The Weekly Debrief: How A Phantom Works Project Fits The Secretive NGAD Profile
What is the “Voodoo II”? And why does the Voodoo II project’s special patch say “Two-0-Thunder”?
The answers to those questions may reveal something about Boeing Phantom Works’ approach to the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.
Alternatively, the patch could simply be the artifact of a one-off project, one of presumably dozens undertaken each year by the rapid prototyping and advanced concepts arm of Boeing’s defense and space business.
Aerospace DAILY can reveal three facts: the Voodoo II patch shown here is legitimate; the patch represents a real Phantom Works project; and the project took place within the past four years.
The nature of the project can also be described: the Voodoo II represented a configuration of a next-generation fighter concept that Phantom Works tested in a wind tunnel.
One of the project’s known purposes was to show how a new set of digital design tools could reduce the number of “occupancy hours” needed for wind tunnel testing. Lockheed Martin needed more than 40,000 occupancy hours in a wind tunnel to refine the design of the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II and the F-22 Raptor.
By contrast, McDonnell—the antecedent of McDonnell Douglas, which merged with Boeing in 1997—needed only about 4,000 hr. for the third-generation F-4 Phantom II.
For a sixth-generation fighter, Boeing’s Phantom Works’s goal for the Voodoo II design was to use fewer wind tunnel occupancy hours than the F-4—and the goal was achieved.
But why call the project “Voodoo II?”
The name appears to be a historical reference to the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, the second of the six so-called “Century Series” jet fighters developed by the U.S. Air Force in the early 1950s with varying levels of success.
It’s worth noting that the Voodoo II project took place within the last four years. In 2019, Will Roper, who was then assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, launched the so-called Digital Century Series initiative, aiming to leverage digital design tools to dramatically reduce the cost and development schedule of a sixth-generation fighter. A Voodoo II project seems like an appropriate response by the Phantom Works.
But why does the patch say “Two-0-Thunder?”
Again, Phantom Works appears to be referencing the historical F-101 program. In fact, the Voodoo II artifact is clearly patterned after a similar patch celebrating the F-101 from the 1960s. The original Voodoo patch included the motto, “One-O-Wonder,” which was both a play on words of the “F-101” designation and a reference to its then-impressive Mach 1.0 speed.
Following the same logic, the Voodoo II project tested a concept for a Mach 2.0 fighter, which might be an appropriate top speed for an aircraft model designed to replace the twice-supersonic F-22.
So what is Phantom Works up to?
The secretive engineering unit has been busy lately. Phantom Works broke ground last year on a 200,000 ft.2 composites manufacturing facility in Mesa, Arizona, but declined to name the aircraft programs that would benefit. Boeing adorns the Phantom Works website with a rendering of a highly automated assembly line for a next-generation fighter concept. For more than a year, Boeing executives say they have a major classified program in the works.
The Air Force also seems ready to move forward with development and production of the crewed fighter at the heart of the NGAD program. Last summer, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the NGAD program had “effectively” achieved Milestone B, the start of the engineering and manufacturing development phase. The U.S. Navy also plans to acquire an NGAD aircraft that may be physically different than the Air Force fighter, although they may share common avionics or hardware and software interfaces.
The identity of the Air Force’s NGAD program winner remains a mystery. In the meantime, remember the Voodoo II.
Alan Shaffer mentioned in 2014 that there would be two X Planes focused on developing technologies for a future fighter platform - one for the Navy and one for the AF. I assume that's what Roper was referring to as an NGAD demonstrator. Where is the Navy's version? They are still supposedly in concept development for F/A-XX. But you would think that they would be flying a demonstrator now to risk reduction on new technologies/features. I just hope industrial base concerns gives Boeing a win that it otherwise doesn't deserve.
Are you hinting that there is a winner? Kendall walked backed the Milestone B implication for NGAD. He did use weasel words by saying there was still competition. But I thought an LM executive said that he expected an award in the 2024 time frame?