero! Pretty cool, eh? You got that right! Congratulations, Dennis. Oh my god, what a day. I’m sitting there yelling
and clapping and crying, driving up, seeing it just right
there. On this day the X-32B hovers four time- once
for two and a half minutes- and, demonstrating rock solid control, performs
a perfect 360-degree turn. That was just wonderful. Brendan said it was
better than Star Wars, and for him, that’s a lot. One month later, Boeing is ready to make history.
If it works, the X-32 will become the first new fighter since the Harrier
to transition from conventional flight to landing vertically. For this risky mission, Boeing will also use
a hover pit to reduce the chances of hot exhaust being ingested into the engine
during the landing. To increase the margin of safety, Boeing engineers have
removed some exterior parts to lighten the X-plane’s weight. Some critics will cry foul, but Boeing will
respond that its new design, which it didn’t have time to build but will submit
to the JSF as its final proposal, is 1500 pounds lighter. Dennis O’Donoghue is in the cockpit again,
while flight test conductor Howard Gofus will closely monitor the mission
from the ground. Now there’s fewer unknowns. We know we can
do it, we know we’ve been there, we know what we’ve seen so far,
but we’re still only one failure away from having a really bad day. Okay, coming up to fifty feet. Here we go. Closing in over the pit the Boeing X-plane
comes to a stop and begins a slow descent. If disaster strikes, O’Donoghue
is now too low to eject. Tee-two, tee-two, watch tee-two. In hover.
Caution, caution.. Suddenly the controllers spot trouble. Caution, caution. Invisibly. the engine has ingested hot gas
from the lift nozzles and loses power. Caution! Knock it off one! O’Donoghue feels the bottom dropping out,
but it’s too late to abort. Howard we’re coming down. Twenty feet! Twenty feet and only seconds from the ground
the gas dissipates and the engine gains enough thrust to touch down safely. Excellent landing. He’s down on the ground and we realize it,
and so there’s the, you’re in a quandary for that split second. Okay,
we just did our first VL. What happened? Over by the runway, no one is aware of the
close call. Reviewing the data, the test team believes a choice made to increase
safety, the hover pit, may be causing the problem. There’s almost no crosswind
to clear the pit of exhaust. Hot gas may be collecting and bouncing upward
into the air. They decide to attempt a second vertical landing
but on a solid surface. We decided we were going to go for the vertical
landing on the pad, so we set up all the numbers.. set it all up and know
that, hey, the same thing could happen there. Looking good so far. Good one. The second vertical landing goes without a
hitch, to everyone’s enormous relief. But just a week later, during another vertical
landing, an old friend pays an unwelcome visit. It’s a pop stall, the
result of hot gas ingestion just above the ground, a common event in Harriers. Boeing
engineers predicted it might happen and designed it out of their
new version. But they decide to play it safe and stop testing their vertical
system. A month later, Boeing completes all major
requirements for the Pentagon ahead of the competition. Hey, Frank, that’s our man. Oh boy. Hey, Howard. Yes sir. We did it. Yes sir. It’s a major landmark, and if anything has
them worried, the Boeing brass certainly doesn’t show it. I’m confident that we are AT the head of the
class now, and I expect to stay there. All right, one more time. Yeah! The Lockheed plane now needs to prove it’s
ready for primetime by performing the critical transition from conventional
flight to hover to landing vertically. We need to demonstrate that we can land on
a solid surface, both to make sure we’ve got the performance and the flying
qualities to do that- to make sure that we’ve dealt with ground effects
such as hot gas ingestion- and to prove that we can land on a normal
sort of surface without damage or significant erosion to the surface. Converting in three, two, one, now. At a thousand feet, Simon Hargreaves engages
the lift fan and slows down. With air from the front and exhaust from the
rear nozzle in balance, the Lockheed X-plane floats on nearly 40-thousand
pounds of thrust. This system avoids the problems of the Harrier
and Boeing’s direct lift. Cooler air from the lift fan creates an invisible
barrier that prevents the engine from choking on its own hot gas. After two minutes of hovering, Hargreaves
eases off the throttle and gently guides the X-plane down. Well done, Simon. It felt like it, yeah. It’s been a long time coming, and um, about
the only thing I can say is yes! It’s going to be a tough choice, if one guy
had stumbled here at the end then it would’ve made it easy. It’s not an easy choice and that’s what the
government wanted. The government wanted a close horse race,
and I think they’re going to get it now. In the waning days of the competition, at
an undisclosed location somewhere near the Pentagon, JSF Director General Michael
Hough takes NOVA inside a world where cameras have never been
allowed. Behind a wall of security, the secret proposals of Boeing and
Lockheed are being evaluated by the government team that will help determine
the winner of the Joint Strike Fighter program. This is where the proposals are, all electronic
of course. This is where we’ve got 200 people off and on coming in
and looking at the proposals one at a time, gauging them against the operational
requirements document. Digging through mountains of data, experts
evaluate performance, cost, management and risk. Some of them are doing aerodynamic performance,
figuring out: How fast will it go? What is the range? How will it
turn? What kind of Gs can it sustain? Others are evaluating software and architecture. Now near the end of this jury process, the
results are one of JSF’s most closely guarded secrets. We’ve got about six weeks left, by which we’re
going to take the results of our evaluation, give it to the Secretary
of the Air Force who, in harmony with the Secretary of the Navy,
is going to make a decision of who’s going to build the airplane for the
warfighter for the next forty years. As the final decision approaches, known in
military speak as “down select,” Boeing remains confident that its manufacturing
know-how and cost saving designs have made it a winner. I think we all feel pretty good about going
into down select, and I think we truly believe that we’ve got the right vehicle
for the customer. But just before it crosses the finish line,
Lockheed plans a final dramatic display, a bid for the history books and bait
for the huge government contract. In a test flight Lockheed dubs Mission X,
its fighter takes off in less than 500 feet, then goes supersonic and lands vertically.
Since the Harrier is subsonic, the maneuver is a milestone in aviation history
and a direct hit on Boeing’s need to strip off parts for vertical landing
and reinstall them for supersonic flight. But the Lockheed team pushes its luck too
far. They attempt a vertical takeoff and transition to conventional flight. When
the plane bobbles in the wind on liftoff the mission is aborted. But the
failure does nothing to dampen Lockheed’s legendary mix of technical ingenuity
and engineering arrogance. This company believes it has won the right
to build the first fighter of the 21st century. We did our part of the bargain, now the rest
of it is up to
the government. Five years after the battle began it’s D-day.
The decision is in the bag. The contractors anxiously await the news.
In Palmdale, California, Rick Rezabek and a few hundred members of
the Lockheed team gather in the X-plane hangar. We did as much as we needed to, to win this
thing, and “we’re” very, I don’t know, very comfortably, anxiously
nervous and confident. We did the best we could. Yeah. While in an office in Seattle, the leaders
of Boeing’s X-plane program, Frank Statkus and company Vice Chairman Harry
Stonecipher stand by for word. Where are we going to be able to watch this
thing from? Right here. Let’s watch it. We are here today to announce the largest
acquisition program in the history of the Department of Defense, the
Joint Strike Fighter. The value of the program could be in excess of two hundred
billion dollars. Two contractor teams, one led by Lockheed
Martin and the other led by Boeing, have just completed a concept development
phase. Both contractor teams met or exceeded the performance objectives established for the aircraft. The process involved, at the end.. was about
two hundred and fifty people. And both proposals were very good, both demo
programs were very good. But on the basis of strengths, weaknesses
and degrees of risk of the program, it is our conclusion, joined in by
our colleagues in the United Kingdom, that the Lockheed Martin team is
the winner of the Joint Strike Fighter program on the best value basis. Frank, tell your team they did an unbelievably
good job. I could not have asked for more. In a call from Washington, Boeing C.E.O. Phil
Condit consoles his team. Is it a winner-take-all, Phil? At this point the answer is yes, that this
decision they’ve held to is a winner-take-all. You did a great job. I’m sorry. No, you did a great job. I don’t know what
we missed. In my mind, the Boeing redesign, the hot gas
ingestion, makes me wonder if, for Boeing to win, Lockheed’s lift fan engine
had to fail. One of the biggest deciding factors in this
competition, in my opinion, was that Boeing never managed to make a vertical
landing with the aircraft in complete configuration. They took the inlet cowl off. They took the
landing gear doors off. Lockheed Martin made complete vertical landings with
the aircraft in the same trim that it could go to supersonic speed
in. The X-35, now officially designated the F-35,
may become the most widely deployed fighter ever produced. I think it’s ironic that Lockheed, in 1943,
in effect, gave birth under the auspices of the Skunk Works, to the Lockheed
P-80, which was the first successful operational jet fighter used by
the U.S. military. And here it is almost sixty years later, and they are now
the winner of the JSF competition, which could result in, potentially, the last
manned jet fighter. It’s the closing of a major chapter in the history of U.S.
air power. With a buy-in from the services and billions
in foreign sales, the future of the F-35 looks bright. But fasten your seat
belts there may be turbulence ahead. Now the fun really begins, because Lockheed
has to deliver on its cost and performance promises for the JSF, and the
government’s already talking about cutting the number of airplanes it’s going
to buy and spending more on unmanned combat air vehicles. And who’s one of the top builders of unmanned
combat air vehicles? Boeing. Losing the battle of the X-planes
may not mean losing the war to dominate the future of American air power. So the last chapter in the JSF story is really
yet to be written.

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