With the examples of the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning fighter and the Boeing 787 so prominent right now, it's clear that it's probably not a good idea to start regular production of a major aircraft before you even fly a prototype for the first time.
Both programs, one military and one civilian encountered multi-year delays and billions of dollars in cost overruns because of the decision to proceed with production before a maiden flight. Aircraft like these are far too complex to assume that they you can accurate simulate everything before building even one example. This is especially true for programs like this depend on huge networks of suppliers.
The problem now is that there are dozens of aircraft that have been built while testing is still ongoing and problems are being found and resolved. All of those changes now have to be retrofitted back to those planes that have already rolled off the line. Boeing built 40-some 787s before the flight test program was completed last September. Since that time, Boeing has only managed to deliver 5 planes to customers while others are being reworked, a process that takes several months per plane (longer than the time to build it in the first place).
It will be interesting to see if the lessons of these failures are incorporated into future programs. I think Boeing certainly is, now that it has opted to build a re-engined version of its high-volume 737 rather than an all-new plane. Similarly, acting Pentagon procurement boss Frank Kendall is acknowledging that this process should not be repeated. Let's hope their memories aren't too short.
Kendall: Early F-35 Production a Mistake | AVIATION WEEK
The next Pentagon acquisition czar says early production approval of the F-35 was
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