The world’s largest aerospace company has been accused of “brazenly stealing and misusing” intellectual property, causing leaks on the International Space Station and putting the lives of astronauts at risk.
According to a US Federal lawsuit filed by Wilson Aerospace, and seen by Sky News, Boeing engaged in fraud and subsequent cover-up over many years to generate company profits.
In response, Boeing told Sky News the lawsuit was “rife with inaccuracies and omissions”.
Wilson Aerospace says it was contracted by Boeing between 2014 and 2016 to provide a solution for safely attaching engines to the Space Launch System (SLS), the rocket that will be used by NASA to return humans to the moon.
But, according to the Colorado-based company, after providing designs for a unique torque wrench, Boeing terminated the contract and produced versions that were “critically deficient in quality and performance.”
It added that use of the “mismatched” tools was believed to have caused or contributed to dangerous leaks that delayed the launch of the SLS rocket.
Alleged ‘theft’ of tool designs
Wilson and Boeing had collaborated over many years on several big space projects, including the International Space Station (ISS).
Wilson invented a series of tools designed to tighten fittings to precise specifications that were approved by NASA to avoid unnecessary damage to spacecraft and the potential for dangerous leaks of toxic or explosive fluids.
The lawsuit alleges Boeing’s “theft” of designs for tools used by astronauts to install equipment on the ISS, including part of the life support system and an airlock.
It says frequent use of the ‘FFTD-1’ tool “in a manor non-conforming with its original design” led to trapped fittings, with a nut becoming distorted and fixed in place.
It claims Boeing had changed the design of the tool to increase the torque, resulting in over-tightening of fittings.
The lawsuit claims Boeing subsequently blamed leaks on Wilson’s tool design.
David Wilson, president and founder of Wilson Aerospace, said: “Boeing has not only stolen our intellectual property and damaged our company’s reputation but has used the technology incorrectly and at the expense of astronauts’ safety, which is beyond despicable.
“I hope that this lawsuit will put a stop to Boeing’s repeated practice of prioritising its own profits over safety.”
Wilson Aerospace claims Boeing orchestrated a cover-up, expunging all records showing any relationship between the companies.
Peter Flowers, partner at the law firm Meyers & Flowers, which is representing Wilson Aerospace, said: “Boeing’s brazen theft is illustrative of a large corporation leveraging its unchecked power to squash out a small family-owned and operated business.
“The Wilsons have a storied history in aviation and Boeing once again has shown that they will act deceptively to take advantage of smaller suppliers, like Wilson, by stealing and infringing on sensitive intellectual property.
“Boeing’s choices have endangered astronauts, all in the name of a larger bottom line.”
Wilson is seeking damages from Boeing for use of its “trade secrets”.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Boeing said: “This lawsuit is rife with inaccuracies and omissions.
“We will vigorously defend against this in court.”