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A Unique Look at the Skies: The Boeing X-32’s Distinctive Stealth Design

The F-35 Lightning II is gradually becoming a crucial part of the U.S. Armed Forces and its allies. However, before entering production, it had to compete against another fighter concept, the Boeing X-32, in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) competition. The JSF was a significant contract competition in the 1990s that marked a shift in the structuring of U.S. air power, aiming to find a jet that could do everything adequately and simplify procurement, training, and maintenance.

Airframes designed to perform a single purpose were expensive, complicated, and had logistics issues, leading U.S. forces to desire a more streamlined and efficient force structure. The JSF competition aimed to find one jet that could be a jack of all trades and serve as the culmination of that desire. Moreover, the JSF’s end product would also serve in the UK, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Japan, and Singapore, improving network connectivity among allies.

Four proposals were submitted to the JSF, with only the Lockheed X-35 and Boeing X-32 chosen for prototype testing. Boeing’s approach for the X-32 was to emphasize its low manufacturing and lifecycle costs by building it around a large, one-piece carbon-fiber delta wing, which would serve as the foundation of multiple X-32 variants. The X-32 also featured a simple direct-lift thrust vectoring system that could be easily swapped out for Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing-enabling thrust vectoring nozzles.

However, the X-32’s flight tests were not streamlined as the aircraft needed reconfiguring between STOVL and supersonic modes, in between tests, on the ground. Lockheed’s entry, on the other hand, could reconfigure mid-flight, giving it an advantage that led to the JSF evaluators favoring the X-35.

Consequently, the X-32 was passed over, and only two were ever built, with one displayed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, and the other at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum.

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