Providing waypoints to ensure successful first flight

An aerospace and defense giant needed to improve visibility to a challenging airplane systems development and integration essential for first flight

Customer Challenge
A global aerospace and defense company was approaching the first flight of a military derivative airplane that included 21 new or modified airplane systems. These systems comprised wide variety of both commercial and DOD specific types, including electronics, electro-mechanical, mechanical-hydraulic. With only 18 months before the first flight date, suppliers responsible for design, development, manufacturing and assembly, software, functional test and environmental qualification were at various stages of readiness.   Senior Management felt that traditional status reporting procedures were providing inadequate visibility into the true maturity of the development and integration efforts for the new and modified systems. Senior Management asked SeaTec to organize and conduct deep dive systems maturity assessments of the new and modified airplane systems as a risk reduction measure.

The SeaTec Solution
The SeaTec assessment included both internal and supplier technical efforts. It covered requirements, inter-systems interfaces (electrical power, control signals, flight deck/operational effects), functional testing, environmental qualification, and stress testing. SeaTec planned and facilitated rigorous self-assessments by each team, with emphasis on readiness of new and modified systems for first flight, and ultimately airworthiness certification to military and civil regulators.

Overall, the initial assessment was completed within 90 days. This was accomplished using standard benchmarking checklists that covered all the relevant development life cycle elements. SeaTec provided the planning and structure for the assessment activity, prepared standard checklists, distributed them to each team and then conducted 3-6 meetings with each team, with “homework” assigned between each meeting.

Impact on the Customer’s Business
During the assessment, numerous development, integration and compliance issues were identified and resolved. To improve management visibility, SeaTec prepared rollups to single one-chart report for all 21 systems. Most issues were addressed and resolved within 4-6 weeks after completing the initial assessment. However, nine issues were deemed significant threats to first-flight. For these, the customer provided proactive management, increased visibility, or intervention. SeaTec played a key role in these corrective actions.

Through proactive visibility and management, the maturity status of all 21 systems evolved to being deemed acceptable by six months before first fight, which was accomplished on schedule with no significant issues. SeaTec’s deep expertise in airworthiness certification, rigorous systems engineering approach, and quiet “coaching” style leadership all made an impact. The project was successfully transitioned to the customer’s staff, which implemented the SeaTec techniques for subsequent builds of other flight test airplanes as well as for future military derivative airplanes.