You are on page 1of 37

Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home

Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate

Shop PBS Search PBS
TV Schedule
Watch Online
Battle of the X-Planes
PBS Airdate: February 4, 2003
Go to the companion Web site
RADIO: Three, two, one, down.
EDWARD C. "PETE" ALDRIDGE (Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology
and Logistics): We're here today to announce the largest acquisition program in
the history of the Department of Defense.
RADIO: Roger, copy that.
EDWARD C. "PETE" ALDRIDGE: The Joint Strike Fighter.
CONTROL: Just for the record, pilot, yeah? You are my hero.
NARRATOR: In the skies over the Mojave Desert a battle of X-planes has begun.
CREW MEMBER: That looks good.
NARRATOR: Over the next year, two different planes will take to the skies again
and again on a relentless quest to be crowned the fighter of the future, perhaps
the last manned fighter the U.S. will ever build.
FRED KNOX (Chief Test Pilot, The Boeing Company): It smoothes out beautifully.
TOM MORGENFELD (Chief Test Pilot, Lockheed Martin): Woohoo! This is fun.
RICK REZABEK (Chief Engineer, Lockheed Martin): God, it looked so awesome.
TOM MORGENFELD: It felt great.
RICK REZABEK: We're going to fly the shit out of this airplane and just kick ass
every day. That's what it's all about.
NARRATOR: It's all part of a top-secret competition, locking two of America's ae
rospace giants in a furious engineering dogfight to the death.
GRAHAM WARWICK (Writer, Flight International): You couldn't have a more interest
ing competitiontwo very different companies, two very different designs, conserva
tive heavyweight against a radical newcomer.
DENNIS MUILENBURG (Engineer, The Boeing Company): We've got a hell of a smart te
am, so lets go figure out how to make it work.
RICK REZABEK: There's never any real time to relax.
SCOTT WINSHIP: Would I like to be farther ahead? Yes. Would I like to be furthe
r done? Yes.
DENNIS O'DONOGHUE : I think we truly believe we've got the right vehicle for the
WALT CANNON (Flight Test Engineer, The Boeing Company): It's starting to look li
ke an airplane, that's what really neat about it.
ANDY BALOUGH (Boeing): I see our future contract.
WALT CANNON: Well, that, too.
NARRATOR: Not just any contract, but the most lucrative contract in military his
tory, at least 200 billion dollars.
FRED KNOX: And we're flying.
NARRATOR: And the winner won't be just any fighter. It will need to land on a ca
rrier, evade enemy radar, hover like a helicopter. But trying to build a fighter
that can do all three, it's a tremendous challenge. It's not a natural thing fo
r a jet airplane to do.
SCOTT WINSHIP (Engineer, Lockheed Martin): Come on, Simon.
NARRATOR: Experimental new designs come with their share of risks and failures.
But now the U.S. military desperately wants a winner, claiming that aging fighte
rs and shrinking budgets threaten to undermine its command of the skies.
Will a one-size-fits-all fighter, a Joint Strike Fighter, work for the Air Force
, the Navy, the Marines? Will it rescue them from the death spiral of defense co
With unprecedented access from the Department of Defense, NOVA's cameras take yo
u into the U.S. military's most classified facilities from the beginning through
repeated trial and error.
GERRY CLAUSIER: Talk to me. Do you want me to reset or slow?
ENGINEER: We're recommending we abort.
MAJOR GENERAL MICHAEL HOUGH (Joint Strike Fighter Program Director, 1999-2001):
The original design wasn't going to hack it.
MARK MAGNUSSEN: How much effort is ahead of us to make it work?
NARRATOR: Watch two teams struggle to get their daring ideas off the drawing boa
rd and into the air.
EDWARD C. "PETE" ALDRIDGE: The Joint Strike Fighter will be the world's premiere
strike platform. With the decision to proceed now made, it is now appropriate t
o announce the winner of the Joint Strike Fighter competition.
NARRATOR: In the end, only one winner takes allin The Battle of the X-Planes, up
next on NOVA.
Major funding for NOVA is provided by the Park Foundation, dedicated to educatio
n and quality television.
Science: it's given us the framework to help make wireless communications clear.
Sprint is proud to support NOVA.
And by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by contributions to your PBS
station from viewers like you. Thank you.
NARRATOR: Inside this bag is the future of American fighter power.
MAJOR GENERAL MICHAEL HOUGH: There will probably never, ever be another program
as complex as this, or as big as this when you start talking about dollars.
NARRATOR: It's called the Joint Strike Fighter Program. For five years the JSF h
as held a competition between two titans of aerospace to see who will build the
next generation fighter. It's a prize worth up to 200 billion dollars, and the w
inner's name is in the bag.
JAY MILLER (Aviation Writer/Historian): The winner of the JSF competition is goi
ng to dominate the fighter aircraft market, not only here in the United States,
but worldwide.
NARRATOR: Fasten your seatbelt and put up your tray table. NOVA and the Departme
nt of Defense have cleared you to enter places where cameras have never gone bef
ore, from secret installations to the cockpits of the latest experimental fighte
rs. You've landed in the classified world of the X-planesboth hi-tech and handcra
ftedwhere pilots fly into the unknown with just you by their side.
This is the battle to build the fighter of the 21st century. In the first strike
in the war on terror, fighters are the front-line warriors. Navy fighters join
squadrons from the Air Force and the Marines to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda posi
tions in Afghanistan.
These aircraft play a key role in routing the enemy just as they did in the Gulf
War in the early 1990s. In fact, some of the fighters are literally the same pl
anes built in the '80s, designed in the '70s to fulfill Cold War objectives from
the '60s. The most important weapon in America's arsenal is based on ideas almo
st a half-century old.
MICHAEL HOUGH: Our airplanes, they're wearing out. They're tired. Thirty year ai
rplane's still a great airplane, serves its purposes well, but it's, it's old.
GRAHAM WARWICK: These aircraft, in the future battlefield they're going to be a
bit like dinosaurs, not just in their sort of physical age, but their electronic
capability. They may not be survivable.
REAR ADMIRAL CRAIG STEIDLE (Joint Strike Fighter Program Director, 1995-1997): W
e now have to go to higher altitude instead of lower altitude. We need to make o
urselves as small as possible from a radar perspective. We have to do the same j
ob, but the world has changed.
NARRATOR: Almost all of America's fighters will one day wind up here at the bone
yard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. Old generals may fade away, but
old fighters are cannibalized for parts.
The Air Force still relies on thousands of these, the venerable F-16, but the F-
16 is past its prime. In the age of stealth, this fighter shows up on radar the
size of a small flying house.
This is an F-18, the mainstay of the Navy, but Navy planes get old fast. The con
trolled crash known as a carrier landing and the rapid acceleration of a catapul
t launch will eventually create irreparable stress fractures and send them all h
This is the subsonic AV-8 Harrier Jump Jet, flown by the Marines. While it remai
ns the only successful vertical landing fighter, it dates back to the British in
vasion of America by the Beatles. Though later refined by McDonnell Douglas, by
any measure the Harrier is ready for retirement.
The goal of the Joint Strike Fighter program is to replace all of these, the F-1
6, the F-18 and even the vertically landing Harrier.
MICHAEL HOUGH: It is an absolute vital necessity to have, not only a replacement
airplane for the older airplanes, but to have an airplane that is a 21st centur
y airplane to meet the needs for tomorrow.
NARRATOR: The plane for the 21st century, at least for the Air Force, would appe
ar to be already here: the new F-22 Raptor, scheduled for deployment in 2005. Th
e Raptor is the ultimate fighter, so stealthy its radar signature isn't much big
ger than a bird. And it can fly at supersonic speeds longer than any other fight
er, and that means it can strike deeply and invisibly at an opponent.
But the Raptor has a huge vulnerability that the JSF program must overcome: a gi
ant price tag. Each plane costs about 100 million dollars.
BILL SWEETMAN (Aerospace Writer): The F-22 is a spectacular airplane. The proble
m is it's expensive. And that means the Air Force will never really have enough
of them to attack the many and varied small and large targets that make up the m
odern battlefield.
NARRATOR: The F-22 is just the latest example of a trend that goes back decades.
Each new generation of fighters costs more than the last, so fewer are purchase
dever more expensive fighters in ever decreasing numbers. In defense circles, tha
t's known as the death spiral.
CURTIS PEEBLES (Aviation Writer/Historian): Where the death spiral could lead is
the prediction that in the year 2054, the U.S. defense budget will only buy one
airplane. So the Air Force uses the airplane in the morning, the Navy uses it i
n the evening, and the Marines, unfortunately, only get to use it every leap yea
r on the extra day.
NARRATOR: So that is the JSF's mission impossibleto break the death spiral by com
ing up with a new fighter that costs a third of an F-22, replaces all of these,
and meets the needs of the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines.
MICHAEL HOUGH: They absolutely said, "You'll never pull this offimpossible."
NARRATOR: In the past, the fiercely independent services would have fought for t
heir own weapons programs. In the sixties, when the cost-cutting Secretary of De
fense, Robert McNamara, forced the Navy and Air Force to use the same plane, the
F-111, the joint program was a resounding flop. But these days, with smaller po
st-Cold-War budgets, the spreadsheet is mightier than the sword.
MAJOR GENERAL GEORGE MUELLNER (Joint Strike Force Program Director, 1993-1995):
The Joint Strike Fighter program was a huge leap of faith for the services. The
enabler, though, was they didn't have any choice. They knew that they had to mod
ernize their fighter force structure, and the funds were not available to do tha
NARRATOR: With no other options, the effort to design the Joint Strike Fighter b
egins and almost immediately there's disagreement. The services can't even agree
on the number of engines. The Navy's F-18 Hornet has two engines for safety. If
one goes out, you don't have to ditch. But two engines are a deal-killer for th
e Marines because of their weight.
CRAIG STEIDLE: We cannot build, today, a two-engine, vertical short takeoff land
ing airplane. So the Navy wanted two engines, the Marine Corp had to have a sing
le engine, and the Air Force wanted a single engine, because it was much more af
fordable and they don't have...they're not out over the ocean at night all by th
emselves like we are.
NARRATOR: The decision hinges on how dependable one engine can be.
RADIO VOICE: Steady state 255 started.
NARRATOR: After talking with jet manufacturers, the JSF team ramps up the specs
for engine reliability. Rear Admiral Steidle convinces a reluctant Navy to go wi
th just one.
CRAIG STEIDLE: That was another piece that was necessary to pull the program tog
ether, because without that we could not have a common production line.
GRAHAM WARWICK: I think the effort that's gone on here to create a joint require
ment is astounding. And it's's what's allowed the program to get whe
re it is. And it will be what allows the program to continue, because if the ser
vices keep saying, "We all agree what we want, and we want this aircraft," then
it will happen.
NARRATOR: Even with everyone on board, there's rough air ahead.
BILL SWEETMAN: We know how to build a stealth fighter. We know how to build a lo
ng-range agile fighter. We may even have a good way of building a fighter that c
an land and take off vertically. But trying to build a fighter that can do all t
hree is very, very difficult.
NARRATOR: The Pentagon spent over three billion dollars in research to see if it
was possible, and the answer? Sort of.
PAUL KAMINSKI (Department of Defense): The airplanes are not the same aircraft,
but the building blocks are the same building blocks, for the most part: same en
gine, same major avionics. In fact, it's not important to have every piece...par
t...the same, but the expensive parts or modules...Through the life cycle of the
aircraft there was the potential to save 60 billion dollars. And that's a lot o
f money in anybody's calculus, even in the Department of Defense.
NARRATOR: With the services in agreement about the requirements, the Joint Strik
e Fighter program launches a competition for innovative designs for the new affo
rdable family of fighters. Like a high-stakes game show, only two contractors ca
n make it to the final round and build test planes.
With billions on the line, U.S. defense contractors hold their breath as the Pen
tagon announces the two finalists for "Who Wants to Build the Next Generation Fi
PERRY: These contractors are Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
NARRATOR: The announcement sends shockwaves through the aerospace industry, deal
ing a deathblow to one of the most respected names in aviation. McDonnell Dougla
s, a company with a fighter legacy that seemed to guarantee a spot in the final
round, doesn't make the cut. The impact for the company and its employees is dev
astating. Within two years, McDonnell Douglas is sold to Boeing, one of the JSF
A world leader in commercial jets, the Seattle-based company is seen as an unlik
ely contender in a fighter battle, for good reason. Boeing's last fighter was bu
ilt in the 1930sthe P-26 Peashooter, a fighter from the age before jets, before e
ven a closed cockpit.
PHIL CONDIT (Chief Executive Officer, The Boeing Company): Boeing hadn't built a
fighter in a long time, and I think early on Boeing was considered, literally,
a dark horse in this competition.
NARRATOR: But the Boeing acquisition of McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the Na
vy's F-18 and the Marine's Harrier, makes a dark horse an even bet.
BILL SWEETMAN: By acquiring McDonnell Douglas, Boeing suddenly moves from becomi
ng the least experienced JSF team to possibly the most experienced.
PHIL CONDIT: ...clearly leveled the playing field.
FRANK STATKUS (Program Manager, The Boeing Company): I'm in this job to win, and
going back to...
NARRATOR: Boeing's JSF effort is lead by Frank Statkus, an engineer and thirty-y
ear company man. When you shoulder the weight of a potential 200 billion-dollar
contract, stress comes with the job.
FRANK STATKUS: A year ago I had hair, and it was dark. And now I have less of it
, and it's a race to see what goes gray versus goes away.
NARRATOR: While Statkus runs the project, he isn't the creator of Boeing's desig
n. These days with the complexity of fighters, no single person can claim that r
JAY MILLER: State-of-the-art fighters, they're all designed now by computers, an
d it's, and it's...these are big teams of engineers who sit down, you know, and
do these CAD/CAM drawings. It is very tough to find, you know, one person who ca
n sit there and tell you that, "I designed that airplane."
NARRATOR: At the heart of the Boeing design for the JSF is a large delta, or tri
angular wing.
BILL SWEETMAN: It's an unusual approach, but the big advantages of that are that
it's structurally simple and that it contains an enormous amount of fuel.
NARRATOR: Though there hasn't been an American fighter built with a delta wing s
ince the '60s, the design has its advantages. The fastest jet ever to fly, the S
R-71 Blackbird has a delta wing because it decreases drag at supersonic speeds.
The Space shuttle is also built around one because it provides great lift.
But neither the Shuttle nor the SR-71 are exactly agile. A delta design pays a p
rice in speed when executing turns, and the control surfaces near the tail don't
have the leverage to turn the plane sharply.
European designers have overcome these handicaps in their new fighter, the Typho
on, by adding canards near the front of the plane. But in the U.S., delta fighte
rs have been out of favor for decades, until the JSF picked the Boeing design as
a finalist.
Why the new interest? Deltas can be cheap to build.
BILL SWEETMAN: Boeing took a step back and said "What makes airplanes expensive?
How can we leave it out?" And they got a very, very simple design.
FRANK STATKUS: Boeing's expertise in wings has kind of taken a different tack. O
ur engineers have chosen to build this wing as one piece from tip to tip. We hav
e always studied the idea of building a one-piece wing and attaching the fuselag
e to the wing. And so this time we had an opportunity to really try it.
NARRATOR: Boeing has taken to heart the JSF concept, meeting the needs of the Ai
r Force, Navy and Marines through a versatile common design. And it even accommo
dates the biggest JSF challenge, landing like a Harrier.
While it gets a bad rap for safety, the Harrier is no doubt the most adaptable f
ighter ever built. Matching its capabilities will drive many of the design decis
ions of the competition.
When fully loaded with fuel and bombs, a Harrier takes off in as little as 500 f
eet, a third of that needed by most fighters. That short takeoff distance makes
many roads into potential runways. After an attack, it returns, a lighter fighte
r ready to execute its trademark Buck Rogers move.
A Harrier hovers using rotating nozzles that direct engine exhaust downward. Thi
s mode of flight, called direct lift, demands an enormous amount of power, and i
t's dangerous. Before computer control, balancing a Harrier on its own engine th
rust was like trying to sit on a geyser. Even today, its accident rate is four t
imes that of a Navy Hornet.
But through their flexibility, Harriers have proven their value. In fact, in the
Gulf War, Harriers flew more missions than any other kind of fighter. For the B
ritish, the Harrier remains essential. British aircraft carriers are smaller tha
n their American counterparts. The Harrier's short takeoff ability overcomes the
problem and creates a portable fighter force.
GRAHAM WARWICK: The Harrier has allowed the U.K., basically, to be where it coul
dn't be. The Falklands is a classic example. I mean, without the Harrier, we cou
ld not have defended the Falklands. We couldn't have got anybody...any aircraft
down there. But the ability to put a reasonably competent combat aircraft onto a
deck and get it down there, and then fight, was just the difference between suc
cess and failure.
NARRATOR: But the Harrier can't fly supersonic, a serious limitation in a modern
SIMON HARGREAVES (B.A.E. Test Pilot, Lockheed Martin): In terms of its turn perf
ormance, its range and endurance, and its maximum speed, whichever metric you wa
nt to look at, it fairs unfavorably with any modern airplane.
NARRATOR: The British search for a replacement Harrier brings them to the JSF ta
ble. They've become full partners. It's the first time a foreign government has
been included in an American fighter development program.
The addition of the British only heightens what many consider the central techni
cal challenge of the JSF competition, landing the fighter vertically. Alternativ
es to the Harrier's direct lift system have been studied by both contractors, bu
t Boeing has come to a surprising conclusion.
FRANK STATKUS: Over the years, all contractors have looked at all of these vario
us lift methods, and the least impact to the design always has been direct lift.
GRAHAM WARWICK: The Boeing lift system is basically the modern version of the Ha
rrier, taking the engine thrust and putting it through a pair of nozzles that di
rect it downwards. The advantage that Boeing has is that you basically strap on
the lift module around the engine. So the changes are pretty minimal.
NARRATOR: The fewer the changes between the Marine fighter and the other version
s, the better the bottom line. Boeing has made an ally of affordability.
FRANK STATKUS: So, I believe when we're all finished doing a flight test, we'll
have proven that direct lift offers the absolute greatest affordability because
of the greatest commonality.
NARRATOR: While direct lift is affordable, other parts of the plane must pay a p
rice. For balance during hover, the engine must be in the middle, and that leads
to a gaping inlet to feed it air. To some, Boeing has designed a plane only its
mother could love.
BILL SWEETMAN: It's a strange looking airplane. It's short. It's squat. The engi
ne's in the front, not the back. It has this huge air inlet in front that remind
s me of a hippopotamus.
GRAHAM WARWICK: This is a fighter competition not a beauty pageant, but there is
an adage in aerospace that if it looks right, it flies right, and appearance ma
y be a deciding factor.
NARRATOR: Appearance aside, Boeing's proposal is a cunning entry for the JSF com
petition. Throwing over fighter tradition, the company delivers a radical but si
mple design that promises to be cheap to build. Boeing's ready to give its aeros
pace opponent a flight to the finish.
DENNIS MUILENBURG (Engineer, The Boeing Company): When I daydream, I see it hove
ring; I see it taking off from airfields; I see it operating around a ship. And
sometimes I even see it shooting down the Lockheed airplane.
NARRATOR: "Only in your dreams," is the likely response of Lockheed Martin, Amer
ica's largest defense contractor. For decades, in this secret facility in Califo
rnia, the legendary Skunk Works, Lockheed has designed and built aircraft that h
ave blown through the boundaries of imagination.
BILL SWEETMAN: The Lockheed's Skunk Works' reputation is founded on its ability
to put together a small team of very motivated people, get everybody else out of
the way, and leave them to solve a problem that everybody else thinks can't be
RICK REZABEK: The whole history of this place has been, "There is nothing that w
e can't do, there is no project that we can't accomplish." There's a huge amount
of pride, of, "We can do anything."
NARRATOR: By the time Lockheed earns its place in the final JSF competition, Chi
ef Engineer Rick Rezabek and his team have already spent five years designing th
eir fighter. Now they must build a pair of test planes in just two. If Lockheed
wins, their work will live on for decades. If it loses...
RICK REZABEK: The stakes are horrendous on this. This program will end up runnin
g from today out through the year 2050, long after my retirement. The performanc
e of this team and the decision making that goes on during these next two years
are very key.
NARRATOR: The mystique of the Skunk Works remains unrivalled in aviation. It's t
he birthplace of America's first operational jet fighter, the P-80. In the '50s
and '60s, this covert design house created the ultimate spy planes for the CIA:
the high flying U-2 and the high velocity SR-71 Blackbird.
Later, for the Air Force, it built the F-117 Nighthawk, the first stealth fighte
r. Unveiled to the public during the Gulf War, the Nighthawk was the only U.S. a
ircraft to strike targets in downtown Baghdad. The image of anti-aircraft guns a
imlessly blazing away at invisible attackers is a surreal salute to its success
and that of the Skunk Works.
BILL SWEETMAN: They conducted many of their most advance programs in complete se
crecy, such that nobody else in the world even had a clue what they were up to.
It's got to be very, very scary going up against those guys.
NARRATOR: The F-117 sacrifices speed and handling for stealth. It's been superse
ded by the current gold standard of American fighters, the F-22 Raptor, built by
Lockheed. While very expensive and not the all-in-one fighter for the JSF, the
Raptor provides a wealth of proven design ideas, including a radical new shape f
or stealth.
It's no surprise the Lockheed design for the JSF inherits the Raptor's contours.
Built around one common airframe, Lockheed's proposed fighter is modified for e
ach service. Most visibly the Navy model has a larger wing and tail for carrier
The exterior design of Lockheed's fighter holds few surprises. On the surface, i
t looks like the company doesn't want to gamble. It's on the inside, for the Mar
ines vertical-landing requirement, that Lockheed's bet the farm. The company's g
one with a daring new propulsion system known as a lift fan.
RICK REZABEK: The lift fan has been an engineering challenge, because there has
not been a lift fan built before.
NARRATOR: In the lift fan design, the engine sits in the usual fighter position
in the tail. A drive shaft connects it to a large fan placed behind the pilot. T
o hover, engine exhaust is directed downward, but the fan is also engaged, takin
g in air from above the plane and blowing it out below. That creates two balance
d sources of thrust, potentially a more powerful and stable arrangement than the
Boeing solution. But to accomplish this feat, the drive shaft must be spun at a
n incredible rate.
RICK REZABEK: Think of taking the propulsion system in a Navy Destroyer, shrinki
ng that down into a smaller package, putting it into a jet fighter airplane.
NARRATOR: It's a technological challenge in the tradition of the Skunk Works. If
successful, the lift fan will be revolutionary, but on the drawing boards, it d
oesn't blow away its critics.
GRAHAM WARWICK: It's a very clever solution, but it's got gears and bearings and
a lot of moving parts. And in an operational airplane, you've got to make sure
they work 100 percent of the time. If you're a pilot hovering at 50 feet and one
of those parts fails, it's going to spoil your day.
NARRATOR: Despite its complexity, the lift fan offers another benefit, invisible
to the JSF's sensors and test equipment but plain to the naked eye: aesthetics.
RICK REZABEK: You can look at the Lockheed Martin airplane and say, that looks l
ike what I would expect a modern, high performance, high capable jet fighter to
look like. You look at the Boeing airplane and the general reaction is, "I don't
get it."
NARRATOR: Lockheed will build its test planes the same way it's built its succes
sful prototypes of the past, as hand-crafted machines, here in the Skunk Works.
This facility provides a well-worn path to winning the JSF competition. Lockheed
will try to triumph through daring new technology, while Boeing tries to win wi
th a bold cost-saving design combined with manufacturing know-how second to none
GRAHAM WARWICK: You couldn't have a more interesting competitiontwo very differen
t companies, two very different designs, a conservative heavyweight against a ra
dical newcomer. If Lockheed wins, it continues its decades of fighter manufactur
ing. If Boeing wins, it could go on to dominate the fighter market like it domin
ates the airliner market.
SAM WILSON (Joint Strike Fighter Engineer, NASA): I think we will look back at t
his time, at this competition between Boeing and Lockheed, and I think it will b
e remembered as the great fighter war.
NARRATOR: The next battle of the fighter war will feature close combat. Less tha
n a mile away from the Skunk Works is Boeing's top-secret complex, the Phantom W
In these two classified installations, the JSF competition is ready for takeoff.
The schedule will be fierce by aerospace standards: in 24 months and on a budge
t of a billion dollars, each company must build and fly not one, but two experim
ental planes.
Adding to the tension, Boeing and Lockheed will remain in the dark about each ot
her's progress. NOVA is among the select few cleared to enter both facilities, i
ts footage locked away each night by security personnel.
Boeing may not have built a fighter since the 1930s, but from day one the compan
y rolls out innovations to simplify the job. This scaffolding holds the parts as
they arrive. The team uses lasers to position each component precisely in three
-dimensional space without having to wait for surrounding pieces.
The parts themselves are designed so precisely that they fit together like puzzl
e pieces with hardly any adjustment. Techniques like this lead Boeing to claim i
t can reduce assembly costs by as much as 75 percent.
BILL SWEETMAN: It's a very interesting process, very new. Boeing's ability to de
monstrate how the airplane is put together is certainly a plus, and that will we
igh in their favor.
NARRATOR: The frame for the single massive delta wing, the heart of the Boeing d
esign, is already in the works. But the skin that will cover it is being cooked
up over a thousand miles away at Boeing's headquarters in Seattle.
Engineer George Bible has spent the last year experimenting with a revolutionary
material for the surface of the wings. It's a resin and carbon fiber mix called
"thermoplastic." In small quantities, it's been used on fighters before, but no
one has ever tried to create anything as large as a 30-foot wing skin.
GEORGE BIBLE (Manufacturing Engineer, The Boeing Company): It's very challenging
. We have no time or schedule to design something else, so we, we have to make i
t work the first shot.
NARRATOR: Thermoplastic wings will be lighter and more durable than conventional
wings. There may even be other undiscovered benefits, according to another engi
neer who first experimented with the material in the '80s, Frank Statkus.
FRANK STATKUS: I personally would love to have thermoplastics on this airplane,
because I know that there's value in the future. Even though I can't tell you in
all the areas where we might find that value, I do know it's there.
NARRATOR: The future in a word: thermoplastics.
But right now, George Bible needs to solve some pressing problems. Making thermo
plastic begins with these sheets of graphite, also known as carbon fiber, the sa
me lightweight material used in fishing rods and tennis rackets. For the wing, i
t's laid down up to 90 layers deep on top of a giant metal mold or tool.
GEORGE BIBLE: We take layers of these graphite fibers and set them on top of eac
h other, and then we put the resin in between to hold them together.
NARRATOR: After three weeks of lay-up, the wing skin is tightly wrapped in prote
ctive bags, ready for the next step, a massive oven called the autoclave. The hu
ge chamber acts like a pressure cooker.
GEORGE BIBLE: The autoclave, for me, is always the most stressful part. You have
nightmares at night thinking about all of the terrible things your autoclave co
uld do to it.
NARRATOR: First, all oxygen will be removed to prevent a cataclysmic explosion.
Then, with the wing heated to the melting point of lead, nitrogen will be pumped
in, raising the pressure and exerting tons of force upon the thermoplastic, for
cing the fibers to blend with the resin. In short, this is literally hell on ear
For the next 30 hours, George Bible will hold his breath, until the cooked skin
from the autoclave and a perfectly formed wing skin is revealed.
GEORGE BIBLE: Oh, she looks beautiful doesn't she? Looks good, looks very good.
NARRATOR: But this skin is only the first. Boeing will need three more, one for
each side of its two delta-winged X-planes. And although Bible is elated at his
success, he knows that the next skin, for the lower wing, will be far trickier.
It involves a more complex curved shape.
And, in fact, when the next skin emerges from the autoclave, the first signs are
ominous. Creases and folds on the surface hint at hidden structural flaws.
GEORGE BIBLE: Man, that does not look good, those wrinkles. I'm afraid we're dea
d in the water.
NARRATOR: An instrument scans the surface of the panel using water and sound wav
es to probe for air pockets that could fatally weaken the wing.
GEORGE BIBLE: When we have a gap in the plies, the sound will not transmit throu
gh there well.
NARRATOR: George Bible's worst fears are confirmed. The skin is riddled with def
GEORGE BIBLE: Right now I'm just, just exhausted. We can't get a break, I mean i
t's just downhill. So we'll have to do what we have to do to get a panel down to
Palmdale as fast as we can.
NARRATOR: After hundreds of hours of work, the wing skin is worthless. With the
first wing frame nearing completion down in Palmdale, Bible's team and its bold
experiment are simply running out of time.
Lockheed is facing a crisis of its own. The problem that has brought its entire
assembly program to a grinding halt hinges on the hold up of a single crucial pa
RICK REZABEK: We can have 99 percent of everything it takes to assemble the airp
lane, but if there's one part that hasn't been delivered yet, and it's buried so
mewhere in the middle of the aircraft, you have to wait on the assembly work unt
il that actually shows up.
NARRATOR: Like Boeing, Lockheed engineers have tried to save money by reducing t
he number of parts needed to build the plane. One part in particular, bulkhead 2
70, has ended up especially complicated. It will join the front of the plane, in
cluding the cockpit, to the fuselage.
As a key piece holding the plane together, it's made of the metal alloy titanium
. The combination of strength and lightness make it a natural choice for the bul
khead. But nobody at the Skunk Works had anticipated how hard it would be to car
ve such a complicated piece out of this super hard metal.
Machining the 300-pound Lockheed part means whittling away at a solid five-ton s
lab and the drills running 24 hours a day, using diamond bit saws and a special
lubricant to reduce heat.
The pressure to get the Bulkhead done is enormous, but so is the price of any mi
DORIAN RACEY (Machinist, Lockheed Martin): If this part fails, it could almost u
ltimately be the end of our competition with Boeing in the JSF program. I mean i
t would really set us back.
NARRATOR: On top of the crisis on the shop floor, bad money management threatens
to get Lockheed fired from the competition. In a program in large part about af
fordability, the company admits it's 100 million dollars over budget, Lockheed b
lames part of the overrun on a 30-million-dollar accounting error.
RICK BAKER (Vice President, Tactical Aircraft, Lockheed Martin): In essence what
it was is...we were writing checks without going back into the check register i
s what it amounted to.
MICHAEL HOUGH: Lockheed, yes, had a problem in the subcontractor management busi
ness in their manufacturing end at Palmdale. It wasn't discovered until late, ve
ry unfortunate, very disappointing. And the lesson there is, "Take nothing for g
NARRATOR: It's a make or break point in the program. Under a powerful escape cla
use, the government can end the competition and award the fighter contract to Bo
eing. In the first real test of the military's commitment to fiscal limits, the
JSF lets Lockheed off the hook. They're saved by the growing number of internati
onal customers now lining up to buy the Joint Strike Fighter.
MICHAEL HOUGH: We've got Canadians, we've got Italians, we've got Danes, we've g
ot Dutch. We've got a little bit of everybody. It ensures that for tomorrow, in
coalition warfare, we've got partners with the same capability to fight the same
wars as we do.
NARRATOR: Ending the competition early would be a domestic and diplomatic debacl
JAY MILLER: The government realizes that this program is so big, and so influent
ial on a national, and in fact an international level, that their best bet is ef
fectively to sweep this anomaly under the carpet. Let's forget about it, and let
's move on, and let's work under the assumption that Lockheed has learned a less
on and they won't let this happen again.
MICHAEL HOUGH: Well, as disappointing as that was, the silver lining there is th
at we're doing business a lot, lot better and we'll continue for the future.
NARRATOR: In the end, Lockheed gets slapped on the wrist for bad budget controls
and presses on with the program, nearly a year and a half behind schedule.
ED BEURER (Assembly Manager, Lockheed Martin): We can't let one minute go by wit
hout paying attention to something out on the floor and getting it done. We can'
t be slackers anymore.
NARRATOR: But back at Boeing, it's hardly been smooth sailing. The latest result
s from computer simulations are pointing to an alarming conclusion. Boeing's ent
ire delta wing design may be fundamentally flawed.
The Navy has refined its requirements and wants a more maneuverable plane that c
an carry more weapons. Boeing's delta wing design is now seriously overweight. M
onths into building the test planes, Boeing's lead engineers conclude that the o
nly way to lose the pounds is to abandon the delta and come up with a new wing a
nd tail design.
DENNIS MUILENBURG: We are at a point in the process here where we need to make a
decision on the tail. I think we're really struggling with which way to go.
NARRATOR: An engineering team led by Dennis Muilenburg must come up with a new t
ail design that will work on a reconfigured fighter. The conventional choice is
called a four poster for its four control surfaces, the tail design for all mode
rn U.S. fighters, including Lockheed's Raptor and its proposed JSF fighter.
But there is an experimental alternative, a novel two-post tail with just two an
gled control surfaces. The Pelikan tail is named after its inventor, an engineer
inherited from McDonnell Douglas, Ralph Pelikan. He argues its merits.
RALPH PELIKAN (Engineer, The Boeing Company): Sure I understand you're all nervo
us about this new concept. I think it can be done.
NARRATOR: Proponents of the Pelikan tail argue that the design is less visible t
o enemy radar. In other words, it has a smaller stealth signature. For Boeing, t
his is an important plus, since Lockheed is the originator and acknowledged mast
er of stealth technology.
FRED MAY: We can't afford to have any question at all over our signature and whe
ther we leave a signature.
MARK MAGNUSSEN: I don't think that we really know enough about the Pelikan tail.
We think we can make it work, but how much effort is ahead of us to make it wor
NARRATOR: Those supporting the traditional four post tail argue it's a known qua
ntity. The word on the street is that the JSF program managers favor it for the
same reason.
DENNIS MUILENBURG: There's a slight benefit, from a strategy standpoint, that we
can negate a perceived Lockheed advantage by going to a four poster. On the oth
er hand we end up looking like the follower with two teams that have the same de
FRED MAY: I vote for the Pelikan tail. I think we've got to bite the bullet and
go there.
RICK REZABEK: I guess maybe I'm still more conservative than Fred, and I would s
tick with the four poster and try and get the signature to work with the airplan
e with the four poster.
NARRATOR: The room is deeply divided. In the end, Muilenburg must break the tie.
DENNIS MUILENBURG: Now, I've been a four poster fan up until about an hour ago,
all right? I think we can beat the pants off Lockheed when it comes to working w
eight, handling qualities and aerodynamics. Whether its real or not, they're per
ceived to have a signature advantage, so we need to do something to our configur
ation that will give us a signature advantage. I think the Pelikan tail does tha
t. All right?
NARRATOR: Feeling pressure to make a bold choice, Muilenburg chooses the Pelikan
DENNIS MUILENBURG: So we're going to go with the Pelikan tail. We've got some un
knowns, we're nervous about some things, so lets go figure out how to make it wo
NARRATOR: But just days later, after Frank Statkus and senior management review
the choices, Boeing changes its mind. Concerned about weight and performance, it
commits to the more conservative four post tail.
DENNIS MUILENBURG: The four poster is a little safer way to go, so I was a littl
e torn from a personal standpoint. But when we stood back and looked at the data
, I think we made the right decision.
NARRATOR: Boeing radically changes the wing and tail design, which gives the pro
posed fighter a fresh new look. The new plane is projected to be 1,500 pounds li
ghter and more agile.
But it's too late to incorporate the design changes into Boeing's two test plane
s, now eight months into assembly. Instead, the company will submit the new conf
iguration with its final proposal. By testing the new design in simulations and
wind tunnels, and flight testing the old design, Boeing believes it can prove th
e soundness of its approach.
GRAHAM WARWICK: To those of us watching JSF from the outside, this is the first
sign that all is not well with the Boeing design. Both designs are evolving as t
he requirements evolve, but it seems that Boeing's design is not as adaptable as
Lockheed's. The requirements are still evolving, so there must be concern withi
n the government that Boeing's design can keep up.
MICHAEL HOUGH: There was a lot to be made of the fact that their design's all sc
rewed up, and they couldn't fly, and they couldn't do this, and they were behind
and so forthnot the case at all. To me, it was just an improvement in their desi
gn according to the requirements. It was very normal, very, very normal.
NARRATOR: Whatever the future holds for the redesign, at least one of Boeing's n
ightmares is finally over. George Bible's team has finished the troublesome wing
skins and is ready to rush them from Seattle to California. The last pair of pa
nels is loaded onto a C-5 Galaxy, the largest cargo jet in the Air Force.
GEORGE BIBLE: Boy, I hope that wind doesn't tip our wing over.
NARRATOR: Bible scrapped the temperamental thermoplastic and cooked up the wing
skins from a more conventional composite. Though heavier and less durable, the n
ew wing coverings are finally on their way to Palmdale, still more or less on ti
me and on budget.
FRANK STATKUS: And that's just what happens when you're reaching in technology,
sometimes you're successful and sometimes you're not.
GEORGE BIBLE: Emotionally, it will be over for me when I see that airplane disap
pear over the horizon heading south.
NARRATOR: With the wing skins safely in Palmdale, Boeing wastes little time atta
ching them to the wing box. But before the upper skin can be mated to the struct
ure, critical wiring must be installed.
GEORGE BIBLE: Let's go terminate.
NARRATOR: A lone electrician crawls in between the skin and wing box to connect
wiring. Working in the dark under the 700-pound wing skin is a grueling job.
GEORGE BIBLE: I'm going to need a heat gun.
NARRATOR: Hour after hour...
GEORGE BIBLE: Doing good.
NARRATOR: ...wire after wire, each connection is tested and doubled checked.
GEORGE BIBLE: How you doing, Lonnie?
LONNIE: Almost done.
GEORGE BIBLE: You're almost done? Yeah? How many connections you have to do?
ANDY BALOUGH: He's been in there for four and a half hours...has not come out ye
t. That's dedication. Now here he comes. Let's see if his legs are still moving.
GEORGE BIBLE: All right, Lonnie, my man. Oh...
NARRATOR: With the wiring done and the skin lowered into place, mechanics will s
pend the night hand-tightening thousands of fasteners.
Before the wing can be mated to the aircraft another major piece must first be a
ttached to the fuselage. Like a giant gift, the entire front end of the airplane
arrives in the Phantom Works hangar.
ANDY BALOUGH: I can't believe my eyes. We waited for all this time and we've fin
ally got it. I can't wait to hook it up.
NARRATOR: The front end, which includes the cockpit with all its intricate elect
ronics, was built in St. Louis, at a former McDonnell Douglas plant, now part of
ANDY BALOUGH: Bring her back another three inches.
NARRATOR: But will this front end, built 1,800 miles away, mate up with the rest
of the fuselage? The fit must be as precise as the width of a human hair.
CREW MEMBER 1: If we bring this down a little further we'll get the flushness a
little better.
CREW MEMBER 2: Yeah. Both up together...bring it back just a little bit more. Br
ing it back about a half an inch and we're there.
CREW MEMBER 3: That's good, that's good.
NARRATOR: In less than two hours, the installation is complete, and the Boeing X
-plane has its distinct face.
WALT CANNON: It's starting to look like an airplane, that's what's really neat a
bout it.
ANDY BALOUGH: Oh no, I see our future contract.
WALT CANNON: Well, that too.
NARRATOR: With the precision fit of the wing, an apparition appears at the Phant
om Works: the recognizable outline of the first of the Boeing X-planes. The comp
any is now weeks ahead of schedule, and morale couldn't be higher.
MIKE BRUNER: It went great. It looks like an airplane now. Look at it. Lockheed,
watch out!
NARRATOR: What Lockheed is watching out for is an end to its crippling parts del
ay. Mechanics finally install Bulkhead 270, which took five long months to carve
out of titanium. Ed Beurer nervously waits to see if it will fit. If it does, a
plane will quickly take shape around it. If it doesn't, it's game over for Lock
Designed on the latest computers, cut with diamond tipped bits, only to be insta
lled with a sandbag.
ED BEURER: That is a beautiful piece of job.
NARRATOR: In the race to complete its X-planes, Lockheed still trails Boeing by
months, but the manufacturing team plans to fly full throttle to the finish.
RICK REZABEK: Basically this place is, you know, populated by a bunch of airplan
e nuts. So it's a very high pace, and that pace is not going to slacken up at al
l. It's going to continue.
NARRATOR: To underscore its commanding lead over Lockheed, Boeing stages a publi
c relations coup at the Phantom Works. In a surprise move, Boeing has assembled
both of its test planes for the media event.
FRANK STATKUS: Ladies and Gentlemen, the X-32A and the X-32B concept demonstrato
r aircrafts. What do you think?
NARRATOR: In an aerospace tradition called rollout, the company shows off its br
ainchild, in two different versions, to the world. It's a moment of high emotion
for Boeing Program Manager Frank Statkus.
FRANK STATKUS: It's everything that we've done for the last three and a half yea
rs. It's all your successes, it's all your thoughts, it's all your weekend work,
it's all your overtime. It's the soul that's in that airplane, because each and
every one of us sweated bullets to put it there.
NARRATOR: Rollout is a milestone for the Boeing team. But as things stand now, F
rank Statkus with wings would get in the air faster than the X-planes. They may
have soul, but they don't yet have brains.
Hundreds of thousands of lines of vital software code is still under development
, to manage every function of the X-planes. That work gets tested here in a mult
i-million dollar simulator. Boeing's lead test pilot Fred Knox puts the faux fig
hter through its paces.
FRED KNOX: How about we look at twenty knots crosswind? Just give it a little on
the side.
NARRATOR: Modern fighters are designed to be aerodynamically unstable. Under com
puter control, that aerial volatility transforms into acrobatic agility.
FRED KNOX: Okay, now I have crosswinds. Roger that.
NARRATOR: Every simulated flight by Knox helps refine this essential software.
FRED KNOX: The flight control software, it controls the airplane, the way it fli
es, but it also turns on the air conditioner. It raises and lowers the landing g
ear. It navigates for us. It does every critical element, every critical safety
element in the airplane. If we haven't done the development here the airplane wi
ll not fly.
NARRATOR: But less than two months after rollout, the software development sudde
nly goes off line.
Boeing is crippled by the largest white-collar strike in American history. Seven
teen thousand aerospace engineers are off the job, including more than a hundred
developing the X-planes flight controls. Progress inside the Boeing Phantom Wor
ks grinds to nearly a halt, while outside, a small group of engineers joins the
WALT CANNON: It's a bad situation for everybody. You know, everybody really has
real mixed emotions, I think, and is real conflicted about it.
NARRATOR: Forty days later the strike ends, but Boeing doesn't escape unscathed.
FRANK STATKUS: The strike on our program is a terrible wound. We lost weeks of s
chedule. Those weeks will not be recovered.
NARRATOR: With the setbacks, Boeing's lead over Lockheed evaporates. After years
of jousting back and forth, these two combatants are galloping toward the tourn
ament grounds, toward the arena where X-planes and test pilots meet their fate.
It's time for this battle to take to the air. Just 30 miles away from the Skunk
and Phantom Works lies the proving grounds for all of America's X-planes, Edward
s Air Force Base.
DENNIS O'DONOGHUE (Test Pilot, The Boeing Company): Edwards Air Force Base is a
tremendous facility, and one of the hallmarks of that facility is the lakebed. I
t's about 12 miles wide, it's 20 miles long, and it's a very hard flat surface.
And you can put the airplane down, and you don't have to worry about running out
of runway because you've got the whole lakebed in front of you.
NARRATOR: With these wide-open spaces, Edwards and experimental planes go back t
o the first supersonic flights. Here the original X-plane, the X-1 flown by Chuc
k Yeager, broke the sound barrier over half a century ago. Since then, aviation
triumphs and tragedies have made Edwards the hallowed ground of X-plane history.
Now these skies will hold an epic contest never seen before, a battle between X-
JAY MILLER: Historically, we have 47 X-airplane programs. This is the first time
in history, ever, that any two of those X-airplanes have competed against each
other for a production contract. It's unprecedented.
NARRATOR: It's time for Boeing's dream to take flight, while Lockheed can only w
atch from the ground. After years of derision as a second rate contender, Boeing
proves even an underdog like its X-32 can have its day.
FRED KNOX: This is Freddy Knox from The Boeing Company. We're getting ready to l
aunch the X-32 on its first flight this morning, and I wonder if I could get a l
ittle forecast for the winds? Say from about 7:30 a.m.?
NARRATOR: Fred Knox, Boeing's Chief Test Pilot and a key developer of the X-plan
e, will take the craft on its maiden flight.
FRED KNOX: I appreciate your help this morning. Bye bye.
MIKE JORGENSEN: Good day to go?
FRED KNOX: It's an excellent day to go.
NARRATOR: With the fate of the Boeing effort resting on his shoulders, Knox rece
ives a final blessing from Frank Statkus.
FRANK STATKUS: Have fun. We'll see you at the other end.
FRED KNOX: Absolutely.
For me, it's about as big a day as a test pilot is ever going to have, a chance
to go do a first flight. It's a big day for me. It's a big day for the rest of t
he team. We've spent four years now, working very hardeverybody, from flight cont
rols to A.P.U. pumps, to structure, a lot of hard workand we should get a nice, s
afe flight in.
CREW MEMBER 4: Have a great flight.
FRED KNOX: It's a big day for all of us. See you guys at Edwards!
It couldn't be a nicer day.
FRANK STATKUS: I'm excited, I'm pumped. We're ready to go. Everybody's smiling.
Look at that.
FRED KNOX: Looking sharp sir, F-8 forever you bet.
FRANK STATKUS: There's my team.
NARRATOR: If Fred Knox is nervous, he doesn't show it. Even after finding some s
tray tools in the cockpit.
FRANK STATKUS: Two of them.
FRED KNOX: Home, sweet home!
NARRATOR: Knox is alone in the plane, but he has plenty of company in the air. T
wo chase planes flown by other test pilots will monitor his flight.
BARB GLEICH (Mechanic, The Boeing Company): It's going to be exciting...finally.
All of our life is in there, blood, sweat and tears.
NARRATOR: Like proud parents, the weary engineers and mechanics of the Phantom W
orks gather to see their fighter off.
FRED KNOX: Ready for takeoff on Runway 7. Be an airborne pickup from Salty Dog,
and NASA 852 will be joining us.
CONTROL: Control copies. Read you loud and clear, and we are ready.
FRED KNOX: And I'm going to go flying.
NARRATOR: Today's flight isn't a round trip. The Boeing plane is leaving the Pha
ntom Works for good to take up residence at Edwards Air Force Base, a short dist
ance away.
Holy Christ!
WALT CANNON: I was bawling like a baby. Yeah, I mean, it was, it was excitement.
I mean, mainly a huge sense of relief.
NARRATOR: Within minutes the X-plane is in the airspace over Edwards, wheels dow
n, just in case. Knox has flown this plane for hundreds of hours in a simulator.
Now he gets to see if the real thing handles the same way.
FRED KNOX: I'm happy with the plane.
NARRATOR: Then Boeing Test Pilot Dennis O'Donoghue, in his chase plane, spots a
DENNIS O'DONOGHUE: This is Irish on the starboard side. You've got hydraulic flu
id leaking from about the forward mid-fuselage.
FRED KNOX: I'm just guessing it's the first flight stuff going out a little
bit, but uh, we'll watch it.
DENNIS O'DONOGHUE: It doesn't appear to be dissipating. I'll keep an eye on it.
NARRATOR: With the source of the leak uncertain, Knox is told to cut short his l
ong awaited flight.
FRED KNOX: We're just going to give you the abbreviated test points, and we'll s
et up for a landing here.
CONTROL: Congratulations, Fred. Well done.
FRED KNOX: Hey, we got airborne.
DENNIS MUILENBURG: There she is. Got one flight under her belt.
FRED KNOX: We dropped a little fluid out of it. We never lost...everything staye
d up. It was full normal landing. The flying quality is about eleven.
O'Donoghue was getting nervous. He couldn't stand the fluid any more. Hey, so it
was time to land, huh?
DENNIS O'DONOGHUE: Yeah, it was definitely time to land. The moment I saw it, it
was time to land.
NARRATOR: The hydraulic leak turns out to be minor, a tiny glitch in an otherwis
e triumphant day.
Over Edwards, Boeing begins a series of test flights. During each one, the pilot
puts the plane through a specific set of maneuvers known as test points. Sensor
s document the plane's flying characteristics. The results go to the JSF.
So far, the plane's performance closely mirrors the Boeing simulations, a sign o
f just how sophisticated computer design has become.
FRED KNOX: Every pilot has been astounded at how closely the airplane actually m
atches what we thought it would do, from air speeds and flying qualities and sys
tem performance. That's just been really a good surprise.
NARRATOR: While this version of the Boeing X-plane is intended for both the Air
Force and Navy, it's the Navy requirements that will be the most demanding.
Commander Phil Yates, call sign Rowdy, is the official Navy Test Pilot assigned
to the Boeing effort. For him, it was an unexpected honor.
COMMANDER PHIL "ROWDY" YATES (Test Pilot, U.S. Navy): I received a phone call: "
How would you like to be the first Navy pilot to fly the JSF?" Well, after picki
ng my chin up off the ground, I said, "Yeah, I think I'd like to do that."
NARRATOR: Carrier landings are a testament to the precision skill of Navy pilots
, and Rowdy is one of the best.
In preparation for testing the Boeing X-plane, he takes an F-18 Hornet out for a
ROWDY YATES: Okay, good nozzles, good hydraulic pressure, good RPMs. There's the
salute, here we go.
And we're off, man.
Carrier landings are probably the most demanding task a pilot may be faced with,
especially at night in adverse conditionspitching deck, bad weather. You have to
be able to precisely control the airplane.
NARRATOR: Flying at about 150 miles per hour, Navy pilots aim for a target zone
of only 120 feet, about the size of a tennis court. They must catch one of four
arresting cables.
Pilots don't apply brakes. In fact, at contact with the flight deck, they gun th
e engine to full power so that if the plane misses the cables there is enough th
rust to get airborne.
ROWDY YATES: If landing on a runway is like threading a belt through a belt loop
, landing on a carrier is like threading a needle.
NARRATOR: A test pilot's job is to jump into a plane in which he may have little
experience and report on its pros and cons.
ROWDY YATES: When you start doing that in an airplane that's never been flown be
fore, then it, it really is what gets a test pilot, I think, excited.
NARRATOR: What's exciting to a test pilot would be sheer terror to most people.
Here at Edwards, Rowdy will put Boeing's X-plane through the precision maneuvers
of a carrier landing.
ROWDY YATES: We all recognize that these are unproven airplanes, but we, as test
pilots, deal with that, that we're going to be able to handle any situation tha
t the aircraft presents to us. If we don't feel that way, we wouldn't be flying.
NARRATOR: The Boeing team has worked hard to minimize the danger, but the test r
equires Rowdy to fly so close to the ground, any error or technical problem may
be fatal. A section of runway has been marked off, equal to the landing strip on
a carrier deck.
ROWDY YATES: God, IT goes.
CONTROL: Roger that, Phantom 3.
NARRATOR: From a control room miles away, a team of Boeing engineers monitors th
e X-plane's every move.
ROWDY YATES: The pilot learns what kind of corrections and control inputs he has
to make, and then it's also the aircraft's ability to respond to those control
inputs. It's that combination that ultimately determines how well the airplane i
s going to do at the ship.
NARRATOR: As he would on a real carrier, Rowdy receives visual cues from an opti
cal landing aid called the Fresnel Lens. If he can line up an amber light called
the meatball correctly, Rowdy knows he's approaching at a safe angle for a succ
essful touchdown.
He gets additional tips from a landing signal officer on the ground. On a real c
arrier this officer would give a score to every landing.
Low start in the middle.
LIEUTENANT JOHN "GOAT" BROTEMARKLE (U.S. Navy): We're not really trying to grade
the pilot on what Rowdy's doing. He's a skilled aviator who knows how to make t
he corrections...
Roger, Paul. what were trying to look, is find out how the airplane is performing with
certain deviations applied to it.
NARRATOR: With each attempt the degree of difficulty goes up. To recreate real-w
orld conditions, Rowdy begins an approach descending too fast, or at too steep a
n angle, and then tries to correct for it.
ROWDY YATES: Man, that's amazing.
NARRATOR: The X in X-plane means experimental, but occasionally it means unexpec
On one test flight, pilot Dennis O'Donoghue runs into trouble.
DENNIS O'DONOGHUE: We were just doing a routine test with the aircraft, to see i
f we ever lost the engine could we crank the engine back up and get it relit.
NARRATOR: Suddenly a warning light comes on indicating the X-plane's landing bra
kes have failed.
CONTROL 1: Talk to him. Do you want to reset or stall?
CONTROL 2: He can't reset. He's got to bring it home.
CONTROL 1: Phantom 3? Control. We need you to R.T.B.
CONTROL 1: Negative.
NARRATOR: Suspecting the warning light is at fault, O'Donoghue brings the plane
in to land on the runway. Without brakes, he will quickly run out of room, riski
ng injury to himself and his reputation. Wrecking a multi-million dollar X-plane
doesn't look good on the resume.
DENNIS O'DONOGHUE: On touchdown, I press the brake pedalsno response. So it was j
ust a matter of adding power and getting airborne again.
CONTROL 1: Phantom 3? Control. We need you to R.T.B.
NARRATOR: With the brakes definitely gone, it's time for Plan B: saving a 21st c
entury plane using a two- million-year-old lakebed.
DENNIS O'DONOGHUE: I had plenty of lakebed in front of me. I touched down and ju
st let the aircraft roll to a stop. Had we not had the lakebed, that would have
been a much more critical emergency, much more critical.
NARRATOR: After a month of successful flights, Boeing's luck has run out. Repair
ing the brakes reveals a major software problem and the plane's grounded.
To make matters worse, Boeing no longer has the skies over Edwards to itself. Th
at very day, Lockheed's X-plane is finally ready to leave its factory home and h
ead into battle.
TOM MORGENFELD: Do the funky chicken here.
NARRATOR: The X-plane's first flight is in the hands of Chief Test Pilot Tom Mor
genfeld. Having flown everything from the first Stealth fighter to black aircraf
t that are still classified, Morgenfeld has unrivaled experience.
Yet he is all too familiar with the dangers of flight test. In 1992, while pilot
ing an Air Force prototype, a computer malfunction sends Morgenfeld's aircraft i
nto a violent oscillation. After skidding in flames for more than a mile, Morgen
feld walks away unharmed.
Now, nearly a decade later, the legendary test pilot is about to climb into anot
her untested fighter.
TOM MORGENFELD: No turning back now. I think I've committed myself, huh?
The first time you fly an airplane it's a tremendous thrill, your heart's pumpin
g and the adrenaline is flowing, believe me.
NARRATOR: In a Lockheed tradition, Morgenfeld carries with him the wallets and c
ar keys of Assembly Manager Ed Beurer and the rest of the senior X-plane team. I
t's a sign of confidence.
ED BEURER: Go, Tommy.
TOM MORGENFELD: We're airborne, gang, and it's flying great.
CONTROL: Roger, copy.
ED BEURER: I am so filled with emotion right now. Oh, man.
TOM MORGENFELD: Woohoo! This is fun. All complete, feels great.
Roger. Gear coming on my count. Three, two, one, now. And the doors are open. Sm
oothed out beautifully.
CONTROL: Roger. Copy that, Hat Trick.
NARRATOR: After 22 minutes the first flight is over. Lockheed's X-plane touches
down at its new home.
CONTROL: Welcome to Edwards, and you're cleared for the shutdown.
ED BEURER: That's a beautiful man up there right now, taking care of my baby.
TOM MORGENFELD: What an airplane! We did it man, we did it. What a thrill! Thank
you, brother.
ED BEURER: Sorry. I had to hold you, I had to hold you.
TOM MORGENFELD: You set me up. Good job, man. Ah, Les. Good job, man. What an ai
rplane, what an airplane! Magnificent! It felt great. It was super, yes. Thank y
ou so much.
RICK REZABEK: God, it looked so awesome.
TOM MORGENFELD: Yeah, that's great. Thanks, Rick. I wish we had done a little bi
t more. I was waiting for it to just keep on flying. The airplane's ready, too.
It feels great.
RICK REZABEK: We're going to fly the shit out of this airplane and just kick ass
everyday. That's what it's all about.
NARRATOR: True to Rezabek's word, the Lockheed X-plane is back in the sky the ve
ry next day. A carefully orchestrated series of maneuvers slowly reveals this je
t's true capabilities.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL PAUL "T.P." SMITH (JSF Chief Test Pilot, U.S. Air Force): "Ba
by steps" is a very good way to put it, very small analytical, incremental steps
. We don't want go out and push the airplane or the pilot or the test team beyon
d their capabilities.
NARRATOR: Lieutenant Colonel Paul Smith, call sign T.P., is the JSF's chief test
pilot, brought in from the Air Force and assigned to the Lockheed effort. Like
all the pilots, he's spent hours in the simulator. But it didn't quite prepare h
im for the feel of the real thing.
T.P. SMITH: Probably the most incredible experience I felt was the enormous powe
r behind me of the engine. I've never had this happen to me, but it's probably s
ynonymous with being shot out of a fire hose. Just a very steady, incredible amo
unt of acceleration, right through your back. And the feeling like this was a st
allion that was ready to go anywhere, any place I wanted it to. And if I just le
t it go, it would go there.
NARRATOR: The Lockheed plane is like a stallion in another way as well. Like all
fighters, when it comes to fuel, it eats like a horse. While not a JSF requirem
ent, Lockheed wants to tank up its plane through aerial refueling. And to make u
p for lost time, Lockheed's ambitious test schedule depends on it.
T.P. SMITH: There was a lot of pressure to get the aerial fueling certification
done so we could start tanking. The amount of time we could spend in the air bef
ore that was about 30 minutes, realistically, and that was just not enough time
to get everything done that we need to get done.
NARRATOR: With only two flights in the X-plane under his belt, T.P. will attempt
one of the most dangerous missions of the Lockheed program.
T.P. SMITH: Air-to-air tanking has always been kind of intimidating to me, becau
se throughout my career I've been taught, "Don't let anything touch your airplan
e. Don't let another aircraft hit it, don't let ground fire hit it, don't let mi
ssiles hit it." And then the first thing you do is you go up to this tanker and
the tanker hits you.
NARRATOR: At 20,000 feet, T.P. rendezvous with a KC-135, heavily loaded with fue
l. The tanker slowly extends a boom toward a receptacle located behind the cockp
it of the X-plane.
T.P. SMITH: It's really a basic feeling of trust between you and the guy flying
the boom to make sure he doesn't hit the airplane where he's not supposed to.
NARRATOR: T.P. cautiously edges closer.
T.P. SMITH: At that point you just have to fly very stable because he's trying t
o plug that boom in the back of the aircraft.
NARRATOR: Running low on fuel with only minutes before having to abort, T.P. mak
es contact.
T.P. SMITH: You can actually feel it in the airplane. You feel like you're part
of the tanker and it can actually fly you around. At that point, you just kind o
f relax or try to relax and stay in that same position while you download gas.
NARRATOR: X-plane and tanker are now coupled in tight formation at 350 miles per
hour. Less than five minutes later, the crucial maneuver is over.
T.P. SMITH: This airplane flew tremendously well on the boom, better than any ot
her airplane I've flown. And so it was very easy to get confident in yourself an
d confident in the airplane very quickly.
NARRATOR: For the competition, Lockheed designed its X-plane to use the Air Forc
e system of aerial refueling, but Boeing's gone with the Navy's version.
With its software bugs fixed, Boeing's X-plane is back in the air.
Navy planes have a fuel probe designed to plug into a drogue basket at the end o
f a hose dangling from the tanker. But during Boeing's first refueling attempt,
the basket flies dangerously close to instruments mounted on the nose. These tes
t sensors are used only for evaluating the plane's performance, but if the baske
t breaks them off, they may be sucked into the engine. That could bring down the
And that's not the only problem. When the refueling basket makes it onto the pro
be, it fails to seat properly, sending gas everywhere but the tank. In a blow to
the Boeing effort, aerial refueling is ruled out as too dangerous.
JAY MILLER: I'm sure that Boeing's engineering staff was somewhat puzzled by all
this. There was some serious study work done, there were a lot of engineering s
tudies that were conducted, but converting that data to the full-scale finished
artifact is often times a little bit of a magical process, and it doesn't always
work out.
NARRATOR: For the remainder of flight testing, the Boeing X-plane gets its gas o
n the ground. And the company's month head start on Lockheed drips away.
JAY MILLER: Every time they have to land and refuel they're losing time. While t
hey're doing that, Lockheed Martin is in the air and their completing all of the
ir flight test objectives.
NARRATOR: For Lockheed, one goal has remained out of reach. In a month of test f
lights, its X-plane achieves mach 0.98, just short of breaking the sound barrier
Like aerial refueling, the JSF doesn't require a demonstration of supersonic fli
ght. But with only three more test flights of this version of their X-plane left
, Lockheed wants to hear the boom.
RICK REZABEK: Today we're going to go supersonic for the first time. It's an emo
tional victory as much as anything else.
DICK BURTON (Flight Test Director, Lockheed Martin): People understand supersoni
c that work in this industry, and it's a very, very big thing. The crew has work
ed out here for, now, approaching 30 days, 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, and it
's nice to give them a lift.
NARRATOR: The Lockheed X-plane team has struggled with a host of small but stubb
orn problems that have kept the plane subsonic. But at the end of a long day of
flying, with test pilot Morganfeld at the controls, all that is forgotten when t
he Lockheed plane crosses the boundary originally shattered in the same skies by
the very first X-plane.
Lighting the afterburner provides the extra push needed to go supersonic.
TOM MORGENFELD: Yeehaw. That was so amazing!
RICK REZABEK: It means a very successful end to a hugely successful first month
of flying X-35s.
NARRATOR: Lockheed arrived late to flight test, but made up for it with a record
-setting performance for an X-plane, 27 flights in 30 days.
A month later, Boeing's X-plane goes supersonic as well. The aircraft's grace in
the air and strong test results have quieted the critics of its less than sleek
Driven by the competition, each company has taken its X-plane to new levels of p
erformance only to see its adversary do the same.
CURTIS PEEBLES: You had two aircraft prototypes and yet they were flying several
times a day, and this is unheard of for X-planes. And it's a testament to both
designs and both design teams that they were able to do this.
BILL SWEETMAN: Both teams set out to demonstrate a certain number of test points
. They both seem to have done it. Both aircraft flew; they were pretty reliable.
I don't think there's anything that's come out of this stage of the program tha
t would say that one or the other is going to win.
JAY MILLER: That Boeing airplane is much more a competitor than anybodyand partic
ularly Lockheedreally expected. I don't see any distinct advantage to either airp
lane. At this stage in the game, I'd have to tell you that it is neck and neck.
NARRATOR: Both Boeing and Lockheed realize the entire competition and the larges
t military contract ever, may come down to the JSF's final requirement, achievin
g the Harrier trick of landing vertically.
Houdini once made a five-ton elephant disappear. Lockheed plans an even greater
feat: to levitate over three times that weight, a 17-ton fighter, using its radi
cal new lift-fan. The fate of the competition and perhaps even the fate of the c
ompany rests on this untested system.
JAY MILLER: All of their eggs are in this one basket. If they do lose, effective
ly, Lockheed Martin as a fighter production entity in the United States, that wi
ll come to an end. They have nothing else to keep their front doors open.
NARRATOR: Lockheed engineers install their lift fan system into the X-plane, hop
efully transforming it into that hybrid of the skies, a vertically landing jet.
While it remains unproven, the concept behind their unique lift-fan system exude
s engineering elegance. Two columns of air, instead of one in the Harrier, balan
ce the plane's descent. One column is the engine exhaust directed downward. The
other column is created by a lift-fan connected to the engine by a drive shaft.
The fan takes in air from above and blasts it out below. It's an ingenious syste
m, but in practice it requires a symphony of moving parts.
BILL SWEETMAN: Lockheed has chosen a very complex solution. If something goes me
chanically catastrophically wrong during the hover, you have very, very little t
ime to get out.
NARRATOR: A former Royal Navy pilot with Harrier combat experience in the Falkla
nds and Bosnia, Simon Hargreaves will attempt the first hover in the Lockheed X-
plane. He's spent years in preparation. Still, there's no question he's about to
take a ride on the wild side.
SIMON HARGREAVES: Nobody's ever tried to model a propulsion system that's quite
as complex as this, as, quite as integrated as this, so there may be some areas
there where the airplane doesn't respond exactly as I'm expecting.
NARRATOR: The vertical landing tests will start over a hover pit, ten feet deep
and covered by a steel grate. The hover pit is designed to minimize the chance t
he engine will suck in its own hot exhaust. Hot gas ingestion is a familiar dang
er to Harrier pilots. If the exhaust used to float the plane somehow enters the
engine's air intake, the engine will start to choke.
JAY MILLER: What happens when you ingest hot gas, your thrust decays; your thrus
t decays, you lose lift; you lose lift, you start descending at a rapid rate, an
d can lead to a catastrophic accident.
NARRATOR: Venting the hot gases out the side of the hover pit provides some prot
SCOTT WINSHIP: Here we go. Seventy percent, throttle up. Come on, Simon. Come on
, baby. Up the power.
NARRATOR: Hargreaves holds steady twenty feet in the air. At 35-thousand pounds,
it's the heaviest fighter ever to hover.
NARRATOR: The lift fan performs without incident and produces 1,500 pounds more
thrust than predicted.
SCOTT WINSHIP: That was great.
RICK REZABEK: That was incredible. Let's do that again. Incredible.
NARRATOR: After nearly two years of struggling to keep up with Boeing, the Lockh
eed team now has reason to display their usual abundance of self-confidence.
RICK REZABEK: We've never had a doubt in our minds at any point in this program
that this is the right type of airplane and propulsion system. And we've felt ve
ry sorry for the competing team against us.
SCOTT WINSHIP: I never felt sorry for them.
RICK REZABEK: Yeah, that's true.
NARRATOR: While the lift fan works, Lockheed still hasn't accomplished the trick
y mid-air maneuver called conversion, going from level flight to vertical landin
g, with its complicated dance of moving parts.
The same morning Lockheed lifts off, Boeing plans a dramatic demonstration of it
s own vertical lift system. The company's second X-plane has been flown across t
he country. The new proximity to Washington decision-makers and lobbyists doesn'
t hurt, but the real advantage is invisible.
The air at sea level has greater density than at the high altitude location of E
dwards Air Force Base. Thicker air means better engine performance.
In this test of its direct lift system, Boeing hopes to outdo Lockheed. Test Pil
ot Dennis O'Donoghue will start in level flight, slow the plane down to nothing
and hover. His slow speed will make the wings useless, and a failure of the lift
system will mean the plane falls from the sky.
To give O'Donoghue a chance to eject, Boeing has conducted its early tests at hi
gher altitudes gradually working lower and slower. Now, after 43 flights, Boeing
is ready to go all the way, to attempt zero airspeed.
NANCYLEW O'DONOGHUE: I've got butterflies.
NARRATOR: O'Donoghue's family is among the spectators of today's historic event.
NANCYLEW O'DONOGHUE : The boys are really excited, too. I think Dennis slept bec
ause he knew he needed to. The boys slept. I didn't sleep a wink.
Look, Daddy's airplane. Yes.
NARRATOR: Two hundred feet above the runway, O'Donoghue slowly decelerates to ze
ro airspeed and hovers. A 28,000-pound airplane hangs frozen in the sky.
DENNIS O'DONOGHUE: Irish. It looks good here. Yeah, the hover performance looks
real good, numbers were looking pretty nice.
CONTROL: And just for the record, pilot, yeah? You are my hero!
DENNIS O'DONOGHUE: Pretty cool, eh?
CONTROL: You got that right! Congratulations, Dennis.
ROWDY YATES: Oh my god, what a day. I'm sitting there yelling and clapping and c
rying, driving up, seeing it just right there.
NARRATOR: On this day the X-32B hovers four timesonce for two and a half minutesan
d, demonstrating rock solid control, performs a perfect 360-degree turn.
NANCYLEW O'DONOGHUE: That was just wonderful. Brendan said it was better than St
ar Wars, and for him, that's a lot.
NARRATOR: One month later, Boeing is ready to make history. If it works, the X-3
2 will become the first new fighter since the Harrier to transition from convent
ional flight to landing vertically.
For this risky mission, Boeing will also use a hover pit to reduce the chances o
f hot exhaust being ingested into the engine during the landing. To increase the
margin of safety, Boeing engineers have removed some exterior parts to lighten
the X-plane's weight.
Some critics will cry foul, but Boeing will respond that its new design, which i
t didn't have time to build but will submit to the JSF as its final proposal, is
1500 pounds lighter.
Dennis O'Donoghue is in the cockpit again, while flight test conductor Howard Go
fus will closely monitor the mission from the ground.
HOWARD GOFUS (Flight Test Conductor, The Boeing Company): Now there's fewer unkn
owns. We know we can do it, we know we've been there, we know what we've seen so
far, but we're still only one failure away from having a really bad day.
DENNIS O'DONOGHUE: Okay, coming up to fifty feet. Here we go.
NARRATOR: Closing in over the pit the Boeing X-plane comes to a stop and begins
a slow descent. If disaster strikes, O'Donoghue is now too low to eject.
CONTROL: Tee-two, tee-two, watch tee-two. In hover. Caution, caution...
NARRATOR: Suddenly the controllers spot trouble.
NARRATOR: Invisibly. the engine has ingested hot gas from the lift nozzles and l
oses power.
CONTROL: Caution! Knock it off one!
NARRATOR: O'Donoghue feels the bottom dropping out, but it's too late to abort.
CONTROL: Howard we're coming down. Twenty feet!
NARRATOR: Twenty feet and only seconds from the ground the gas dissipates and th
e engine gains enough thrust to touch down safely.
CONTROL: Excellent landing.
HOWARD GOFUS: He's down on the ground and we realize it, and so there's the, you
're in a quandary for that split second. Okay, we just did our first v.l. What h
NARRATOR: Over by the runway, no one is aware of the close call. Reviewing the d
ata, the test team believes a choice made to increase safety, the hover pit, may
be causing the problem. There's almost no crosswind to clear the pit of exhaust
. Hot gas may be collecting and bouncing upward into the air.
They decide to attempt a second vertical landing but on a solid surface.
HOWARD GOFUS: We decided we were going to go for the vertical landing on the pad
, so we set up all the numbers...set it all up and know that, hey, the same thin
g could happen there.
CONTROL: Looking good so far. Good one.
NARRATOR: The second vertical landing goes without a hitch, to everyone's enormo
us relief.
But just a week later, during another vertical landing, an old friend pays an un
welcome visit. It's a pop stall, the result of hot gas ingestion just above the
ground, a common event in Harriers. Boeing engineers predicted it might happen a
nd designed it out of their new version. But they decide to play it safe and sto
p testing their vertical system.
A month later, Boeing completes all major requirements for the Pentagon ahead of
the competition.
HOWARD GOFUS: Hey, Frank, that's our man. Oh boy.
CREW MEMBER: Hey, Howard. Yes sir. We did it. Yes sir.
NARRATOR: It's a major landmark, and if anything has them worried the Boeing bra
ss certainly doesn't show it.
FRANK STATKUS: I'm confident that we are AT the head of the class now, and I exp
ect to stay there.
CREW MEMBER: All right, one more time. Yeah!
NARRATOR: The Lockheed plane now needs to prove it's ready for primetime by perf
orming the critical transition from conventional flight to hover to landing vert
SIMON HARGREAVES: We need to demonstrate that we can land on a solid surface, bo
th to make sure we've got the performance and the flying qualities to do thatto m
ake sure that we've dealt with ground effects such as hot gas ingestionand to pro
ve that we can land on a normal sort of surface without damage or significant er
osion to the surface.
Converting in three, two, one, now.
NARRATOR: At a thousand feet, Simon Hargreaves engages the lift fan and slows do
wn. With air from the front and exhaust from the rear nozzle in balance, the Loc
kheed X-plane floats on nearly 40-thousand pounds of thrust.
This system avoids the problems of the Harrier and Boeing's direct lift. Cooler
air from the lift fan creates an invisible barrier that prevents the engine from
choking on its own hot gas.
After two minutes of hovering, Hargreaves eases off the throttle and gently guid
es the X-plane down.
SIMON HARGREAVES: That's beautiful, no problems at all.
CONTROL: Well done, Simon.
CREW MEMBER: Good job, Simon...honor
CREW MEMBER: Yeah, great Simon! Simon, looks like you've been doing that for twe
nty years.
SIMON HARGREAVES: It felt like it, yeah.
DICK BURTON: It's been a long time coming, and um, about the only thing I can sa
y is yes!
SAM WILSON: It's going to be a tough choice, if one guy had stumbled here at the
end then it would've made it easy.
ERIC DIDOMINICO (Joint Strike Fighter Program Office): It's not an easy choice a
nd that's what the government wanted. The government wanted a close horse race,
and I think they're going to get it now.
NARRATOR: In the waning days of the competition, at an undisclosed location some
where near the Pentagon, JSF Director General Michael Hough takes NOVA inside a
world where cameras have never been allowed. Behind a wall of security the secre
t proposals of Boeing and Lockheed are being evaluated by the government team th
at will help determine the winner of the Joint Strike Fighter program.
MICHAEL HOUGH: This is where the proposals are, all electronic of course. This i
s where we've got 200 people off and on coming in and looking at the proposals o
ne at a time, gauging them against the operational requirements document.
NARRATOR: Digging through mountains of data, experts evaluate performance, cost,
management and risk.
DAN NIELSON (Contracts Director, Joint Strike Fighter): Some of them are doing a
erodynamic performance, figuring out: How fast will it go? What is the range? Ho
w will it turn? What kind of Gs can it sustain? Others are evaluating software a
nd architecture.
NARRATOR: Now near the end of this jury process, the results are one of JSF's mo
st closely guarded secrets.
MICHAEL HOUGH: We've got about six weeks left, by which we're going to take the
results of our evaluation, give it to the Secretary of the Air Force who, in har
mony with the Secretary of the Navy, is going to make a decision of who's going
to build the airplane for the warfighter for the next forty years.
NARRATOR: As the final decision approaches, known in military speak as "down sel
ect," Boeing remains confident that its manufacturing know-how and cost saving d
esigns have made it a winner.
DENNIS O'DONOGHUE: I think we all feel pretty good about going into down select,
and I think we truly believe that we've got the right vehicle for the customer.
NARRATOR: But just before it crosses the finish line, Lockheed plans a final dra
matic display, a bid for the history books and bait for the huge government cont
In a test flight Lockheed dubs Mission X, its fighter takes off in less than 500
feet, then goes supersonic and lands vertically. Since the Harrier is subsonic,
the maneuver is a milestone in aviation history and a direct hit on Boeing's ne
ed to strip off parts for vertical landing and reinstall them for supersonic fli
But the Lockheed team pushes its luck too far. They attempt a vertical takeoff a
nd transition to conventional flight. When the plane bobbles in the wind on lift
off the mission is aborted. But the failure does nothing to dampen Lockheed's le
gendary mix of technical ingenuity and engineering arrogance. This company belie
ves it has won the right to build the first fighter of the 21st century.
RICK REZABEK: We did our part of the bargain, now the rest of it is up to the go
NARRATOR: Five years after the battle began it's D-day. The decision is in the b
ag. The contractors anxiously await the news. In Palmdale, California, Rick Reza
bek and a few hundred members of the Lockheed team gather in the X-plane hangar.
RICK REZABEK: We did as much as we needed to, to win this thing, and "we're" ver
y, I don't know, very comfortably, anxiously nervous and confident.
SCOTT WINSHIP: We did the best we could.
NARRATOR: While in an office in Seattle, the leaders of Boeing's X-plane program
, Frank Statkus and company Vice Chairman Harry Stonecipher stand by for word.
HARRY STONECIPHER (Vice Chairman, The Boeing Company): Where are we going to be
able to watch this thing from?
FRANK STATKUS: Right here.
HARRY STONECIPHER: Let's watch it.
EDWARD C. "PETE" ALDRIDGE: We are here today to announce the largest acquis
ition program in the history of the Department of Defense, the Joint Strike Figh
ter. The value of the program could be in excess of two hundred billion dollars.
Two contractor teams, one led by Lockheed Martin and the other led by Boeing, ha
ve just completed a concept development phase. Both contractor teams met or exce
eded the performance objectives established for the aircraft.
DR. JAMES G. ROCHE (Secretary of the United States Air Force): The process invol
ved, at the end...was about two hundred and fifty people. And both proposals wer
e very good, both demo programs were very good. But on the basis of strengths, w
eaknesses and degrees of risk of the program, it is our conclusion, joined in by
our colleagues in the United Kingdom, that the Lockheed Martin team is the winn
er of the Joint Strike Fighter program on the best value basis.
PHIL CONDIT: Frank, tell your team they did an unbelievably good job. I could no
t have asked for more.
NARRATOR: In a call from Washington, Boeing C.E.O. Phil Condit consoles his team
FRANK STATKUS: Is it a winner-take-all, Phil?
PHIL CONDIT: At this point the answer is yes, that this decision they've held to
is a winner-take-all.
HARRY STONECIPHER: You did a great job.
HARRY STONECIPHER: No, you did a great job. I don't know what we missed.
CURTIS PEEBLES: In my mind, the Boeing redesign, the hot gas ingestion, makes me
wonder if, for Boeing to win, Lockheed's lift fan engine had to fail.
BILL SWEETMAN: One of the biggest deciding factors in this competition, in my op
inion, was that Boeing never managed to make a vertical landing with the aircraf
t in complete configuration.
They took the inlet cowl off. They took the landing gear doors off. Lockheed Mar
tin made complete vertical landings with the aircraft in the same trim that it c
ould go to supersonic speed in.
NARRATOR: The X-35, now officially designated the F-35, may become the most wide
ly deployed fighter ever produced.
JAY MILLER: I think it's ironic that Lockheed, in 1943, in effect, gave birth un
der the auspices of the Skunk Works, to the Lockheed P-80, which was the first s
uccessful operational jet fighter used by the U.S. military. And here it is almo
st sixty years later, and they are now the winner of the JSF competition, which
could result in, potentially, the last manned jet fighter. It's the closing of a
major chapter in the history of U.S. air power.
NARRATOR: With a buy-in from the services and billions in foreign sales, the fut
ure of the F-35 looks bright. But fasten your seat belts there may be turbulence
GRAHAM WARWICK: Now the fun really begins, because Lockheed has to deliver on it
s cost and performance promises for the JSF, and the government's already talkin
g about cutting the number of airplanes it's going to buy and spending more on u
nmanned combat air vehicles.
NARRATOR: And who's one of the top builders of unmanned combat air vehicles? Boe
ing. Losing the battle of the X-planes may not mean losing the war to dominate t
he future of American air power.
CURTIS PEEBLES: So the last chapter in the JSF story is really yet to be written
What was it like to be the only TV journalist allowed to cover the story from st
art to finish? How did he even get access? Go behind the scenes with the Battle
of the X Planes producer, on NOVA's Website at or American Online, Keywo
rd PBS.
To order this show, or any other NOVA program, for $19.95 plus shipping and hand
ling, call WGBH Boston Video at 1-800-255-9424.
Major funding for NOVA is provided by the Park Foundation, dedicated to educatio
n and quality television.
Science: it's given us the framework to help make wireless communications clear.
Sprint is proud to support NOVA.
And by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by contributions to your PBS
station from viewers like you. Thank you.
Battle of the X-Planes
Narrated by
Liev Schreiber
Produced And Directed by
Michael Jorgensen
Telescript by
Daniel McCabe
Director of Photography
Michael Jorgensen
Daniel McCabe
Dick Bartlett
Glen Kugelstadt
Narrated by
Liev Schreiber
Associate Producers
Neil Thomas
Jennifer Callahan
Assistant Editor
Laura Minnear
Sound Recordist
Igal Petel
Audio Mix
Heart Punch Studio
Story by
Michael Jorgensen
Neil Thomas
Aerial Cinematography
Judson Brohmer
Tom Reynolds
Kevin Flynn
Kyle Welke
Michael Jorgensen
Bobbi Garcia
Nick Alvarado
Steve Howell
Kevin Robertson
Steve Zapka
Production Stills
Liisa Jorgensen
Additional Music by
Michael Richard Plowman
Aerospace Consultant
William H. Sweetman
Director of JSF Public Affairs
Kathryn M. Crawford
NOVA gratefully acknowledges the cooperation of the Joint Strike Fighter Program
Office, The Boeing Company, the Lockheed Martin Corporation, and Pratt & Whitne
Special Thanks
USN Rear Adm. Craig Steidle
USMC Gen. Michael Hough
U.S. Navy
U.S. Air Force
U.S. Marine Corps
Allison Engines
Edwards Air Force Base
Patuxent River Naval Air Station
U.S. Air Force Plant 42
Davis Monthan Air Force Base-AMARC
Pentagon Public Affairs Office
USS Abraham Lincoln
Randolph C. Harrison
Aviation Heritage Museum Ft. Worth,TX
McCord Air Force Base
Gentex Corporation
Mustang Survival
Flight Suits
Sam Gammo
Paul Lundbergh
Jeff Dunnill
Josh & Scott Zubko
Prasan Dave
Ron Gagner
Jim Ellis
Zachariah & Lundbergh Inc.
Contractor Liaisons
Denny Lombard
Gary "Oly" Olin
Nancy Tibeau
Randolph C. Harrison
Rich Bierlein
Ellen Bendell
Nancy Collagouri
Mark Crawford
Al Darragh
Gary Grigg
Carolyn Hodge
James Holcomb
Lance Lamberton
Ron Lindeke
Michael V. Longfellow
Malia Maioho
Chick Ramey
Aaron Renn
Joe Stout
Michael Tull
Peter Torres
Tim Tress
Terry Vanden-heuvel
Bob Williams
Marty Wollin
Tom Young
Additional Technical Support
Peter Bonilla
Brian Buckley
Dominic DeSantis
Jeff Dunnill
Brent Gilbert
Keith Henderson
Derrick Johnston
Brian Lawton
Alan Leader
Dan Monahan
Tom Myrdahl
Mike Myrden
Robert Pflumm
Gary Rutherford
Jeff Smith
Michael Smith
Len Schmitz
Marke Slipp
Helicopter Pilots
George Ezell
Dave G. Gibbs
Rohn LeGore
Archival Material
BBC Worldwide, Inc.
British Aerospace
British Film Institute - ETV Collection
Edwards Air Force Base
Norton Air Force Base
Northrop Grumman
U.S. Navy
U.S. Marine Corps
DOD Visual Information Center
NOVA Theme
Mason Daring
Martin Brody
Michael Whalen
Post Production Online Editor
Mark Steele
Closed Captioning
The Caption Center
Production Secretary
Queene Coyne
Jonathan Renes
Diane Buxton
Senior Researcher
Ethan Herberman
Production Coordinator
Linda Callahan
Unit Manager
Holly Archibald
Nancy Marshall
Legal Counsel
Susan Rosen Shishko
Post Production Assistant
Patrick Carey
Associate Producer, Post Production
Nathan Gunner
Post Production Supervisor
Regina O'Toole
Post Production Editor
Rebecca Nieto
Producers, Special Projects
Lisa Mirowitz
Stephen Sweigart
Coordinating Producer
Laurie Cahalane
Supervising Producer
Lisa D'Angelo
Senior Science Editor
Evan Hadingham
Senior Series Producer
Melanie Wallace
Managing Director
Alan Ritsko
Executive Producer
Paula S. Apsell
A NOVA Production by Myth Merchant Films for WGBH/Boston.
2003 WGBH Educational Foundation
All rights reserved
Battle of the X-Planes
Behind the Scenes
Behind the Scenes
Producer Mike Jorgensen on filming inside top-secret facilities.
Where Combat Planes Retire
Where Combat Planes Retire
Visit Arizona's "boneyard," a home for old fighters and bombers.
Meet a Test Pilot
Meet a Test Pilot
Navy Commander "Rowdy" Yates on test-flying fighters.
Designing for Stealth
Designing for Stealth
How to render a 15-ton hunk of flying metal "invisible" to the enemy.
Outfitting a Fighter Pilot
Outfitting a Fighter Pilot
A pilot's gear can save his life in deadly situations.
Getting Airborne
Getting Airborne
See how a virtual plane achieves enough lift to take off.
Wing Designs
Wing Designs
Discover how airfoil shapes affect the way a plane flies.

About NOVA | NOVA Homepage | Support NOVA
| Created September 2006