787 process

I attended the JPMorgan Aviation and Transportation Conference in New York over the past couple of days. You can watch the Webcasts of some of the presentations, including mine, at the J.P. Morgan conference site.

And as many of you have read or seen, coming out of that event there’s been some speculation about design issues for the 787 Dreamliner.

We’ve addressed that topic in a statement from the 787 program:

It is a normal part of the development of a new airplane to discover need for improvements, and that is what we are experiencing on the 787. The robust test process in place on the 787 program has confirmed the majority of our designs but we have found the need for some improvements.

The center wing box issue has been addressed. The fix is being installed on Airplanes 1-6 in the Everett factory. Installations have begun on the four airplanes currently in Final Assembly. All airplanes after Airplane 7 will have the solution incorporated from the beginning.

The fundamental technologies being used on the 787 are proving to be reliable and effective. The material choices and manufacturing techniques for the airplane are sound.

Boeing is working its normal processes for developing a new airplane. The test process is working when issues are discovered and we are reacting appropriately by implementing normal design validation and fixes when we find issues.

Comments (13)

Chris C (South Africa):

The super-efficient 787 Dreamliner is the most technologically advanced commercial airplane, period. As Boeing rightly has said, design modifications/enhancements to airframes and systems of an all-new airplane is a common practice, and thus it is only normal for design issues with the Dreamliner to surface.

At least the surfacing of these issues prove that Boeing is continually and thoroughly testing every single detail of the airplane and constantly striving to push the design to the limits and optimise it fully. Of course this is a steep learning curve for Boeing as this is a revolutionary airplane design and manufacturing process.

The reports that the wing-box needs stiffening in certain areas are of course disappointing to read, but at least Boeing has resolved the issue with interim fixes for airplanes 1-6 and the customer airplane 7 onwards will have the “beefed-up” wing-box design implementations.

As we are all well aware, building an all-new airplane is an incredibly complex process, and problems will arise. At least lessons learned from the 787 will be implemented across to the 777/747 replacement airplane, and of course the 737 replacement airplane. Further, we will see lessons learnt being implemented sooner on further exciting derivatives of the 787, such as the long awaited -10x and ultra-long range or medium long haul -8LRx’s.

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

Plastic Fantastic having issues - surprised, anyone? Airbus had its share with the WhaleJet. It happens when you're breaking new ground - especially an animal as unprecedented as the 787.

Great that Boeing is keeping the market informed about progress and any trouble that may arise. But also that these issues are being dealt with - now, before flight tests.

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

Working with new materials for the first time can be a challenge, it is best to have the project delayed even significantly rather than discover a wing box problem when it is to late and all the 787's would have to be grounded and airlines think of withdrawing their order.

There is no other plane in the world like the 787,
this plane is so revolutionary that Airbus changed the look and shape for their A350 from a modified A330 to near clone of the 787, but they are not sure about the A350 nose and I'm not sure either if they want the 787 style nose with the four unit glare shield or the A380 style nose with the six unit glare shield with angular windows - a throw back in modern design.

The lessons learned as Chris C. has written in an earlier post is that the knowledge gained from the development of the 787 will be useful in development programs to replace the 737/757 and the 777-300/747 respectively and any future project.

Whatever happens in the development process delay, the 787 is already a winner because it is the first of its kind in airliners and the orders for the 787 is unprecedented as orders near 1,000 all before the first flight.

Ed (Dublin Ireland):

If these things are normal, surely it would be normal practice to factor them into the development schedule?

Chris C (South Africa):

To ED: (Ireland)

Boeing only ‘discovered’ the need for improvements to certain structural areas in the venerable 747-400 once the type had already entered service.

The area of dispute on the -400 was the upper-deck floor, under which ran all the flight deck cables and wiring. Whilst the design was structurally sound, and had no further loads imposed on the floor than the 747-300, the European Joint Airworthiness Requirements (JAR) committee ruled that the -400’s upper-deck floor was not strong enough and needed‘re-design’ work.

JAR argued that in the new rules (as it classed the 747-400 as an all-new aircraft), in an unlikely event of a bomb explosion on-board creating a 20 sqft hole in the side of the airplane, the cabin floor must be able to sustain that load without causing critical damage to flight controls and other systems on the airplane. The main-deck floor on the -400 was strong enough to resist collapse in that area if there was a explosive cabin decompression, but the upper-deck was only capable of sustaining a floor load with a 12,5 square foot hole.

Whilst FAA were happy with the -400’s upper deck floor, JAR was not, and Boeing had to do ‘re-design’ work to the -400s upper-deck floor to satisfy both parties. This ironically also involved the need to ‘beef-up’ the floor beams, supply retrofit kits to the already few -400s in service, and up-date the assembly line in Everett, similar to what Boeing is doing now with the wing-box design on the super-efficient 787 Dreamliner.

I speak under correction, but more than likely, if not certainly, the wing-box ‘beef-up’ for the 787 is because under extremely high loads, 150% load factor or more, there was concern of some damage to sections, and Boeing felt it prudent to ‘beef-up’ and over-design the wing-box. The structural design is sound!

Ed (Dublin, Ireland):

Chris, I was refering to the delays currently affecting the 787, rather than the structural redesign of the wingbox per se. I understand that all new aircraft need some degree of improvement to their design. But in the case of the A380 and the 787, there seem to have been fundamental mistakes made in some areas, principally management in the case of Boeing, and the wiring loom mistakes in the case of Airbus.

I cant summarise all of the 787s problems as we still dont know their full extent, but I feel that in the case of the A380 and the 787, both Airbus and Boeing used/are using overly simplistic excuses to explain delays like 'fastener shortages' and 'individual customer interior requirements' to divert blame on others for which both companies are responsible!

Phil (Wokingham UK):

The composite process Boeing is embarking on in civilian aeronautical terms is ground breaking technology (An industry first) & as such will be fraught with development challenges, but Boeing knew this full well & one would have thought factored it in to the schedule.

Setting aside Boeing's 787 incredible pre-flight orders, if your of a betting persuasion it should be noted that first out of the stalls is more often than not the outright winner.

Ed (Dublin Ireland):

''The composite process Boeing is embarking on in civilian aeronautical terms is ground breaking technology (An industry first) & as such will be fraught with development challenges, but Boeing knew this full well & one would have thought factored it in to the schedule.''

- I dont think any of the 787s innovations has caused any major issues to date. This is not the first airliner to have a composite wingbox, and this particular problem does not appear to be caused by the fact that CFRP is being used.

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

Well now, the impression I'm getting is the 787's current issues have very little - if any - connection to the processes and materials and, more to do with management. This is, in itself, a great success - at least we know that the concept is super sound. But some people may be fired, or moved around, and the share price is going to take another beating.

G (France):

There is no need to speculate. Boeing will give an update on 787 program in several days.

Now, it is more interesting to understand the long term impact of the delay. In term of BCA's wide body strategy, one or two year delay on this program won't affect much BCA's plan. Yes, it will dent BCA's profitability a little bit. The program will be hurt by the delay, that's sure. But, it won't be fatally wounded. Once the scar is gone, BCA will continue the business as if nothing has happened. As somebody in BCA said several years ago, a new airplane program is a "near death experience". The 787 program is no different.

The truth is that 787-8 does not have any direct competitor and that is the reason why it sells so well. Today there are more than 600 units sold. A delay of one or two years won't change much the situation.

One or two year delay on a large airplane program like the 747-8 Intercontinental could be fatal. But, the 747-8i has a freighter brother that will help to keep the 747-8 program profitable.

So, let's wait and see what Boeing's executives will say in the coming days.

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

G is right, to speculate is really out of place on such a complex and long term program.

Chris C is also right about post service entry issues. Despite the fact that Boeing had two decades of experience with the 747, it still had some issues with the 747-400. This demonstrates not only the complexity of derivative projects such as the 747-400, the 737 Next-Generation family, the longer-range 777-200LR, 777-300ER and the 777 Freighter, but also the considerable effort Boeing put into these programs to make them all very successful.

Obviously a part of that effort is the Airplane Health Management (AHM) that Qantas will now use on its 747 fleet - and later on the 787. It reminds me of the Fleet Team Resolution Process® (Oct. 25, 2002), which Boeing co-developed with Lufthansa to tackle 747-400 fleet dispatch reliability.

This is one of the reasons for my optimism on the 747-8 program.

Chris (UK):

In any weight reduction programme - never touch the wing primary structure - ask Lockheed.

Ed (Ireland):

Chris (uk):

A little birdie told me that the wing box is being strengthened. That's what happened on the A380 after its wing snapped at 147% in the static stress test. The wing must be able to withstand 150% loading.

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