State hopping across the US with Boeing
With the Paris Air show looming, I recently embarked on the annual Boeing Pre-Paris press tour – or the Boeing hotel/airport lounge tour of the US, depending on which way you look at it.
Travelling 11,000 miles in less than a week is no mean feat but the Boeing team really do know how to do a press trip.
Space is cool
The first stop on the tour for myself was Los Angeles to visit the company’s satellite factory. It’s a shame that we were unable to take photos on the site tour, but trust me when I say that satellites are cool. (Queue obligatory group photo wearing protective gear and silly hair nets.)
On average Boeing churns out around 12 satellites per year, although this can fluctuate depending on customer requirements. The company also emphasised a strong cooperation between the government and commercial side of the business, which provides advantages across both sectors with governments such as Australia hitching a ride on commercial 702sp satellites with their UHF hosted payload. As with everything defence, it is all about cost saving.
Avgeek in the making
Next stop was San Antonio, Texas, to visit the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) site, jam packed with C-17s.
I never thought that my idea of a good time would be wandering around one of the largest aircraft hangars in the world, looking at the US Air Force fleet of C-17s currently going through MRO.
But I am now starting to accept that I’m becoming a bit of an avgeek and I had a brilliant time. I guess the first step is admitting that you have a problem.
Walking around the hangar gave us all a good sense of how hard these aircraft are worked. The pictures go some way to showing how much work is actually done on the aircraft.
We were also briefed on off-Boeing projects, such as the QF-16 which Boeing sees potential usage as an unmanned test bed for technology developments. The ability of the aircraft to have a pilot on board gives trainees a pretty safe way to demonstrate and learn. The QF-16 is currently used as an aerial target.
Next up was the current goings-on with all things AWACS. With the UK stalling on the upgrade of its aircraft while the French Air Force are going full steam ahead, it was a good indicator to where the budget constraints are still hitting hard.
Boeing executives also revealed they see the aircraft coming to the end of their useful lives by 2035. So we still have around 20 years of E-3 aircraft upgrades to report on.
The final stop of the tour took us to Philadelphia for an update on vertical lift.
The future of vertical lift for Boeing lies in the SB>1 Defiant capability which the company is looking to flight test in the third quarter of 2017, earlier if possible.
The US government has given Boeing and Sikorsky quite the list of requirements for the aircraft with little room for it to cost more than a conventional helicopter.
We were also privy to a pretty funky new SB>1 Defiant video.
The company also revealed that the AH-6i Little Bird production line will become operational at the end of 2015.
The aircraft currently only has one customer, Saudi Arabia, but is hopeful that the capability of the light attack helicopter will entice investment from other nations – especially those who quite fancy the Apache but don’t have the budget to stretch that far.
A guided tour around the production plants for the Chinook and V-22 Osprey provided a fitting end to the week’s antics. Fun fact: Boeing can knock up around 60 Chinooks per year. After wandering around the factory it’s easy to see how that is capable with the military-style operation for the manufacturing of the military aircraft.