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Boeing at 100 – A Look at Boeing’s Other Programs And A Look Ahead (Part 3 of 3)


For the first fifty years, the Boing Airplane Company focused largely on the development and manufacture of aircraft. World War II accelerated the demand for larger, higher performance, more capable military aircraft, and Boeing, as did many other manufacturers, benefitted by war time spending. In the years afterward, Boeing continued along a path to very successful commercial and military aircraft programs.

Boeing has pursued several strategies to diversify its businesses including investing in new ventures, mergers and outright purchase of other companies.

As of 2015 the Boeing Company is divided into two major business areas, the Boeing Airplane Company (BCA), focused on the development of commercial airliners, and Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS) that encompasses military aircraft, space and defense systems.

These units of the Boeing company are further compartmentalized into more focused business areas. Parts 1 and 2 of this series focused heavily or Boeing aircraft programs, both civil and military. This part will focus on other programs, most of which fall under Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS). The following are examples of key Boeing products and programs. There are many more.

Part 1:  The Early Days

Part 2: The Jet Age

Military Aircraft

Boeing has had a lackluster record with newly designed military aircraft in the late 1900s and beyond. Their proposal for the Advanced Tactical Fighter was not selected for prototype, and their prototype for the Joint Strike Fighter lost to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II. Still, Boeing has been active in the military aircraft market as a result of mergers and acquisitions, especially its purchase of McDonnel Douglas (MD) in 1997.

CH-47 Chinook (Wikipedia)
CH-47 Chinook (Wikipedia)

Boeing Acquired Aircraft Programs

Boeing Vertol – In the early 1960s, Boeing bought the Vertol company (formerly Piasecki Helicopter) that became Boeing Vertol. In 1962, Boeing began production of the CH-47 Chinook, a tandem-rotor heavy-lift. It could carry vehicles and artillery slung beneath the aircraft. It is one of the few 1960s era aircraft that is still in production. More than 1200 have been produced.

2000 F/A-18 Super Hornet – The Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet is a larger version of the aircraft developed from the McDonnell Douglas Hornet acquired when Boeing purchase MD in 1997. More than 1480 have been built and the aircraft is still in production.

050817-N-3488C-028 Pacific Ocean (Aug. 17, 2005) - An F/A-18C Hornet, assigned to the "Golden Dragons" of Strike Fighter Squadron One Nine Two (VFA-192), launches from the flight deck of the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). Kitty Hawk and embarked Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW-5) are currently returning to their homeport after a scheduled deployment in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Jonathan Chandler (RELEASED)
Pacific Ocean (Aug. 17, 2005) – An F/A-18C Hornet, assigned to the “Golden Dragons” of Strike Fighter Squadron One Nine Two (VFA-192), launches from the flight deck of the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). Kitty Hawk and embarked Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW-5) are currently returning to their homeport after a scheduled deployment in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Jonathan Chandler (RELEASED)

F-15 – McDonnell Douglas had international contracts for the F-15 at the time the company was purchased by Boeing. Boeing continued manufacture of the F-15 to fulfill the outstanding contracts. More than 1600 F-15s, in all variants were produced through 2011.

AV-8 Harrier II – Acquired in the MD merger, the AV-8B Harrier II has been supported jointly by Boeing and BAE Systems. Approximately 340 aircraft were produced in a 22-year production program that ended in 2003.

Space Systems

Boeings Space Systems is the world’s largest satellite manufacturer; also offering launch vehicles, strategic missile and defense systems, and other space and intelligence systems. The business has more than 60 years of space exploration expertise.

Launch Vehicles and Boosters

Boeing Launches Trip to the Moon – The Saturn V – The Saturn V is a multistage liquid-fuel expendable rocket, capable of putting a 120-pound payload in orbit, used by NASA’s Apollo and Skylab programs.

Between 1967 and 1973, the Saturn launched 12 Apollo missions. In 1968 Apollo 8 successfully launched the first lunar orbital mission, and later in 1969 Apollo 11 delivered astronauts to lunar orbit to make the first landing on the moon’s surface. As of 2016, it is still the most powerful launch vehicle ever flown.

1969 The Lunar Roving Vehicle – Atop Boeing’s Saturn V launch vehicle for missions 15 16, and 17 was the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV). The golf-cart sized “moon” buggy was a battery-powered four-wheeled vehicle used on the three lunar missions in 1971 and 1972. LRV technology had earthly applications including motorized wheelchairs that are common today.

Space Exploration

The International Space Station
The International Space Station

International Space Station – The International Space Station (ISS) is the largest, most complex international scientific and engineering space project in history. In 1993, NASA selected Boeing as the Prime Contractor for the ISS. Boeing is responsible for design, development, construction and integration of the ISS and for assisting NASA in operating the orbital outpost. Because this is an international effort, Boeing is also responsible for coordination and oversight of thousands of subcontractors around the world. The ISS is expected remain operational through 2024 and beyond.

Boeing Mariner 10 – The Boeing Mariner 10 probe was launched in 1973 to make the first dual-planet flyby of Mercury and Venus. By March 1974, Mariner 10 had sent hundreds of television images and large quantities of data back to Earth. It revealed cloud circulation patterns and the lack of a magnetic field on Venus and took the first high-resolution photographs of Mercury’s cratered surface.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner – The Crew Space Transportation CST-100 Starliner is a spacecraft design under construction by Boeing. Its primary mission is to transport crew to the International Space Station. Boeing’s CST has been developed through a series of three awards, totaling a $571 million. In 2014, NASA selected the CST-100 along with SpaceX Dragon V2 to fly two astronauts to the ISS in 2018.


Boeing X-37B

X-43 Hyper-X – The X-43 was an unmanned aircraft to test hypersonic flight at speeds in excess of Mach 9. Airborne-launched from a large airplane, a booster rocked accelerated the Hyper-X to its target speed, was discarded, after which two scramjets (supersonic flow ramjet) engines powered the aircraft. Three X-43s were built and tested, achieving a speed of 9.6 Mach (7310 mph).

X-51 – The Boeing X-51 WaveRider is an unmanned research scramjet aircraft for hypersonic speeds of Mach 5 (3,300 mph; 5,300 km/h), an altitude of 70,000 feet (21,000 m). It completed its first powered hypersonic flight in 2010. One test vehicle reached a speed in excess of Mach 5 for 210 seconds. X-51 technology will be used in the High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW), a Mach 5+ missile planned to enter service in the mid-2020s.

The Boeing X-37, also known as the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV), is a reusable unmanned spacecraft that is boosted into orbit by a launch vehicle. It can remain in orbit for long periods—several years. It then re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and lands as a conventional spaceplane. On its third test flight it remained in orbit 675 days. There has been some mystery regarding the nature of its mission while in orbit. Two X-37s were built and both have flown successfully.


Minuteman Missile – Boeing was awarded the contract to assemble and test the LGM-30 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile system in 1960.The LGM-30 Minuteman, a land-based, solid fuel rocket, entered service in 1962 and is still operational. At its peak, more than a 1,000 missiles were “on alert” in underground silos. Some 400+ missiles are still deployed. The number will be reduced to 400 as part of the START treaty.

AGM-86B – The Boeing AGM-86B/C air-launched cruise missile is a long-range subsonic, 3,200-pound self-guided missile carried by a B-52 bomber at high and low altitudes that could be fitted with either a nuclear or conventional warhead. With terrain-following radar, it could navigate at low altitude for more than 1,500 miles to a ground target. One B-52 could carry and launch up to20 missiles. By October 1986, Boeing had built 1,715 AGM-86 missiles. Non-nuclear versions were used in first Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Other Programs

Joint Venture ULA – United Launch Alliance (ULA) is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security formed in December 2006 to provide spacecraft launch services to the US Government. The ULA held a monopoly on military launches for more than a decade, until the US Air Force awarded a GPS satellite contract to SpaceX in 2016.

The Outlook for Boeing

Over the next ten years, trends suggest two parallel paths. First, the commercial airline business will continue to be healthy, if not strong. There are many airliners that will soon begin to be taken out of service either because they have reached then end of their practical service life, or new, more fuel efficient aircraft will make them fiscally impractical. In this arena, Boeing will have to remain competitive against Airbus Industries, and possibly some emerging competition from fledgling production programs in other countries, namely China and possibly Russia.

On the military side of the equation, Boeing can be expected continue to look for opportunities for diversity. Having purchased McDonnell Douglas, Vertol, and Hughes Aircraft, Boeing may be in a position to bid on new military aircraft opportunities, but these will be infrequent.

Boeing will have to remain sharp in the space exploration sector, too. Its alliance with Lockheed Martin is likely to see strong competition from launch vehicles like SpaceX. Boeing is in a position to leverage its development experience in high-performance unmanned aircraft, especially for an unmanned combat aircraft or the X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle.

Culturally, Boeing has been able to adjust to markets and find a way to remain profitable. Of course, the character of any company can change rapidly due to unforeseen vagaries of markets and/or a shift in the attitudes of management, board of directors, or stockholders.

My pick for Boeing’s future come from their most forward looking programs, the 787 in the commercial aircraft arena, and the CST-100 Starliner for next-decade near-space access, X-51 Wave-Rider technology for hyper speed travel, and the X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle for routine movement trips into space beyond the 2020s.

From my armchair perspective, therefore, I anticipate that Boeing will remain strong for the next decade, and if they can remain alert for future opportunities, the company could be around for another 50 to 100 years. Exactly what their product line will look like is difficult to predict, but as we move deeper into space, my guess is that Boeing will be there.

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