Boeing Company reported on Thursday that it had successfully demonstrated the robust design of its T-7A Red Hawk trainer aircraft by turning off, and, after 48 seconds, restarting the aircraft’s single (GE F404) engine in flight at 20,000 feet above the company’s Illinois test area.  (A video is here.)

In an interview with Defense Systems Journal here at the 2020 Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Chuck Dabundo, Boeing T-7 Vice President and Program Manager, explained what happened in the demonstration and why it was important:

“We went in knowing what would happen. But this is a test to go qualify every subsystem and to ensure what we said was going to happen actually happens.  We’d done a number of tests last week at different conditions just to prove out the subsystems and to qualify the overall system.  That said, a single engine airplane shutting the engine off is an exciting moment.  It enables us to go to different portions of the envelope as we continue to go through on envelope expansion.  It’s a significant event.”

Chuck Dabundo, Boeing T-7 Vice President and Program Manager

Boeing, with partner Saab, was awarded a contract worth up to $9.2 billion in September 2018 to provide 351 T-X trainer jets, 46 simulators, and associated ground equipment to the U.S. Air Force.  Less than ten months later, in July 2019, the aircraft completed its first official Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase flight test.  The T-X has since been dubbed the T-7A.

Dabundo described to DSJ a trainer development program that is hitting its marks and that has not faced significant challenges.  “I don’t think we’ve had any big surprises, as we’ve taken a pretty methodical approach to it.  We really leverage digital engineering concept into this program. And I think it’s really helped with predictability of design, build and test.”

Among other points Dabundo shared with DSJ on the T-7’s milestones and objectives:

  • Boeing has been working on the T-7A EMD Phase contract for 17 months and the program passed a Critical Design Review (CDR) last Fall.
  • The T-7A is hitting all scheduled test points in its developmental test phase in more than 160 test flights.
  • Boeing is “just about done” with its engineering releases and began building the EMD aircraft about a month ago. In parallel, test pilots have been flying the “production representative” jets that Boeing used as part of the T-X competition to expand the T-7A’s flight envelope and to see how the subsystems perform in different conditions.
  • Saab, for its part, is providing the aft section of the T-7A’s for integration at Boeing’s production facility in St. Louis.
  • The EMD program and the USAF operational testing is to culminate in initial T-7A aircraft deliveries to Randolph Air Force Base in 2023 leading to T-7A Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2024.

While underscoring that the company’s “No. 1 laser focus is on getting the T-7A through the Air Force’s qualification and certification process” Dabundo confirms that Boeing is studying different configurations for attack aircraft and notes that the T-7’s design provides “a lot of flexibility in terms of what you can put on it to adapt to different types of missions.”  He notes that the company is “integrating all that information and trying to really think through where can we go in the future.”

As to specific sales prospects for such an attack variant with the USAF recently announcing that it would not be launching a Program of Record for a light attack aircraft, Dabundo confirmed that Boeing has “seen a lot of interest with a number of different countries who have requested information and given us some input on the kinds of features they think would be relevant for their missions.” 

Dabundo also notes that Boeing has talked “a number of times” with the Navy about that Service’s looming requirement to replace its venerable T-45 jet trainer. 

In summing up the T-7 program’s status and prospects, Dabundo concludes: “We’re we are making great progress. It’s a very capable aircraft, I think it’s going to really serve the Air Force’s needs for training pilots in the future. And there are a lot of, I think, variations of the aircraft as we look in the decades ahead that will serve our international customers.”