Born: United Kingdom
Primarily active in: United States of America

From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite Fall 2008

Philip J. Dunford, Vice President, Division Operations, Boeing Rotorcraft Systems

Responsible for coordinating all the functional activities of the Boeing Rotorcraft Division in support of rotorcraft programs, Philip J. Dunford is intimately involved with the development and production of the Chinook, Osprey, and Apache in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Mesa, Arizona. He says, “I believe that the only way we can be successful is to produce high-quality products at low cost for our customers, products that provide them the capability and safety levels they need to be operationally successful.” Mr. Dunford is a fellow and a former president and chairman of the American Helicopter Society International and a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Phil Dunford grew up in Amesbury in the United Kingdom, about two miles from the historic Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down, then testing the TSR-2 and other advanced aircraft. “I lived so close to Boscombe Down, I was always around airplanes,” he recalls. A four-year apprenticeship rotated through Boscombe Down and the Royal Aircraft Establishment facilities at Bedford and Farnborough. The experience also led to mechanical engineering studies at Brunel University. “I actually obtained four years at university as a government employee. . . I was very practical when I went to university.”

Good grades earned Phil Dunford an assignment on graduation to Boscombe Down Performance Division as a flight test trials officer for helicopters, including the then-new Westland Lynx. “I went straight from college into testing airplanes at a reasonably senior level,” he explains. “It also allowed me the opportunity to get my hands on the controls every now and again.”

A year of flight test work subsequently brought an offer to attend the Empire Test Pilots School also at Boscombe Down. “As an apprentice, I used to service the Test Pilots’ School airplanes. I used to hop on the airplanes every now and again, so I knew what the Test Pilots’ School was like. I jumped at the chance.”

The year-long course also gave the young rotary-wing engineer fixed-wing time in the Lightning, Jaguar, Hunter, and Canberra jets, plus a variable-stability Basset trainer. Mr. Dunford observes, “I got a lot of flying on that course in the co-pilot’s seat, which I felt held me in good stead when it came to working with all the pilots on the Chinook program and the V-22 program ‘cause I had a feel for what they were talking about.”

The graduate flight test engineer also embarked on the HMS Coventry and HMS Avenger for Lynx sea trials. Mr. Dunford joined a French team for Puma icing trials in Denmark. “I did a lot on the Puma working with the French. I have a great respect for Eurocopter,” he acknowledges. However, a job advertisement in Aviation Week called for an experienced wind tunnel and flight test engineer at Boeing in America. Mr. Dunford recalls, “I sent a hand-written application that was given back to me not long ago by the guy who hired me into Boeing, Ken Lunn.”

A Philadelphia interview came right after Easter 1979. “When I came over, to be honest, I thought this was a good way to get a trip to the United States. When I got here, I was so enamored with what Boeing did and the way they treated me, I was pretty sure I was going to come work here.” A job offer materialized that fall, and in November 1979, Mr. Dunford joined Boeing as test director on icing trials for the UK Royal Air Force Chinook HC Mk. 1.

In his first assignment, the new Boeing engineer worked again with Boscombe Down engineers on the icing tests in Nova Scotia. Mr. Dunford recalls, “The program was a huge success, even though they didn’t put the system in the airplane . . . . In fact, today on the CSAR [HH-47 Chinook], we’re looking back at a lot of the data I gathered in that HC Mk. 1 icing trial.”

A catastrophic CH-47C mishap at a German air show in 1982 drove design of a de-phase device to keep fore and aft blades from striking one another. The safety device is in all Chinooks today.   “I was the one who had to go down to Fort Rucker and test it to make sure it worked,” says Mr. Dunford. “I spent about two months at Fort Rucker doing all sorts of silly things with the airplane like single-engine work just trying to exercise this new configuration . . . . That was a good experience, because I had seen the way the design had evolved as well.”

Chinook test work slowed as the CH-47D entered production for the US Army, and Phil Dunford joined the Boeing technology organization. In 1984, he worked on the JVX proposal that became the Bell Boeing V-22 and helped design the early Grumman tail of the tilt rotor. Mr. Dunford recalls, “In the early days, I actually did a lot of the load distributions for the aero guys by hand for the tail of the V-22, which is probably why it ended up being so heavy. I think the tools today have significantly improved, just because of the power of computation. And as computers have improved over the years, so has our capability to do design digitally.”

As assistant technology manager on the V-22, Phil Dunford shared in the engineering and programmatic struggles of the revolutionary tilt rotor. “I really believe the V-22 was funded in the wrong way,” he says. “If you look at the way the most successful programs are funded, like the C-17 and F-18, there’s a big surge of budget at the front end of the program allowing a thorough understanding of requirements and ensuring they are properly incorporated and optimized in the designs . . . . I think that a program funding profile is really, really important, because what it allows you to do is put the right concentrated engineering effort at the front of the program where it belongs.

“Both the Comanche and the V-22 received gradual funding. The V-22 was even cancelled at one time. If it were not for the Marines’ unending support, it probably would have remained so.” In 1995, Mr. Dunford was named Special Operations CV-22 program manager and also took the V-22 to the Paris Air Show. He became director of V-22 Engineering and Manufacturing Development and Flight Test at Patuxent River in 1996 where he led a combined Bell Boeing / Government team. Mr. Dunford acknowledges, “That was at the time we were having significant technical issues on the V-22 – all the teething problems with the airplane as it continued through flight test – so it was a really interesting time to be there.”

Tortured tilt rotor development also held lessons for future programs. “We had a lot of development and production concurrency, probably more than we should have.” V-22 developers also had a dynamic Ground Test Article and a separate flight test systems integration rig. Mr. Dunford explains, “Instead of having the first airplane be the full-up systems integration test rig, I believe we would have been better served if we’d built a standalone test bed that did everything.”

Leading one of the first Integrated Test Teams marked a professional milestone for Phil Dunford. “When I went to Test Pilots School, I always wanted to run a big test program. The V-22 flight test program kind of closed a big loop for me. That was a goal I set for myself when I went through that course because I felt that was what I had been trained to do.”

Mr. Dunford returned to Boeing Philadelphia in 1999 to fill successive posts including director of shared Integrated Product Teams, V-22 chief engineer, director of Rotorcraft Engineering, and V-22 program manager. His current assignment as vice president of operations unifies engineering, manufacturing, product support, and other disciplines in Philadelphia and Mesa. Mr. Dunford says, “When I first led the engineering department, we probably didn’t focus very much on a joint rotorcraft engineering organization. But we spent three years really pulling the Rotorcraft Engineering organizations together, figuring out how we could work together and learn from each other.”

Mr. Dunford acknowledges, “There are two different cultures between Mesa and Philly, but I think we’ve made great strides to bring them together. Are we totally there? No. We still have work to do, but over the past five or six years, we’ve become tremendously closer, and we’re learning from each other as we go forward.”

The way Boeing designs, builds, and supports rotorcraft has meanwhile changed. “The way we’ve worked our systems engineering approach to CSAR-X is to learn from all the engineering we’ve done in our past,” says Mr. Dunford. “We’ve done an excellent job of understanding the requirements for this program and flowing them all the way through the organization so everybody knows what they’re going to do and how they’re going to qualify what they design and build.”

Engineering is now closely integrated with manufacturing. “Pretty much everything we do now is based on digital design . . . . The whole value stream between design and support is done with the same digital database which has really improved our efficiency, cut out cost and hopefully improved the operational and maintenance capability of our customers.”

The first successful V-22 combat deployment in Iraq opened new opportunities for the tilt rotor. However, Mr. Dunford acknowledges, “If we’re going to sell it to other customers, we’ll have to get the cost down from where it is today. We’ve done a tremendous job at both Bell and Boeing of getting the cost down to where it is today, but I think we’re going to need to drive it lower.” Mr. Dunford adds, “I think there is certainly new opportunity for the V-22 itself or for a derivative of the V-22 that doesn’t necessarily have to operate off a ship.”

Marine feedback from Iraq stressed the value of speed in vertical lift operations. “What’s going to happen now is we’re going to see customers ask if we can increase the speed of our products,” says Mr. Dunford. “Sikorsky has probably already got that message – they’re looking at the X2 and what it takes to make their products go faster. The V-22 has that advantage already.”

Electrical rotor actuators, active vibration suppressors, and other advanced technologies can expand the appeal of the Boeing product line. “We’re always looking for new opportunities,” says Mr. Dunford. “The A160 has significant potential for the future. Obviously, we believe improving the capability of our current Chinook would have tremendous benefit for our customer.” Mr. Dunford adds, “The Apache, we believe, has a lot of opportunity, and maybe we can develop a version of our current products that are not as sophisticated and may be of interest to a lot of people around the world.”

Boeing decided to focus on military rotorcraft a decade ago and not compete in the commercial market. Mr. Dunford says, “I think at that time, it was the right thing to do. A lot of Boeing people who were involved in the ‘609 [tilt rotor] were kind of upset by it, but if you look at it from a business perspective and the current status of the ‘609, right now you could argue it was the right decision. If you look at it from an engineering perspective . . . it was a disappointment. However, commercial business is always under consideration as part of our long term strategy.”

To meet growing program demands, Boeing seeks to add 500 new employees by next year. “It is very hard right now to get the skilled engineers we need,” acknowledges Mr. Dunford. “And the types of engineers that are hard to find are those who are really good at systems engineering and integration, for example.”

Boeing remains in very public competitions with European aerospace manufacturers, which it accuses of having unfair government subsidies. Phil Dunford observes, “I don’t believe we’re ever going to be in the situation that some of the European companies are. It’s going to be a fact of life we have to deal with, and it ought to make us work harder and be better at the things we already do very well.”