First production Boeing T-7A Red Hawk could fly before year-end

Boeing T7A Red Hawk maiden flight
First production Boeing T-7A Red Hawk makes its maiden flight (Boeing rendering).

With the first T-7A Red Hawk advanced training jet coming off the assembly line, Boeing hopes to have the aircraft make its maiden flight by the end of the year, according to AIN.

There are currently five aircraft under construction at the St. Louis, Missouri plant. As confirmed by the American giant, the assembly process of the main sub-assemblies occurs very quickly thanks to the employment of digital model-based engineering in the design, including the incorporation of self-locating part technology. Splicing the fore and aft fuselage sub-assemblies can take place in around 30 minutes, while attaching the wings and tail surfaces can take 10 minutes for each surface.

Industrial partner Saab builds the fuselage aft of the cockpit, and initial production of seven sections has started at the company's plant in Linköping, Sweden. It shipped the third of these sub-assemblies in rigged form to St. Louis in September and is now part of the first production aircraft next to fly. Saab celebrated the opening of its new plant in West Lafayette, Indiana on October 13, which will take over production of the eighth and subsequent aft fuselage sections.

Boeing has a contract to supply 351 T-7As to the US Air Force to replace the aging Northrop T-38 Talon. The company plans to deliver four aircraft per month, but thanks to the digital design and assembly process, the production rate can increase to 10 per month. This could allow the fulfillment of any export orders in a short time without affecting deliveries to the main customer.

Meanwhile, Boeing continues to carry out tests with the two prototypes built for the T-X Program. The pair have made more than 300 flights since they first took off in December 2016. In early 2022 the aircraft will undergo high-angle-of-attack testing at Edwards AFB, California. Boeing cured the left-to-right wing-rock phenomenon it encountered in some earlier tests through a control law change.

Boeing expects a good market for the T-7A and is already promoting the jet to potential customers such as the UAE.

The Red Hawk's design can facilitate the addition of new functions and capabilities, making it suitable for aggressor and light attack roles. Boeing sees a sizable market for such aircraft, but for now it is focusing on the development and delivery of the advanced trainer for the US Air Force and is not yet marketing an armed version. However, the company said it is analyzing USAF's recent RFI for an Advanced Tactical Trainer.

Boeing's vision reflects what we at BBF have been saying for quite some time. Current advanced trainer jets will most likely enjoy far more sales in the armed variant than the base configuration in the future, which is why major builders are rushing to market the energized version of their trainers.

Written by Matteo Sanzani

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