The Boeing 777X with have folding wings… but no tailhook.

The easiest way to increase the load capacity of a jet is to increase the wing area. More lifties from the wing, more capacity. But that has drawbacks, such as more lifites also means more induced drag (though wing design can ameliorate this somewhat), and more complexity. There comes a point where wingspan increases not only become more challenging to build, but also impact existing infrastructure.

The parking spots at the jetways at your existing airports are designed with a certain sized aircraft in mind, be it one with the 737 and A320 in mind, or for the 767, 777, and A330.

Boeing is betting that the future of jumbo jets isn’t the A380 sized massive jet (and A380 and 747-8 sales appear to bear this out) but more along the lines of a larger variant of its existing 777 series. But to  get the performance they need, they need a bigger, longer wing. But airlines don’t want to foot the bill to totally rebuild airport terminals to accommodate this new, larger wing.

And so, Boeing will add a wing fold mechanism to the 777X, raising the outermost 12 feet of each tip, allowing it to use existing gates that can accommodate legacy 777 aircraft.


Will some pilot somewhere sometime forget to put the wingtips down? I’m sure eventually someone will, though there is a take-off configuration warning system that will (quite loudly) protest if the pilot advances the throttles on the ground without the proper flaps/slats setting, among other parameters.

Storm in Benelux causes near disaster at Schiphol

A couple of days ago, there was severe weather across much of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg (Benelux).  This played merry hell with the very dense air traffic in northern Europe, with many flights diverted from their destinations.  One other knock on effect is that bad weather reduces the operations capacity of an airport. An airport  can accommodate half a dozen jet landings in 10 minutes in fair weather might be reduced to only two or three in bad weather. Worse still, bad weather will force missed approaches, further reducing the capacity.

This severe weather lead to some very close calls at Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport.



Wind shear is the phenomenon where a column of air is flowing down from a storm toward the ground. When that column of air hits the ground, it flows outward.

What happens is that an aircraft on approach, flying into this outward flow essentially suddenly has a major headwind component, and its indicated airspeed makes a sudden leap, say from 140 knots to 160 knots. Pilots on approach, being very sensitive to maintaining speed for landing, almost instinctively reduce power to reduce speed.* The problem is, as the jet passes through the column, while decelerating, they then encounter a very strong downward force, and worse on the far side, they suddenly find themselves traveling in the same direction of the outflow.  That effectively removes the headwind component, and indeed, the tailwind component results in a sudden drastic drop in indicated airspeed, say from 160 knots to suddenly 120 knots. The problem is, a 737 won’t fly at 120 knots. 

Coupled with the downward vector imparted earlier, and the reduction of power, it is very easy for an airliner to be slammed into the ground well short of the runway, with disastrous consequences. 

I’ll leave it to Spill to describe the proper procedure for pilots that do find themselves in windshear.

The atrocious weather at Schiphol meant that Trasnavia wasn’t the only airliner having trouble that day.


H/T to Airplane Pictures.

*Or worse, the autothrottles most airliners fly approaches with do it for the pilot and the pilot doesn’t immediately grasp that they are flying into windshear.

Cutaway Thursday: Boeing YC-14

The Boeing YC-14 was a twin enigne STOL (short take-off and landing) transport aircraft that completed in the USAF Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST), basically an attempt to replace the C-130. The YC-14 was competing against the YC-15 (which evolved into the C-17) in the AMST program, which we covered here.


The YC-14 is currently on display that the Pima Air and Space Museum. You can learn more about the YC-14 here.

Cutaway Thursday: Boeing E/A-18G Growler

Boeing’s E/A-18 Growler is the latest in a long line of electronic attack aircraft, with the previous aircraft being Grumman’s venerable EA-6B Prowler. The resemblance to the F/A-18F Super Hornet is obvious as that’s where the Growler is derived. Notable differeneces include the (ugraded to ICAP III, I beleive) ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) that was inherited from the Prowler. In addition to TJS the Growler also lacks the gun no the nose. Unlike the Prowler however the Growler can carry the AIM-120 AMRAAM on the cheek pylons to add a measure of self defence.

Boeing EA-18G Growler cutaway small

Somewhere along the line, the Navy’s nomenclature for “electronic warfare” (EW) became “electronic attack.” My theory that is in the past 10 years we’ve seen a “blurring of the lines” between offensive EW and cyber warfare but that’s another discussion for another post.

Boeing Bird of Prey

Boeing’s Bird of Prey was a low observable technology demonstrator that flew in 1996. In addition to testing features of low-observable (so-called “stealth”) technologies, the Bird of Prey also tested new materials, manufacturing,  and advanced aerodynamics. Design features were also incorporated in the Boeing X-45 UCAV.

The flight test program ran for 38 flights and cost about $67 million.

Below is a video highlighting some of the aircraft and program features:


Below are some pictures (h/t The Brigrade) featuring the aircraft in flight during the flight test program and as she currently appears in the National Museum of the USAF:

a-bird-of-prey-920-0 bird-of-prey-920-3 bird-of-prey-920-4 bird-of-prey-920-5 bird-of-prey-920-6 bird-of-prey-920-7 bird-of-prey-920-8 bird-of-prey-920-9 bird-of-prey-920-11 bird-of-prey-920-12 bird-of-prey-920-14 bird-of-prey-920-15 bird-of-prey-920-16 bird-of-prey-920-18 bird-of-prey-920-22 bird-of-prey-920-23 bird-of-prey-920-24 bird-of-prey-920-27 bird-of-prey-920-28 bird-of-prey-920-29 bird-of-prey-920-30 bird-of-prey-920-31 bird-of-prey-920-32 bird-of-prey-920-33

Cutaway Thursday: Boeing Model 733

Boeing 733 SST

The Boeing Model 733 was the never-to-be-built US counterpart to the European Concorde and Soviet TU-144. Subsequent research is unclear whether the design started at a delta wing planform or started as a swing-wing that was eventually dropped due to increased weight and complexity.

You can learn more here.

CSAR/X is CRH is… probably dead. Or only mostly dead.

The Old AF Sarge’s Friday Flyby post this week features the Jolly Green Giants- Air Force helos dedicated to retrieving downed aircrews behind enemy lines.* This Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) has long been seen as critically important- if you’re shot down and alone behind enemy lines, the service will keep the faith with you, and do everything in its power to bring you home.

And the proud history of the Jollies lives on today, in the form of the HH-60G PaveHawk and its crews.

The problem is, the PaveHawk has been around for 30 years of hard use, and they’re falling apart. Indeed, of an initial purchase of 112, only 99 remain, and they’re effectively at or beyond the planned 7,000 hour service life, and many are suffering from cracks and other fatigue problems.  Further, while the PaveHawk was state of the art when purchased (compared to say, a UH-1 Huey), it has a relatively short range, and limited payload and cabin space.

This isn’t a problem that has cropped up overnight. The Air Force about a decade ago decided to start shopping around for a replacement for the PaveHawk, just as some very capable helicopters started to enter production in both the American civilian and European military markets. Examples of these capable new aircraft included the Sikorsky S-92, the Augusta/Westland EH101, improved versions of the CH-47 Chinook, and as an outside chance, the Eurocopter EC725.

And so the Air Force went about holding a competition to replace it’s old PaveHawks with a newer, more capable helicopter. The details of that competition are far, far too involved to delve into in a simple post. In the end, Boeing’s offer of a modified version of its MH-47G Special Operations helicopter for the Army, itself a modified version of the CH-47F just entering production then, won the competition. The HH-47H was a great choice. It was a large, powerful, long-ranged aircraft with plenty of room, and capacity for growth. It’s basic design was already in production, and most of the special equipment would also be shared with the Army’s MH-47G fleet, driving down unit costs. The volume of spare parts in service would also be leveraged to drive down lifetime operating costs. Most importantly, it was the most capable platform for the mission.

Immediately, the losing bidders protested the decision to the GAO.  Years passed, and eventually, the GAO said the process was indeed flawed. Note, the GAO didn’t say the HH-47H wasn’t capable, or that the competitors entries were better. Merely that the bidding process was flawed. All this before sheet metal had been cut on a single bird. And at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to the government, all while the PaveHawk fleet was getting older and older.

Eventually, the Air Force was forced to simply cancel the contract to Boeing.

The aging of the PaveHawk fleet has gotten so bad the Air Force has been forced to buy the occasional UH-60M off the Army’s production line, and refit it with special equipment from an older PaveHawk simply to keep the minimum fleet available.

At any event, the Air Force announced the CSAR/X program was dead. And then immediately announced a wholly new program, the Combat Rescue Helicopter or CRH. Not surprisingly, the basic needs for the program looked an awful lot like the CSAR/X program. Something bigger, newer and longer ranged than the HH-60G.

Because of the way the solicitation was written, and various market factors, the CRH program has forced most of the “usual suspects” to either drop out, or not even bother bidding in the first place. In effect, the program is a sole source contract for the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter.

The only problem is, in the age of the sequester, the Air Force is struggling mightily to find money. It’s something of a given that almost anything will be sacrificed upon the altar of the F-35 program. Second only to that is the KC-46 replacement tanker program. As it stands, the Air Force has basically told Sikorsky “fine, you win…” but as of now, there simply is no money to buy any aircraft.

The entire fiasco is an indictment of our flawed procurement process. It surely seems to me that back in the days of duplication and fraud, waste and abuse, the services certainly seemed to be able to buy more systems with less development times, and at less risk than today.

*Note, this mission is separate and distinct from the Air Force Special Operations for inserting and retrieving special operations forces. Different environments, different missions, different doctrine, and different training. To some extent, there is some crossover, but there has always been good reason to keep them distinct.

Boeing Machinists Doing Their Best To Lose Their Jobs

You saw that post the other day about Seattle City Council member elect urging Boeing workers to take over Boeing’s Everett plant. Turns out, those same workers are struggling on another front to ensure as little work as possible comes to the Puget Sound area.

Labor costs and uncertainty are the bane of airplane manufacturers. Finding a skilled workforce is hard enough. Paying them is relatively easy. But paying their pensions and health benefits (even during retirement) is a massive expense. Further, as Boeing has seen time and again, labor strikes disrupt delivery schedules on even the most popular Boeing products, leaving airlines and leasing companies tempted to buy Airbus.

So the Boeing management has an incentive to lock in labor agreements to ensure stability in the workforce, commensurate with the known backlog of orders for a product line.

Boeing’s highly anticipated 777X next-gen long haul airliner will be built. And the current order backlog is roughly eight years of stabilized production. So Boeing asked its machinist union to agree to a plan that would guarantee the 777X be built in the Seattle area, in exchange for concessions of the pension and health care benefits of future employees. The current employees would be grandfathered.*

The proposal was soundly defeated by the union membership. In effect, rather than the union looking out for the well being of its membership, the membership is looking out for the well being of the union, sacrificing their own job prospects for the union ability to negotiate on future members, of which there is no guarantee there will actually be any future members.

Boeing isn’t stupid. There isn’t some magical property to the Puget Sound area that mandates quality jetliners can only be built there.  Just as Boeing has already opened a second production line for the 787 in South Carolina (again largely as a result of Seattle area union activism unrealistically driving up the costs of production in Washington), now again Boeing will be forced to consider production of the 777X elsewhere.

South Carolina would love to open a second production line. Long Beach, formerly the McDonnell Douglas production site, is wrapping up C-17 production and would be delighted to have another product.** Theoretically, the Wichita area could be in the running.

And then there’s Huntsville, AL.  Home of our resident Rocket Scientist Roamy, HSV is jammed packed with an incredibly educated workforce. Not just in the scientist sense, either. The ranks of skilled workers there offer an attractive pool of potential workers. Further, the low costs of living, and high quality of life in the area would tempt many skilled workers in other areas to relocate.

Alabama in general has leveraged its assets to woo aerospace companies to relocate to the state. Airbus is actually going to build its most popular A320 family in state.

And now, HSV is trying to lure Boeing to Northern Alabama.

Mayor Tommy Battle confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Huntsville is one of several U.S. cities in the running to potentially produce Boeing’s next-generation 777X jetliner.

While Battle was unclear exactly how many jobs will be associated with the 777X, he said the economic impact would be similar to the last BRAC that brought 4,800 high-paying Department of Defense jobs to Huntsville.

“It’s probably in that range if they move everything to one place,” he told Tuesday afternoon.

Battle, Gov. Robert Bentley, Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong and other officials had about a two-hour meeting with Boeing executives in Birmingham earlier today.

On Nov. 13, International Association of Machinists members soundly rejected an eight-year labor contract extension that would have guaranteed the 777X jet would be manufactured in Washington state. Boeing said the vote left the company “no choice but to open the process competitively and pursue all options for the 777X.”

*And unlike Obamacare, if the employees liked their plan, they really could keep their plan.

**Of course, the costs of doing business in California strongly argue against Boeing leaping from the frying pan into the fire.

The A-10’s Future

There’s a lot of gnashing of teeth about Air Force plans to replace the A-10 with the F-35A. And I suppose eventually, they will. But from what I’ve seen of the fielding plans, it looks like F-16 units are first in line to switch over.

And while there has always been somewhat of a love/hate relationship between Big Air Force and the A-10 community, let’s at least be honest enough to admit that Big Blue has in fact put significant money into the fleet, improving the remaining planes, even while drawing total numbers down somewhat.

First, the Air Force ponied up the money to rebuild most of the fleet from the original A-10A standard to the A-10C model, which adds night attack and precision guided weapon capability.

Secondly, the Air Force is spending real money on rebuilding the wings of the fleet to extend their fatigue service lives for another thirty years.

In fact, Boeing just announced another contract to build 56 more wings.

Of course, the Navy spent a fortune rewinging it’s A-6 fleet just before retiring them.