Air Force News

Air Force begins installation of new C-17 composite tails

Released: 12 Apr 1999

by 1st Lt. Dave Huxsoll
Aeronautical System Center Public Affairs

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio, (AFPN) -- Program managers and researchers from the Aeronautical Systems Center here, along with industry partners, have developed a new, lighter horizontal stabilizer for the C-17.

Flight tests were completed last month, and the new component is being installed on production aircraft at facilities of The Boeing Co. in Long Beach, Calif.

The new horizontal-stabilizer is a hybrid composite/metal structure that is 20 percent lighter than the all-metal tail. Additionally, the new tail component eliminates 90 percent of the parts, 81 percent of the fasteners, and 70 percent of the tools needed to produce the airlifter's tail.

All C-17 aircraft, from No. 51 onward, will have the newly designed tail. Aircraft No. 51 is currently in production and scheduled to be delivered to McChord Air Force Base, Wash., in June.

The C-17 composite-tail was designed under the Military Products Using Best Commercial/Military Practices pilot program. This program is tasked with taking the best acquisition practices the military and commercial world have to offer to develop military products and extending them throughout the factory to every part designed and manufactured in the enterprise. The goal is to make gains in affordability by developing new ways of doing business.

The pilot program was a combined effort funded by ASC's C-17 System Program Office and the Air Force Research Laboratory's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. Contractors included The Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Commercial Aviation. Other team members included the Air Force Defense Contract Management Command and the Air Force Research and Development Contracting Office.

The goals of the program were to demonstrate a weight savings of 20 percent and a cost savings of 50 percent over the metal-tail baseline for a first unit comparison and the acquisition of 120 units.

The first production composite tail was delivered to Boeing's facility in Long Beach, in February for flight tests. Earlier tests at Northrop Grumman validated the durability of the new component, certifying that the tail achieved more than 200 percent of the design limit load.

New tails will be installed on the next 70 C-17 aircraft scheduled for delivery to the Air Force. Since the first 50 C-17s produced will not have the new tail design, the program will realize much less than the original goal of a 50 percent savings; however, additional cost savings will be realized should production numbers increase, said Ken Ronald, Air Force ManTech program manager at AFRL.

"The C-17 SPO was pleased to work with AFRL's Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Boeing, and Northrop-Grumman on this project which has resulted in the incorporation of a lighter and more produceable horizontal stabilizer into C-17 production," said Mark Wilson, chief engineer for the C-17 SPO. "The lessons learned from this program will benefit Boeing, Northrop-Grumman and many other aerospace companies as our industry continues to search for more efficient ways to design and produce structural components."

The team that developed the new tail component earned numerous awards during the five-year program, including the McDonnell Douglas Model of Excellence Award, the Orange County Engineering Achievement Award, and the Wright Laboratory (predecessor to AFRL) Commander's Team Award.


* Aeronautical System Center
* Air Force Research Laboratory
* C-17 Globemaster III