T-X Competition Field Shrinks

Two major aerospace firms have withdrawn from the US Air Force’s T-X (trainerexperimental) competition. The Northrop Grumman-led team announced in January it is dropping out of the competition. Built by Northrop-Grumman subsidiary Scaled Composites Incorporated at their Mojave California facility, their design always appeared cloaked in secrecy that may have reflected a limited corporate commitment to the programme.

Raytheon, the US partner of Italy’s Leonardo for the T-100A trainer (based on the M-346), dropped out in January. On February 8, Leonardo announced it would continue in the competition with Leonardo- US, a subsidiary, as its partner. Raytheon final production, if selected, would have been at a new facility in Meridian Mississippi. It is now uncertain where the trainer would be built. The emerging consensus in the US aerospace industry is the T-X will go to the bidder that can make a convincing argument it has the lowest price option. Neither Northrop-Grumman nor Raytheon thought they could make money building aircraft at a price likely to be competitive.

The competition is now considered a shoot-out between the Lockheed Martin- Korean Aerospace International T-50A (a proven design with much production experience) and the Boeing-Saab T-X (a new design). Both teams are big enough to carry the up-front costs of producing a trainer, treating it as an investment that will yield income through its decades of US Air Force service. Sierra Nevada remains a competitor as well because the Air Force has decided not to use past production performance as key criteria. David C. Isby