By Scott Hamilton
Jan. 10, 2023, © Leeham News: An ex-chief executive officer of The Boeing Co. said Jan. 9 that the company needs to undertake “real honest-to-God” product development, or it will lose the skills required to do so.
Phil Condit, the CEO was named president of Boeing in 1992 and CEO in 1996. He retired in 2004 after a lifetime career at Boeing, with leadership roles in the 747, 757, 757, 767, and 777 programs. Speaking at the University of Washington aerospace school, Condit was asked about Boeing’s product development.
“I’ve got to be really careful,” Condit replied, choosing his words carefully. “I’ve been retired for almost two decades. I think there are some things that I have heard and observed that I agree with, like SAF as a place to go, is one of those. I think it’s important for Boeing to do some real honest-to-God important development because over time you lose skill. If you don’t do things, you lose your capability to do them. It’s important that skills get exercised.”
SAF is Sustainable Aviation Fuel. Boeing currently is placing its major bets in ecoAviation on SAF rather than hydrogen or battery-powered aircraft, although research and development of the latter two areas continue. Current CEO David Calhoun previously announced Boeing’s commercial airliners will be 100% SAF-capable by 2030. Airbus will, too, but it’s pursuing hydrogen as a major solution to some of aviation’s need to go “green.”
Calhoun expresses skepticism over hydrogen. Condit did, too. There are three kinds of hydrogen: Grey, blue and green. Green hydrogen is the “greenest,” but it needs lots of energy to process into fuel. Even so, Condit says hydrogen tends to leak. Once in the high-altitude atmosphere, Mother Nature attacks hydrogen first, leaving environmentally dangerous methane behind.
Condit also rejects batteries as an environmental solution. The weight and the power-density of batteries combine to be 45 times more disadvantageous than Jet A fuel for a 10% benefit.
Then there are the total life cycle factors to consider for hydrogen and batteries.
Responding to a question from a UW student, Condit said he would invest his money into SAF and autonomous development. These are the two areas Boeing currently has high on the research list.
Boeing is an investor in the development of the battery-powered WISK autonomous Urban Air Mobility (UAM) vehicle. Calhoun, during the Nov. 2 investors’ day, said the WISK research is about autonomous flight. Condit believes autonomous flight is in the future for commercial airliners. Going to a single pilot will be an interim step, he believes.
Boeing already is developing an autonomous vehicle, the military MQ-25. The MQ-25 is an autonomous aircraft carrier-based aerial tanker designed to refuel carrier-based airplanes. It’s still in testing but it has successfully flown off and landed on carriers.
Additional reporting from this event will be forthcoming.