Throw Us a Bone

For the first time in the Pentagon’s history, there is now no new military fixed-wing aircraft development program under way. This places aerospace defense companies in the tough position of having to maintain a skilled set of engineers, some with highly specialized knowledge not easily replaced, until new work arrives, said several industry executives during a panel discussion Tuesday at AFA’s Air & Space Conference. To help deal with the drought, Boeing, for example is pursuing aircraft prototypes using internal funding, said Darryl Davis, president of the company’s Phantom Works advanced concepts shop. However, those activities don’t suffice and the company will find it difficult to assemble the right team in the not-too-distant future if the Defense Department doesn’t provide more clarity on its future plans and move forward with new work soon, he said. To lessen the burden on the companies, Chris Hernandez, vice president for special projects in Northrop Grumman’s aerospace sector, said he supports the idea of the Pentagon sponsoring a continuous series of “X-plane” demonstrations—essentially building prototypes that validate certain technology—to keep the aerospace defense workforce engaged between major new developmental programs.