Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Boeing Unveils Strike Fighter Prototypes

PALMDALE, California -- Boeing Co. has unveiled two Joint Strike Fighter prototypes at Air Force Plant 42, meeting an early f and largely symbolic f objective in the race to beat out Lockheed Martin for the richest defense contract in U.S. history.

The Defense Department will select the winner in early 2001 for what is expected to be a $750 billion program over the next 30 years.

Five hundred Boeing employees stood and clapped Tuesday, some shedding tears, as the pair of ghost-grey, delta-winged aircraft debuted in the morning chill at Boeing's Phantom Works assembly hanger 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of Los Angeles.

Boeing chairman and chief executive officer Philip Condit praised company engineers and design teams for progress on two slightly different concept planes.

"What this ceremony was really all about was the people who designed it," Condit said. "I like where we are. But the competition won't be won here. It will be won with the proposal we put in."

Company officials said after initial systems testing, the planes will be ready for flight tests sometime next spring.

The government is counting on Boeing and Lockheed to develop the new fighter with flexible features such as the ability to switch from conventional to vertical flight, make a low-speed approach for carrier landings and use common avionics systems to contain costs.

Its name, Joint Strike Fighter, derives from the fact that it would be used by different branches of the service. It is slated as a replacement for military workhorses such as the Air Force F-16 and A-10; the Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier and the Navy A-6. Delivery is expected by 2007

Depending on the military's needs, the planes will be able to carry a full complement of weapons including air-to-ground and air-to-air systems, as well as 27 mm howitzer guns.

Boeing and Lockheed are each receiving $700 million under a contract to develop the prototypes in Palmdale f where both companies operate their advanced research and development programs. Test flights are expected to take place at nearby Edwards Air Force Base.

If the planes go into production, however, Boeing would build the fighters in St. Louis and Lockheed Martin would assemble the jets in Seattle, according to company officials.

Whatever the outcome, about 3,000 planes will be produced for the U.S. military and another 2,000 for overseas customers including the British Royal Navy and Air Force. The estimated cost for each plane will range from $28 million to $38 million, depending in part on how many are produced and how they are equipped.

The contract is valued at $750 billion over a projected 30-year period, said Boeing spokesman Michael Tull. That cost includes the jets, parts and subcontracted work, and is adjusted for inflation.

While the final contract decision is more than a year off, one aerospace analyst cautioned it's too early to tell which company will prevail.

"When you find both sides fighting the [publicity] battle there's a lot to lose," said Jon Kutler, president of Quarterdeck Investment Partners Inc., a Los Angeles company that analyzes aerospace business. "You will see both sides take advantage to announce any milestone. You won't hear about the setbacks."

While the Boeing demonstrator is taking shape at its Phantom Works hanger, Lockheed Martin is putting together its demonstrator just across the way at its Skunk Works facility.

The Skunk Works turned out such legendary aircraft as the U-2 and SR-71 spy planes as well as the F-117 stealth fighter.

Spokesman Gary Grigg said the Skunk Works is proceeding on schedule with the development of its prototype aircraft. The company does not plan to roll out the prototype aircraft until it's ready to fly.