Boeing Co. successfully put on a last demonstration yesterday of the airplane it has entered in competition for the biggest military contract in history.
The X-32B and its competitor from Lockheed Martin Corp., the X-35C, are the first radar-evading stealth airplanes that can fly at supersonic speeds and take off and land vertically.
In addition to the initial $200 billion contract for the Joint Strike Force fighter, the competition will determine the airplane used as the backbone for airborne military operations of the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps and Britain’s air force and navy.
It will replace several U.S. and British warplanes, including the Harrier, A-10 Wart Hog, F-14 Tomcat, F-16 Fighting Falcon and F/A-18 Hornet.
“We believe there will be other overseas sales as well,” said Boeing spokesman Randy Harrison. Foreign sales, with contract options by the United States and Britain, could double the value of the contract for the Joint Strike Force fighter jet.
The secretary of the Air Force is scheduled to make a selection in October.
“Both planes have performed exceptionally well,” said Kathy Crawford, Defense Department spokeswoman. She did not know which company was most likely to win the contract.
Lockheed Martin of Bethesda wrapped up one set of tests on its prototype at the Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Md., in March and demonstrated its ability to hover like a helicopter in another set of tests last month at Palmdale, Calif.
Both companies have flown their planes in tests dozens of times.
The ability of the airplanes to hover, as well as to do vertical takeoffs and landings, is a characteristic most desired by the Defense Department. It would make the airplanes easily adaptable to aircraft carriers and use on unimproved runways in battle conditions.
Although the performance of the planes is nearly identical, the Lockheed Martin prototype has conventional “trapezoidal” wings and air intakes under each wing. The Boeing prototype features more unconventional delta wings and a single large air intake under the cockpit that looks like the open mouth of a whale.
The wide intake is needed to provide enough air flow for the jet to fly up to Mach 1.6, or about 1,200 miles per hour, Boeing officials said.
“This is the largest fighter engine Pratt & Whitney has ever developed,” said Boeing test pilot Dennis O’Donoghue.
Boeing plans to install the Pratt & Whitney SE-614 on all 3,002 airplanes in the initial order if the company wins the contract. A single engine and design for all the airplanes is a feature Boeing engineers said gives their airplane “commonality.”
“You’re going to have all services having one engine,” Mr. Harrison said. Previously, each branch of the military operated its own airplanes, often with different designs and engines as well as different maintenance crews.
The Joint Strike Force fighters will allow all military branches, and allied countries that buy them, to use a single set of components and maintenance crews who have the same training.
Mr. Harrison called commonality “an absolutely huge advantage” for cost savings and reliability. The Lockheed Martin design also includes a commonality feature.
Although manufacturing of the airplanes for the first order would cost no more than $11.5 billion or up to $38 million apiece the contract includes costs for training, maintenance, spare parts and related expenses.
Production is scheduled to begin in 2007 with the first deliveries the same year. If Boeing wins the contract, its plants and suppliers nationwide will manufacture different components. Final assembly would be done at the company’s St. Louis plant.
Any problems that arose since work began on the project in 1996 have been routine, according to Boeing and Defense Department officials. They included modifications to the design specifications and repositioning of the “jet block” on the X-32B.
During one test, hot air from the downward thrusters that allow the airplane to hover like a helicopter hit the ground and flowed back into the intake, causing the engine to “pop stall” with a jerk and a loud boom. Although there was no significant damage, Boeing engineers repositioned thrusters that blast cold air to counteract the hot air to make them more effective.