December 2003/January 2004
Volume 02, Issue 08
Technical Fellowship Advisory Boards provide answers to tough questions
Who better to try to answer that than some of the keenest minds at Boeing: members of the Boeing Technical Fellowship.
Demonstrating that it can effectively channel its expertise to help meet some of the most difficult challenges facing the aerospace industry, the Fellowship has formed Technical Fellowship Advisory Boards to zero in on specific issues or to study new technologies with significant potential. Findings could help guide Boeing and customer technology strategies and investments.
The first of these boards, consisting of world-class scientists and engineers of various specialties, has completed a study on hypersonicsthe ability of air-breathing vehicles to fly into space at speeds of between Mach 4 and 14 using scramjet technologies. The comprehensive analysis, which laid out a roadmap for the development of technologies for the most efficient route to hypersonic flight, has been delivered to Bob Krieger, Boeing Phantom Works president, and George Muellner, senior vice president of Air Force Systems for Integrated Defense Systems.
More important, the U.S. government 's National Aerospace Initiativea joint Department of Defense-NASA program dedicated to sustaining America's leadership in space via new technologiesis examining the findings to help with its own evaluation of hypersonic access to space. And the U.S. Air Force and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are studying the report for its Force Application and Launch from the Continental United States program, designed to develop technologies and demonstrate capabilities that will enable transformational changes in global, time-critical strike missions. Additional advisory boards have been launched for other critical aerospace technologies such as Personal Air Vehicles, Emerging Disruptive Technologies and Engineering Process Vendor Software Acquisition.
"This first advisory board did an extraordinary job that will be of great value to Boeing and our national space effort," said George Orton, Phantom Works program manager for Hypersonic Design and Application. "Air-breathing hypersonic vehicles offer the hope of low-cost, on-demand access to space. But before we can open up a new space age by making hypersonic vehicles a reality, we need to produce a comprehensive plan. The board took us closer to that goal by examining all of the existing and potential technologies and flight demonstration programs to determine the best route.
"Sometimes it helps to draw on some outside guidance," Orton said. "The Boeing Technical Fellowship members of this advisory board did just that and are helping us lead the way."
A 'DREAM-TEAM' NETWORK
Thad Sandford, vice president of engineering for IDS and executive sponsor of the Technical Fellowship, developed the TFAB concept at the suggestion of IDS' Muellner. A retired U.S. Air Force general, Muellner considered the Boeing Technical Fellowship the ideal organization to establish something at Boeing similar to U.S. Air Force Science Advisory Boards.
Frank Dudas, program manager of the Technical Fellowship, said the Fellowship is a "dream-team network of some 2,100 technical specialists engaged in almost every business across the enterprise, including Australia." While the Technical Fellowship has always been considered a recognition program, he said, groundwork has been under way to allow members to direct their expertise toward adding value to Boeing.
Thus came the hypersonic flight evaluation.
Hypersonic flight has been intriguing scientists and engineers since the 1950s and Muellner felt it would be an ideal subject for the initial Technical Fellowship Advisory Board, which would study the feasibility of applying hypersonic flight to Boeing commercial and military businesses.
The team's assignment was to assess hypersonic technologies, design processes and test facilities, in order to determine how far from reality we are with hypersonic flight. The team was to gather existing hypersonic technology and system development roadmaps from NASA, the military and DARPA. It was also asked to develop a comprehensive roadmap for maturing critical technologies.
To accomplish this, the board members realized they needed input from experts in several areas, including aerodynamics, propulsion, heating, high-temperature material, thermal protection systems, structures, vehicle systems, integrated vehicle health management, and design and optimization systems.
Initiated in December 2002, the hypersonics study was successfully completed on schedule in March 2003. "We brought in members of the Fellowship from all levels, other Boeing specialists, retired government experts, academics, everyone we thought we needed to get a comprehensive view of the state of the art and the feasibility of the technology," said Kevin Bowcutt, technical leader of the study.
The study revealed that while applying hypersonic airbreathing propulsion to the space access mission is possible, there are still some critical technology developments required before hypersonic flight could be taken to the next level of system development and production.
"Based on knowledge of past and future hypersonics evaluations, we could see what was feasible in the next few years and what wasn't," Bowcutt said. "In all prior attempts at implementing hypersonic technology, there were tremendous strides made in specific areas, but no one took the time to look at every component of the task to see if it was feasible. So the projects took off for a while but eventually ran into too many problems and were scrapped.
"While we're always able to learn and take valuable lessons from these efforts, in the long run, they are very costly. By anticipating shortfalls in certain areas of the technology, we have a better idea of the short-term goals and the longterm feasibility of introducing the technology to the military and to the commercial world."
A BRIGHT FUTURE
With the successful completion of the first advisory board project, the Fellowship has received a strong mandate to institutionalize the process and to move forward with additional studies. Planning for several additional studies is currently under way, with the goal of producing final project reports in early 2004.
Bowcutt said the first study clearly made a significant contribution. "We came to some conclusions that will enable Boeing to stay on top of this technology," he said.
Phantom Works Senior Technical Fellow Jeffery Erickson said the advisory boards hold promise for the Fellowship and for Boeing. "When a complex technical issue arises that requires varied expertise," he said, "the Technical Fellowship is ready to respond."
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