Boeing X-32 JSF (Joint Stike Fighter) Technology Demonstrator
The Boeing X-32 competed - and failed - against the Lockheed submission, which went on to become the F-35.
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The Boeing X-32 was a prototype aircraft developed for the US military's Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. The Boeing submission faced off against the Lockheed X-35 which went on to win the lucrative defense contract, leaving the X-32 to the pages of military aviation history. The Lockheed X-35 saw further development before becoming the F-35 "Lightning II" multi-role, VTOL-capable (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft for the United States Air Force. The F-35 is expected to be formally introduced after 2016.
The Joint Strike Fighter Program was born in 1994 in an effort to streamline requirements by both the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the United States Department of Defense (US DoD). The purpose of the program would be to develop a multi-role minded aircraft capable of short, vertical and conventional take-offs and landings and deliver advanced ordnance within cost. The aircraft would replace a slew of modern though aging types in service with the US military. Initial proposals were submitted with The Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin being selected for their design concepts in 1996. The program would be government-funded to help contain project costs in the long-term and each company would be charged with producing a pair of prototypes for evaluation. The JSF winner would ultimately stock hundreds, possibly thousands of examples within the US inventory with international sales possible.
The Boeing submission was designated as the "X-32". At its core, it was a sleek design offering with sharp angles worked seamlessly into smooth contours utilizing all learned concepts of "stealth" flight and radar evasion. The cockpit was set to the front of the fuselage behind a short nose assembly. The delta-shaped wings were high-mounted and negated the use of conventional tailplanes while the empennage sported a pair of outward canted vertical tail fins. Power was supplied from a single Pratt & Whitney F119 series turbofan engine of 28,000lbs thrust capable of afterburning (43,000lbs thrust) and aspirated through a chin-mounted air-intake assembly. This intake duct system promoted a very deep fuselage appearance for the X-32, giving it its unique shape. The engine exhausted at the rear through a specially developed port intended to minimize the aircraft's radar signature. The undercarriage was of a conventional tricycle arrangement with a pair of single-wheeled main legs under each wing and a single-wheeled nose leg under the intake assembly. The pilot held a commanding view of the action around the aircraft thanks to a raised cockpit position and lightly-framed canopy design. The canopy opened by sliding rearwards.
As the program was already progressing at full speed when a revised United States Navy requirement forced the Boeing team to revise the wing assemblies of their prototypes. The USN sought a revised fighter design with improved agility and broader ordnance capabilities to which Boeing engineers, much to their chagrin, obliged. The X-32 emerged with more conventional swept-back wing assemblies as well as horizontal tailplanes no installed at the rear. This design alteration would go on to prove one of the damning events for the X-32 project. The other issue lay in the Boeing team's decision to produce two separate prototypes to fulfill the conventional take-off and landing and VTOL evaluations. Lockheed, on the other hand, managed to develop a single prototype to showcase both actions which certainly helped its chances of winning.
First flight of the Boeing X-32 prototype occurred on September 18th, 2000 with a successful conventional take-off and landing. The VTOL test then followed through the second prototype on March 29th, 2001. The Pratt & Whitney engine allowed for a top speed of Mach 1.6 (1,200 miles per hour) while range was 1,574 kilometers in the X-32's conventional take-off and landing arrangement. The VTOL version - primarily for use off space-strapped carrier decks - showcased a range of 1,112 kilometers. Flight testing would end in July of 2001.
Proposed armament included an internal 20mm M61A2 series cannon. All principle ordnance would have been shielded within internal weapons bays to either side of the fuselage. This would house a possible mix of air-to-air missiles as well as the latest in guided bombs. The X-32 also could be modified to accept externally-mounted ordnance as optional (this to include plumbing for external fuel tanks increasing operational ranges). The proposed international version of the production X-32 would have featured the 27mm Mauser BK-27 series internal cannon and comparable missiles/guided bombs.
After evaluation of both systems, the Lockheed design was selected as the winner, dooming the X-32. The primary deciding factor ultimately came from Lockheed's use of a "shaft-driven" lift fan as opposed to Boeing's thrust vectoring "direct-lift" system. While more costly and unproven, the Lockheed design initiative prevailed over Boeing's "safer" endeavor. The two X-32 prototypes were then handed down to museums as showpieces while some systems devised during development for the X-32 have gone on to see implementation in Boeing's current stable of US military aircraft - proving that all was not lost.
The X-32A prototype completed 66 flights while the X-32B prototype managed 78 flights.