The Air Current

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The third in a series focusing on Boeing’s road to developing its next all-new commercial airplane.

At a 2012 meeting at Boeing’s Defense and Space headquarters in St. Louis, the company’s engineering leadership launched a top secret codeword program intended to radically shrink the Pentagon’s cost to develop, acquire and maintain the U.S. Air Force’s long range strike bomber, according to those present. Dubbed Black Diamond, the project has become the platform on which Boeing’s future business model is being built.

Among those present at the 2012 meeting were Mike Delaney, then chief engineer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Mike Sinnett, then chief engineer of the 787 program, John Tracy, the company’s now-retired Chief Technology Officer, Larry Schneider, then vice president of product development, Charles Toups, then vice president of Development Program Excellence, described as a company-wide initiative “to transform new product development for commercial and defense aerospace.”

Black Diamond to this day is shrouded in intense secrecy, but Boeing would use this secret sauce – a combination of advanced technologies and processes developed and evolved over years – as the foundation for its bid. Northrop Grumman would go on to win the B-21 program three years later. Boeing protested in vain, claiming that the Department of Defense didn’t give it enough credit for its Black Diamond toolkit to bring an all-new aircraft to life and support it in operation at a significantly lower cost.

Related: Boeing’s quest for NMA steers it away from its history

But what was assembled as Black Diamond for the lost bomber campaign has become the central technological backbone for the company’s Digital Transformation. Led by Delaney, the enterprise-wide effort has broad strategic implications for Boeing’s customers, its workforce, its suppliers and its shareholders as it nears the launch of the New Middle Market Airplane (NMA) in 2019.

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Jon Ostrower is Editor-in-chief of The Air Current. Prior to launching TAC in June 2018, Ostrower served as Aviation Editor for CNN Worldwide, guiding the network's global coverage of the business and operations of flying. Ostrower joined CNN in 2016 following four and half years at the Wall Street Journal. Based first in Chicago and then in Washington, D.C. he covered Boeing, aviation safety and the business of global aerospace. Before that, Ostrower was editor of the award-winning FlightBlogger for Flightglobal and Flight International Magazine covering the development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and other new aircraft programs from 2007 to 2012. Ostrower, a Boston native, graduated from The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs with a bachelor's degree in Political Communication. He is based in Seattle.

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