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Committee on Science, Democratic Caucus

Hearing :: 6/12/2007 :: The duPont Aerospace DP-2 Aircraft

Opening Statement By Rep. Brad Miller

Our hearing today is about the amazing staying power of the duPont Aerospace DP-2, or rather the remarkable staying power of the project’s taxpayer funding. The DP-2’s concept is a vertical take-off aircraft, but flight remains an aspiration for the DP-2, not an achievement. The DP-2 is still not operational, and has never received a positive technical review in more than 20 years. To put that in perspective, the Wright Brothers first achieved powered flight in North Carolina in December, 1903. (The State of Ohio also had some loose association with that project.) A little more than a decade later, the airplane was an effective weapon in World War I. Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic in May, 1927, less than 24 years later.

The government agencies through which Congress has provided the funding have never requested the experimental aircraft. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) refused to spend funds that Congress appropriated for the project for seven years based upon the agency’s technical judgment that the concept was fundamentally impractical. Just three years ago, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which was funding the program at the time, also concluded that the DP-2 was “not worthy of continued funding.”

The concept for the DP-2 Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing (V/STOL) aircraft was first proposed by Tony duPont, President of the duPont Aerospace Company, thirty-five years ago. He envisioned using vectored thrust in a business-class jet. Vectored thrust permits an aircraft to direct the thrust from its engines both downward -- projecting the plane upward and allowing it to hover, as well as backward which would propel the aircraft forward while in flight. He was unable to attract private sector funding for the idea, so he turned to the military.

In 1986, responding to an unsolicited proposal from Mr. duPont, the Navy concluded that the “DuPont DP-2 concept [should] be dropped.” In 1988, the DP-2 received its first $3 million earmark, which was inserted into DARPA’s budget. In 1990, DARPA questioned the “practicality of the basic DP-2 aircraft.” In the succeeding years, every single review has found overwhelming technical problems with the DP-2, and some have questioned whether the aircraft would ever fly. These reviews and others have found the DP-2 aircraft unsafe, technically unsound and unwanted by the U.S. government, Defense Department or commercial airline industry.

In addition, government officials have repeatedly questioned the ability of the contractor – the duPont Aerospace Company – to manage the program effectively and safely. Government officials have temporarily shut the DP-2 program down twice in the past five years because of safety concerns, and the program has suffered from four mishaps in the past four years. In one of those mishaps the pilot was lucky to have escaped without serious injury.

It is hard not to admire Tony duPont’s persistence and unshakeable faith in the promise of the DP-2 project. But after two decades of research, development and testing on the DP-2, the U.S. government has very little to show for its investment. Congress appears to have permitted the DP-2 program to become a hobby, not a serious research project, and squandered more than $63 million of taxpayers’ money. As one of our witnesses will testify today, the DP-2 is not suitable for either military or commercial applications. The plane needs a complete redesign and substantial improvements in the engineering expertise provided by duPont Aerospace to even have a chance of getting to a full test. But the DP-2 is only one of several competing concepts for vertical take-off aircraft. If we need to start all over, why not spend our money on the concepts that the experts on whose judgment we should rely believe are far more likely to succeed?

 


 

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