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New Service Aircraft (Development Time)

Volume 524: debated on Monday 1 March 1954

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asked the Minister of Supply what action he is taking to shorten the time required for the development of new types of Service aircraft.

As the answer is a long one, I will, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, give it at the end of Questions.

At the end of Questions:

With the co-operation of the Secretary of State for Air and the First Lord of the Admiralty, I have in the last few months been actively examining various possible ways of cutting down the time it takes to develop new types of aircraft. It would obviously be unwise to try and hurry the creative design work. On the other hand, I have come to the conclusion that there are a number of directions in which the administrative procedure could be further streamlined. For example, I believe we could make a quicker start on a new project, if the aircraft firms were brought more fully into the picture in the early formative stage. Then again, time could undoubtedly be saved, if, in appropriate cases, we were to take the risk of authorising expenditure on production drawings and tooling somewhat earlier than hitherto. I am in process of consulting the aircraft industry on these and other related proposals.

We have also been considering whether anything can be done to reduce the extensive period of flying trials. In view of the major technical advances usually embodied in new aircraft, the trials programme is necessarily long and exacting. Not only have the flying qualities of the plane to be tested, but also its complex electronic equipment. In addition, firing or bomb-dropping trials have to be carried out. These numerous tests invariably reveal weaknesses and defects, some of which may necessitate redesigning major components. Altogether these trials, including the introduction of modifications, are at present taking up to three years.

For the reasons I have explained, the flight testing stage is bound to be lengthy. On the other hand, it is clear that some of the time is taken up by delays which could be avoided. In particular, it has not been uncommon for progress to be held up for considerable periods by reason of the fact that a prototype aircraft, of which there are usually only one or two in existence, has been grounded for modifications or has crashed. In order to reduce delays of this kind we intend in future, in appropriate cases, to order sufficient development aircraft to allow more trials and modifications to be carried out concurrently, and to enable aircraft involved in accidents to be rapidly replaced.

Accordingly, in the case of the first supersonic fighter, now being developed for the Royal Air Force, we have, apart from the usual prototypes, ordered 20 additional aircraft for development trials. The speeding up of the flying trials will have the further advantage of bringing to light much sooner any defects and weaknesses there may be in the design or materials. This should result in reducing the amount of work required on retrospective modifications, which not only disorganise the production line, but add greatly to the cost.

I am confident that, taken together, the various changes I have outlined will appreciably shorten the time required to develop new aircraft and that the increased expenditure in the development stage which they involve will largely be offset by later savings in production costs.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for the very sensible steps that he is taking, may I ask him whether he can give the House any indication of the amount of time which will be saved by these measures?

It is difficult to be precise, but I do not mind saying that I shall be disappointed if these Measures do not result in getting new aircraft into service at least one year earlier than would otherwise be the case.

Will the steps which my right hon. Friend proposes also apply to civil aircraft?

I am talking about Service aircraft developed by the Ministry of Supply.

One part of the right hon. Gentleman's statement was not clear. He said that he thought that the aircraft firms should be brought more quickly into consultation about design. As I understood it, up till now a Government committee has conceived the types of aircraft, and design has always been done by the aircraft firms. I am not clear how firms can be brought quicker into the design, since they do the designing with their own design staffs.

A lot happens before the Government place a design contract with a firm. I am talking about the stage where operational requirements are being formulated, before the formal contract is placed for a design study by an aircraft firm.

As the Ministry is interested in the production of helicopters, will this speeding up process apply to helicopters both for military and civil purposes?