Front Page
Boeing Frontiers
December 2003/January 2004
Volume 02, Issue 08
Boeing Frontiers
Special Features

the value of lessons learned

Program experience is Boeing's high-tech lifeblood. Engineers learn valuable lessons from their successes and failures that they apply to help win and develop new systems and improve current systems. Lessons applied and learned in the JSF competition are a good example.


X-32BIn a U.S. Air Force hangar at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., there sits a remarkable aircraft with extraordinary capabilities. There's a similar one at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

The two aircraft are the X-32A and X-32B, respectively—physical mirror images of one another—and the two Boeing Joint Strike Fighter demonstrators Boeing developed and produced for one of the toughest military airplane competitions ever. The U.S. government has decided that the aircraft, which will never be flown again, should be placed in aviation museums. But Boeing never had any doubt about what to do with the experience gained from the X-32 demonstration program. Boeing people, who have moved well beyond the award of JSF to Lockheed Martin in October 2001, are now wearing their membership of the JSF Boeing One Team as a badge of honor.

"We didn't lose the competition; we just didn't win it," said John Lauba, formerly a flight test engineer on the JSF program, summing up the One Team's attitude about the program. And there's more than a semantic difference, he added: "We accomplished everything we said we were going to do. The government simply selected the design it ultimately preferred. To this day, we don't feel that our work was for nothing."

Lauba is now applying what he learned on X-32 to the X-45A Joint Unmanned Combat Air System flight test program at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California. "What I learned about functional, flight-test and monitoring processes on JSF we are using right now on J-UCAS," he said. "JSF was a thrilling experience and it lives on in our work here."

The X-32 demonstration program also lives on in many other programs that Boeing is working on today, explained Frank Statkus, the former Boeing JSF program manager and now 7E7 director of Advanced Technology and Processes.

"We really did draw on the best of Boeing on this program," he said, "and we would not be as far ahead on many of our programs today without the experience gained on that program and the many technologies and processes developed and validated on it."

Added Mike Heinz, former deputy JSF program manager and now vice president and general manager of Integrated Defense Advanced Systems: "Our work on the X-32 is being leveraged around the company."


As JSF demonstrators, the X-32A and B were designed to show how Boeing could provide an affordable next-generation strike aircraft weapon system to meet the objectives of the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marines, as well as the United Kingdom's Royal Navy. The X-32A was designed to demonstrate conventional takeoff and landing for the Air Force and carrier-approach qualities for the Navy; the X-32B was designed to demonstrate short takeoff and vertical landing requirements for the Marines and for the U.K. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

Jeff HousekeeperThe primary focus of the demonstration program was clearly on affordability—reducing the development cost, production cost, and cost of ownership of the aircraft well beyond anything achieved before.

"We knew that in order to meet the customers' affordability targets, we would have to reduce our previously achieved development costs for design, fabrication and assembly by about one-third," said David Brower, former director of affordability for the Joint Strike Fighter program and now chief engineer for the 737 Airborne Early Warning & Control programs.

"We drew on design and manufacturing capabilities and experience from across the company that could help us reach our affordability goals," said Brower, noting that the team reduced costs by about 50 percent.

These capabilities and experience came from a host of programs. The latest in Lean design and manufacturing experience was drawn from the Boeing 777 and Next-Generation 737 jetliner programs. The F/A-18 strike fighter and T-45 jet trainer programs provided valuable experience for developing carrier-qualified aircraft for the Navy. The F/A-22 Raptor advanced tactical fighter and F-15 Eagle strike fighter programs added experience for meeting Air Force requirements. The AV-8B Harrier II vertical/short takeoff and landing program provided valuable vertical lift experience, and the Delta IV launch vehicle program provided factory design experience.

Meanwhile, Phantom Works, the Boeing advanced research-and-development arm, was providing valuable experience gleaned from a variety of advanced systems and technology projects.

They included rapid prototyping on the X-36 tailless agility demonstrator program, stealth technology on the Bird of Prey demonstrator, and open systems architectures demonstrated in the Bold Stroke common avionics architecture program. Advanced 3-D modeling and simulation techniques were developed on the YF-22 program, transferred to and institutionalized on the 777 program, and improved again on the F/A-22 program. They then became the basis for the Computer-Aided Three-dimensional Interactive Application design and manufacturing tools, and advanced materials and structures in such activities as the government and industry Composites Affordability Initiative.

But programs provided more direct experience as well. From the F/A-18 program in St. Louis, for instance, the X-32 team drew on unitized construction and high-speed aluminum machining. From the F/A-22 program in Seattle they drew on the automated process and technology for manufacturing the composite wing skin and wing substructure. And from the C-17 transport program in Southern California, they drew from the program-management and cost-and-schedule best practices that earned that program the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award.

An important affordability technology drawn from Phantom Works was the use of commercially available computer technologies to develop an avionics system for significantly lower development cost, flyaway cost and support cost of current systems. The Bold Stroke initiative had developed and successfully demonstrated this open systems architecture approach on a number of platforms and was developing an Advanced Mission Computer and Displays system for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and for the AV-8B Harrier a common operational flight program and some aircraft-unique software modules.

The X-32 program also derived direct benefit from the Boeing 777 program's pioneering use of three-dimensional computer graphics for design, which had reduced change, error and rework by 50 percent and eliminated the traditional need for producing a costly, full-scale mock-up.

Brower credits advancements in digital design with effecting one of the most dramatic reductions in cost, and with helping Boeing close the gap between concept development and production. The program took digital design techniques from the 777 program to the next step—3-D solid modeling —and also managed to integrate the different design systems used in Seattle, St. Louis, Southern California and elsewhere so that a common design data base could be employed among the "virtual" team.


The design and creation of the X-32A and B, Boeing's Joint Strike Fighter prototype aircraft, drew on design and manufacturing capabilities from across the company. The lessons learned in this program have been incorporated in others across the enterprise.

Programs providing experience include


777 and Next-Generation 737 airplanes: Lean design and manufacturing experience.
Delta IV launch vehicle: Factory design experience.
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet: Automatic numerical control, program management best practices.
F/A-22 Raptor and F-15 Eagle: Air Force requirements experience.
AV-8B Harrier: Vertical lift.
Phantom Works' Bold Stroke: Open systems architecture.
Bird of Prey and X-36: Stealth technology ...

... which led to the creation of

    X-32A and B ...

... which provided lessons to, among other development programs,

    X-45A Joint Unmanned Combat Air System
7E7 Dreamliner
X-37 Reusable Spaceplane

... which incorporate these lessons and pass them back to

    existing programs.

"Design and assembly locations were carefully selected to obtain the best results," Statkus said. Factory design elements from the Delta family of launch vehicles were used to maximize efficiency. St. Louis was responsible for the design/ tooling and fabrication of the forebody, and Palmdale (Calif.) for assembly of the mid and aft fuselages and wing, saving 60 percent of the cost by using the same assembly processes. Program management, overall design responsibility, and detail design of the mid and aft fuselage and the empennage were done in Seattle.

By having the locations access a single source of real-time data and using technologies such as video conferencing and interactive presentations, the team "significantly reduced cycle time in working design issues and producing actual parts and assemblies with first-time quality," Statkus said.

Programs for numerically controlled machines were automatically translated from the common design database and used for producing parts on site or for sending across country to other sites or vendors for production. Aluminum frames designed in St. Louis, for instance, were produced in Seattle with first-time quality, reducing by 75 percent the typical cycle time between design release and parts production.

Virtual assembly before hardware manufacturing, a common design database, self-locating features designed into the parts and laser-guided placement of parts and assemblies allowed for quick and easy assembly in simple, inexpensive holding fixtures instead of expensive hard tooling. "The aircraft were used as their own assembly jigs," Brower said.

The use of advanced simulation techniques allowed the team to assemble virtually the 3-D model parts hundreds of times before actual assembly ever began. And the design database was also used to develop paperless work instructions and assembly sequencing information. As a result, manufacturing people accessed computerized instructions or wore portable computers with headset monitors as they worked on the assembly cell.

Brower said that close collaboration with an international cadre of more than 34 suppliers also made significant cost savings possible. "Partners" were brought in to the program from its inception, and their engineers were given the same design authority that Boeing gives its own employees. Landing gear manufacturer Messier-Dowty, for example, was responsible for the design, fabrication, assembly and certification of the landing gear systems that Boeing was going to use as a "plug-and-play" element. This kind of empowerment, unprecedented in the aerospace industry, saved the team several months of work of review and approval.

With so much of the production process carried out virtually, Brower said, the concept demonstrators could be counted upon to accurately represent the actual design and manufacturing processes to be used in the production program, which was important in the customers' assessment of the capabilities of the competitors.

The time and energy involved in the JSF competition was, in the words of Boeing Chairman and CEO Phil Condit, "a strategic investment." What Boeing learned during the course of the program, he said, "is nothing short of phenomenal, including new ways of designing our products, innovative approaches to dramatically reduce tooling, and ground-breaking new methods of manufacturing."


As a matter of discipline, Boeing applies lessons learned across the enterprise. Therefore, programs such as the F/A-18E/F, X-45A demonstrators, X-37 Reusable Spaceplane and 7E7 Dreamliner are clearly benefiting from the new technologies and processes refined and validated on the X-32 program.

Carlos Paez, who led the X-45A Airframe Team, said the X-32 rapid prototyping experience allowed the X-45 team to complete the first flight demonstrator in a record 17 months. "We used the same basic engineering tools, proven processes and technical approaches and cut both cost and cycle time by about another 25 percent beyond that achieved on the X-32," he said.

Mike Heinz in front of the X-45ANow chief systems engineer for the X-37, Paez said the program is benefiting from the kind of timely two-way customer briefings and reviews that were a highly praised component of the X-32 program. "We have weekly technical reviews involving several NASA sites and the Boeing team acting as one team," he said. "That's a direct carryover from the weekly video conferences we did on JSF, and it has been extremely popular with the NASA customer."

The F/A-18E/F program has also been aided by X-32-inspired virtual reality reviews that have essentially eliminated physical maintainability demonstrations in some instances, said Randy Harley, who headed the E/F forward fuselage redesign program and is now Boeing director of the F/A-18E/F Northrop Grumman Integrated Product Team.

"We used those reviews on the redesign of our forward fuselage," he said. "We took the integrated product definition process of the X-32—which essentially means distilling the inputs of our Integrated Product Teams and our customers—and refined them to improve the affordability of the aircraft while adding new mission systems to enhance the warfighting capability of the F/A-18E/F."

As a result, Harley said, the new forward fuselage has 40 percent fewer parts, 51 percent fewer fasteners and takes 31 percent less cycle time to build. "We have improved quality and saved about $665,000 per aircraft through the use of 3-D solid modeling, unitized structures, composite laminates and a revised build process, all of which reduced the part and fastener count," he added.

The new 7E7 Dreamliner program is continuing the refinement of the Product Lifecycle toolset in an Enterprise Partnership with Dassault Systèmes, a global leader in 3-D design solutions. These tools will redefine the competitive marketplace for new commercial products through substantial reductions in both nonrecurring and recurring costs, improvements to error rates, time to market, configuration knowledge and control over the life of each individual airplane. These all serve to increase airline, Boeing and partner value.

"The concept of One Team was fantastic," said Brower. "The team did it all—design, fabrication, assembly—and we broke every record in the book. We said then that however the competition turns out, we had a lot to be proud of. That has not changed. As we move into 2004, we are still very proud of what we accomplished."

Roy Knox, an engineer who moved from Edwards Air Force Base to Patuxent River to work on the avionics systems of the X-32, still recalls the excitement of JSF.

"How often do you get to work on an aircraft built from scratch?" said Knox, who ironically is now back at Edwards applying what he learned to the X-45A flight test program at Dryden Flight Research Center. "And how many times do you get a second chance to use what we learned then on another new program? It was the opportunity of a lifetime."


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