December 2004/January 2005 
Volume 03, Issue 8 
Special Features

Eyes on the X-45 prize

Understanding engineers, customers and the bottom line, Darryl Davis has successfully guided Boeing through a dynamic J-UCAS program


Darryl Davis stands by a full-scale model of the X-45C.When the U.S. Department of Defense awarded additional funding for Boeing's Joint Unmanned Combat Air System X-45 project in October, Darryl Davis found himself suddenly in charge of a $1.5 billion program instead of an $850 million one. Luckily, Davis is accustomed to change.

In his 25 years with Boeing, the Integrated Defense Systems vice president and X-45 program manager has been, among other things, a McDonnell Douglas propulsion engineer, a Brookings Institution Congressional Fellow working in the office of Sen. Arlen Specter, and vice president of Business Development for Military Aircraft and Missile Systems.

It's hard to imagine a resume that could have better prepared him for what the X-45 program has gone through since he joined the effort in April 2002.

In October 2002, the St. Louis-based Phantom Works program, then known as Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, with Davis as its new manager, had two X-45A aircraft in flight testing and would soon begin construction on a larger X-45B. Then, Davis said, "The world began to change underneath our feet."

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) asked Boeing to modify the X-45B design to meet the U.S. Air Force customer's need for greater range and loitering capability. The company also was asked to incorporate U.S. Navy objectives. Davis' team produced some studies. Then the real work began.


Current position:
J-UCAS X-45 vice president and program manager, Integrated Defense Systems.

Joined McDonnell Douglas in 1979 as an associate engineer. Went on to hold positions of increasing responsibility at McDonnell Douglas and Boeing, including business development positions for F/A-18 and Military Aircraft and Missile Systems, and program manager positions on Advanced Strike Weapons Systems and AV-8B. Also served as capture team leader on Joint Strike Fighter.

Master's degree in mechanical engineering, University of Missouri at Rolla, 1985. Bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering, Purdue University, 1978.

Located: St. Louis.

"From early December through early March of 2003," Davis said, "we went from separate Air Force/Navy programs to a joint X-45C program that included a Navy variant." This while flying the X-45As, which are still being tested, and building the canceled X-45B in accordance with the original contract.

That's not the only full-speed change of direction Davis has steered. In January of this year, the program, now known as J-UCAS, transitioned from Phantom Works to IDS. A few months later, DARPA introduced a new program vision: a common operating system to be developed by Boeing, Northrop Grumman and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

As with prior changes, the X-45 team is determined to make this one a success.

"You have to say, 'OK, this is what we're going to do for now,' and go off and do it," Davis said. "Part of the strength of the team has been its ability to adapt to a changing environment."


Outlining the program's history, Davis frequently commended his 650 team members across the country for their creativity and flexibility. But program observers said Davis deserves credit for keeping the team's—and the customers'—eyes on the prize.


Darryl Davis' views on leadership, unmanned air vehicles and work-life balance:

>> "In a program as dynamic as this, IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT MANAGING, IT'S ABOUT LEADING. The people have to support what you're doing, have to see the future and payoff in what you're doing."

>> "When we have to get together and make a hard decision, we bring in the direct reports. I'll sit down with them, we'll talk about the situation, and in the end we don't vote on it, but I do give everyone the opportunity to voice their opinions and their thoughts, and WE'LL MAKE THE HARD DECISION AND GET ON WITH LIFE."

>> "People ask me if I came out [of his Brookings Institution Congressional Fellowship] more cynical. I actually came out of there more positive than I had been. The members do their best, because they have constituencies, they have customers. IT'S ALL ABOUT MAKING YOUR CUSTOMERS HAPPY AND HAVING A TRUSTING RELATIONSHIP with them so they believe what you tell them."

>> "We have a 5-year-old, and that pretty much is my hobby. The good news is I don't do any e-mail at home; the bad news is I don't do any e-mail at home. But you can't be just a workaholic—and in my career I've been that, too. YOU HAVE TO FIND A BALANCE BOTH INSIDE AND OUTSIDE WORK."

>> "In 2007 we'll take to the sky for the first time with the first generation of unmanned combat air systems and start to show the world how great and magnificent these systems can be. But they're not a replacement for manned airplanes. OUR JOB IS TO MAKE THEM MORE EFFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE TO GO DO THE DULL, DIRTY, DANGEROUS THINGS."

"There are very few leaders who can move a team through so much change and keep it intact," said Rod Lekey, manager of Business Development for J-UCAS at Air Force Systems. "He's great at communicating with the customer as well."

Craig Bernhard, IDS manager of Joint Capabilities Assessment, said Davis' 10 years in Washington, D.C., have had lasting benefits: "He understands the decision process, which can be very political and fiscally constrained, and at the same time he has the ability to run a program.

"He is one of the best guys you want to bring in to your customer," Bernhard continued, "not only because he knows what he's talking about, but he knows how to listen. He's very interested in the overall picture, so he can frame his program within that. He realizes his product is part of an overall architecture."

Davis said it was "enlightening" to work with business developers in Boeing's Washington, D.C., office and to watch the congressional authorization and appropriation process during his 1993 congressional fellowship. A legislative assistant in Specter's office, Davis once briefed the senator before a vote, but avoided anything that would be a conflict of interest with his employment at McDonnell Douglas.

George Roman, Boeing vice president and chief of staff of Washington, D.C., Operations, also took part in the fellowship program. "It's a finishing school for executives," he said. "The majority of staffers on Capitol Hill are really young. But they have amazing authority and responsibility. We wound up with the authority you'd have at Boeing as a director or VP."

That may explain one aspect of Davis' reputation. "He's awfully tough," Roman said. "He's demanding and makes people stretch. But he does it in a way that they know he cares about them. When they see the success they achieve, they know they wouldn't have gotten there without that guidance."

Davis credits his team. "You plot the course, you show the people the direction to go. When people own the decisions, it's amazing what they can do."

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