|image: Lockheed Martin|
For five years Boeing
and Lockheed Martin battled
it out for a 200-billion dollar contract to build the new "Joint Strike
"I think we will look back at this time, at this competition between Boeing
and Lockheed, and I think it will be remembered as the great fighter war,"
NASAâ€™s Sam Wilson told
As shown on PBS's NOVA,
the challenge of the competition was to build a single fighter for a fixed low
cost that would serve the differing needs of the Air Force, Navy and Marines.
The three branches agreed the new plane, like the Stealth
fighter, had to be nearly invisible to radar and fly at supersonic speeds.
But there was more.
The Navy wanted a plane that could operate from an aircraft carrier. The Air
Force wanted a nimble dogfighter, and the Marines wanted one that lands and
takes off vertically, like the Harrier
jet. But building a fighter that does all three is a tall order. "We
know how to build a stealth fighter. We know how to build a long-range agile
fighter. We may even have a good way to build a fighter that can land and take-off
vertically," says aerospace writer Bill Sweetman in an interview with NOVA.
"But trying to build a fighter that can do all three is very, very difficult."
Perhaps the greatest engineering challenge for the designers of the experimental,
or X-Planes, was the Marines' need for vertical landing and takeoff. This up-and-away
capability has proven itself invaluable. The Harrier needs only five hundred
feet to takeoff, a third less than most fighters, turning highways into runways.
|image: Lockheed Martin|
To meet the Marine's requirement, the Boeing team
decided on a direct lift method for their
plane, similar to the Harrier jet. With direct lift all of the thrust, or
lift, comes from only one source, the plane's engine.
plane, the Lockheed team took a more radical approach, with its lift fan
system. "The lift fan has been an engineering challenge, because there
has not been a lift fan built before," Lockheed Martin's chief engineer,
Rick Rezabek, told NOVA. The Lockheed lift fan system provides two sources of
thrust: one from the engine and another from a fan in the front of the plane.
The second source gives pilots more lift and an extra margin of safety.
In the end Lockheed Martin would win the battle of the X-Planes. Exactly why
may never be known. The reasons are classified. What is known is that the decision
secures the company's place well into the 21st century.