LONDON - Boeing’s mysterious T-X proposal may not be a paper airplane after all.

The company is “building parts” to demonstrate at least some technology – or possibly a full demonstrator aircraft - says one senior company official, indicating there is a first flight already scheduled.

The official did not say when that flight will take place, however, adding that data would be too sensitive to share. A competition is expected next year for at least 350 T-38C trainer replacements.

“Our design process is moving a long very smartly and we will be able to fly in a timely fashion to show the customer we have a viable option,” Boeing Defense, Space and Security President Chris Chadwick said.

Boeing has not publicly said it is crafting a full-up demonstrator , though officials have been sharing carefully crafted message points for more than a year about building a “clean sheet,” design-to-spec aircraft for the Air Force’s requirements. It is widely thought the company has a full demonstrator in progress as a risk-reduction program. Chadwick says this is Boeing’s strength; competitors would have to modify existing designs built for other Air Forces.

Boeing is likely to face a Northrop Grumman/BAE Systems team offering a version of the Hawk, a Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries T-50 and the General Dynamics/Alenia Aermacchi M346; versions of all of these are flying.

Details of the design of Boeing’s demonstration project, however, remain elusive. “I can unequivocally tell you it is not Gripen or son of Gripen,” Chadwick said during a July 13 roundtable here in advance of the Farnborough air show outside London. He was referring to the company’s recently acknowledged partnership with Gripen manufacturer Saab. He said the pair are sharing practices from different design philosophies.

“It is [about] what you choose to mature” at this stage of the program when the government hasn’t issued development contracts, says Chris Raymond, vice president of business development for Boeing’s defense unit. “You want to be the one who is invested right [and the smart investment is about] what you choose to take to the prototype phase.” This could indicate some technologies could be tested on a surrogate aircraft.

Raymond says the company has spent significantly more time studying the sweet spot on price for T-X than previous programs. This suggests that, once again, the company – backed with a strong commercial aviation business - will cunningly underbid its competition to “buy in” to the program as it did the with U.S. Air Force’s KC-46 refueling tanker.

In addition to the aircraft, the service also is looking for a full, ground-based training system that could network to simulated or live jets to enhance the training environment for the student.

A request for proposals is expected late next year.