First flight - postponed

By now, you’ve seen the news about the postponement of the 787 first flight due to the need to reinforce a limited area of the airplane’s structure.

I can tell you that here in Renton where I work, as well as in Everett and across Boeing, there’s a sense of disappointment. That’s understandable. As 787 Program chief Scott Fancher told employees today, it’s especially difficult given we were so close to getting the airplane in the air.

But is this a devastating piece of news? Not from my perspective.

Our test program is designed to do just what it has done - find issues. Commercial jetliners are complex machines. We’ve noted this time and again. Our testing is what ensures that we get everything right when we design and build our airplanes.

In this case, it turns out that results from one of our static tests identified stress in an area of “side-of-body” structure that was in excess of expectations. We thought initially that we could proceed with first flight by the end of the month. But late last week, after further analysis, we decided to postpone first flight until we’re satisfied we can conduct productive flight testing.

image/photo

Boeing conducts a robust static testing program on a full-scale airplane to validate our analysis.

We’ve said all along that we won’t fly until the airplane is ready. And we mean that. Once we determine the required modification and testing plan, we’ll work out a new schedule. This will include a timetable for first flight and delivery. In the meantime, it’s back to work.

Remember, the flight test program includes almost equal parts of in-the-air and on-the-ground testing. The intermediate gauntlet tests we’ve run were considered part of the flight test process. So, in the days ahead we’ll proceed with the final gauntlet test, and then taxi testing as we also continue to work through meaningful testing of the airplane systems. Work will also continue on Airplane #2, the other flight test aircraft, and the rest of the airplanes in production.

We’ve had great progress so far. It’s new technology and we’re learning as we go. The Dreamliner incorporates breakthrough designs and systems that will make it a revolutionary airplane for airlines and their passengers. None of that has changed.

Right now we have an incredible team of technical experts working to understand the issue completely and to develop the right solution. We know we’ll be able to modify the existing airplanes to get them into flying condition.

I know that it might be tempting right now to try and jump ahead of the technical team in guessing at how to solve this issue. But, that’s not how the process works. The team will work with urgency but we’ll give them the time they need to do the job right. They’ll refine our analytical models and they’ll run additional tests. We’ll develop a solution, conduct the appropriate testing, install the modifications, and then get on with first flight.

Finally, I just want to reiterate something. This was a difficult decision for the company in some ways, but in some ways it was not. A lot of people were eager to see us fly in the next week. We considered a temporary fix that would allow us to fly as scheduled, but we decided that a permanent modification to ensure a productive flight test program is the way to go.

So, this postponement, while a painful choice, is also the right choice and the only choice.

Comments (39)

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

Fair enough - makes perfect sense. You've said all along that the tests where meant to verify the design, and where need arises make necessary changes. This is important. With the 747 in 1969, the first flight was carried out before the entire system was ready. In the end, there where post EIS issues that took some time to work out. This is what you get when breaking ground with such technological leaps as the 747 and the 787. It seldom goes as smoothly as the 777. This move is the right one, no question about it.

My only thoughts about this is: U2 - Walk On.

P.Sumantri (France):

Now, let's see it this way. The A310, A300, 757, 767, A330-200, A340-200 and many other mid-sized aircraft need to be replaced in the next 20 years. So, the potential market for the 787-8, 787-9 and A350-800 is well above 3,000 units. If you add the need for growth then the number goes even higher.

Several more weeks of delays won't change the fate of the 787 program. It's bad but not fatal.

Kinbin (Taipei, Taiwan):

Systems validation through gauntlet tests was robust, as evidenced by the tests milestones moving left.

It has become evident though, though your update, that the structure required refinements. With new CRP materials, and new processes, tweaking / reinforcing the structure to improve structural integrity is necessary and important as test results are analyzed.

Great that this was identified at this testing juncture, and noted as an engineering deviation from the original build.

Hope that Boeing will place adequate *top-guns* to address this new "opportunity", to make the plane safer for first flight.

G. Sosbee (Texas, USA):

The need for the fix is not the issue. As you correctly state, this is what aircraft testing is all about. However, the issue is that as late as Friday, there was not a public acknowledgement of the issue which BA was not only fully aware but were actively seeking a solution. (Even with the ability to start the test without the fix, the owners of the company deserved to know that an issue of this extent existed.)

This will reverberate throughout the entire product line. Take the tanker program. The continuing development delays will be like an anchor on BA's bid, and as close as the bids will be, could be the single most important issue that deprives BA of the award.

alexandar (oakland):

Why "delay" always comes shortly after "no problem" announcements?

Should there be management fixes in addition to technical fixes?

CHRIS GIBSON (AUSTRALIA):

Bad luck but not to be unexpected with a totally new method of building Aircraft. We all want to see it take to the sky safely and I am sure that will not be to far in the future. Boeing has to be congratulated in its forward thinking in designing and building this ground breaking aircraft of the 21st century.

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

It is better to be safe and secure than 'rushing it" to have the first flight. Thankfully their have been no large scale order cancellations and none is expected but the A330 and A350 orders are racking up quickly.

I don't think the delay will be that great but Boeing is way ahead of the A350 in orders and in time.

Chris C (South Africa):

Safety can never, ever be compromised; especially in flying. As professional pilots, we thoroughly perform systematic checks each and every-time we’re going to fly, and there’s never an attitude of, “ah, let’s just chance it today.” About 90% of flying is planning, (weather considerations, pilot/crew fatigue, airplane serviceability/airworthiness, weight and balance, performance calculations, etc), as once an airplane is in the air, there’s no stopping. I applaud Boeing for actually taking a blow to the guts now by saying that first flight has been delayed, than rather pressing on with a 'sub-standard' airplane that, if a problem occurred, no one would ever forgive the potential consequences.

Indeed, this is an exceptionally disappointing, and embarrassing, but I’m pleased to hear that the problematic area(s) have been identified, and several possible solutions are already in place to rectify the problem. After all, building a commercial airplane is arguably the single most technological undertaking in the engineering world. The super-efficient 787 Dreamliner certainly pushes the envelope of commercial aerospace engineering, and the result is an airplane that will without a question go through painful teething problems, but ultimately be the most advanced and efficient commercial airplane, ever.

It'll all come right soon, and before long, we'll be basking in the glory days of the 787 flight-test program with stellar performance/economic results and a better-than-expected airplane! I have extremely high faith in Boeing, and I know this airplane will get it right (eventually). But, today, it’s certainly not a proud day for you all.

Adolfo A. Pedregosa (Hong Kong):

This is birth pangs. The pain before the joy. I am sure the B787 will be a beautiful baby.

Frank:

"Several more weeks of delays won't change the fate of the 787 program. It's bad but not fatal."

That´s very true but we talk about several more weeks added to several more weeks to several more weeks...

I think it would be very helpful for the reputation of Boeing and the complete 787 project to show that they can build a new plane that is able to fly after quite a while.

PGM (Canada):

Quote 'there’s a sense of disappointment'

I am sorry but this can't be a serious statement. You are disappointed when you lose at the lottery or don't get the promotion you expected or the airliner you have been told.

But when you are making a plane such results proves incompetencies and mismanagment.
It is time to clean the house for good and to bring back the right persons. Where are the people that make the 777?

BTW, what about the latest delay for the 748? 2, 3 months again?

Roy Howell (Athens, Alabama):

I look at is from the future of all airplanes. The issues here will be lessons learned when The Boeing Company decides to go with an all composite 737 model. I am proud of the fact that management made the decision to delay and put the safety of the airplane and flying public ahead of the schedule.

Being on the cutting edge of technology is where Boeing has always been and why this company still builds the best airplanes in the world.

Don Harrington (Bellevue, WA):

Yes, it's disappointing. But it is definitely the right decision. thank goodness Boeing follows such a rigorous testing process. Can you imagine what could have happened to the program if that join had failed in flight, whether during flight test or in revenue service? Keep up the good work, folks. She WILL fly, and it will be a great day when she does!

Drew (Troutman, NC (USA)):

Sounds to me like the tests are doing exactly what they're supposed to do and that is help Boeing's engineers make the aircraft as safe and structurally sound as possible before putting pilots and passengers in it in the air.

I sincerely appreciate the approach here to Boeing's Marketing Department to admit shortfalls, address issues and keep sight of the goal. Too many corporations offer "no comment" when hiccups come. Its great to see a response from Marketing within a day or so of breaking news. It'll fly when its ready and I hope to be a passenger someday. As it says on our fridge at home "Do the next thing."

Barun Majumdar (Seattle, WA, USA):

Reinforcing the side-of-body joint where the wing and fuselage meet is the right thing to do for flight safety reasons. We should never tend to forget that safety and performance are inter-linked.

Gordon Werner (Seattle, WA):

Recently some of the 787 suppliers have stated to the media that they don't think they will be able to ramp up production to levels that meet Boeing's aggressive construction schedule.

While I do not know the accuracy of these statements, I am wondering if Boeing is planning on bringing back any of the work (or creating their own facilities) in house so the work is performed by Boeing employees under direct oversight of the company?

Jason Yuhara (Everett, WA):

The test provided what it was intended to do. If I was leadership, I would be happy to see our teams doing there jobs under the pressure many of us are under.

I will admit, under the constant duress of time, sacrifice with family and personal life, and the constant struggle to make this program come to fruition, the delay does hamper some views. The reality is that once this plane is up and running stand fast people, this company is going to start churning planes forward that are well beyond other competitors standards.

We will also see a ripple effect within the economy to include the benefits of fuel savings generated. This flight will occur and we can all stand proud behind it.

J. Martinez (Honolulu, HI):

It is a positive reinforcement when management is ethically sound in making a decision to incorporate safety and doing the right thing even when it may result in loss of sales and profits.

The lessons that must be learned are that the program management plan is carefully analyzed in ensuring our objectives and milestones are being met, and being proactive in creating sound and on timely contingency plans to address such issues.

Being honest can sometimes hurt by non-support of stockholders, but does lead the company to be an integral leader into the future.

Andrew O'Reilly (Spokane, WA, USA):

Actually the purpose of testing is not to find issues but to determine whether the airplane meets its requirements. Along the way you might or might not uncover issues but fundamentally the value of the testing process is not measured by how many issues are found (which it would be if the goal was to find problems).

I know that sounds like a pedantic distinction but for those of us that have spent careers in the testing world the focus on finding issues instead of building comprehensive information on the quality of a product can have quite pernicious results.

If test teams are rewarded based on finding issues then they will be tempted to invest insufficient testing resource in low risk areas. Low risk, of course, is a subjective judgment and as such does not give any guarantee that serious defects won't exist in that area. All too often I've seen products get shipped with issues in areas that engineers think couldn't possibly fail.

Chris C (South Africa):

There seems to be growing anxiety over whether or not the delay to first flight of the super-efficient 787 Dreamliner will effect the 747-8 production/rollout/first-flight and flight-tests.

If anything, the phenomenal -8F and -8I should be built on time in accordance with the current schedule.

Phil (Wokingham, Berkshire UK):

Given Boeing's shrewd & bold decision to take aircraft materials & design to the next evolutionary level, it is hardly surprising a project of this complexity will incur delays, but in instances such as this perhaps a little more clarity might help.

It is probable that the ambitious flight test programme may highlight the need for further modifications, but then this would have been calculated for & is expected in the gestation of any new aircraft.

Rob (Vegas Baby!):

It is good to delay the first flight until every problem had worked out.

On the other hand, I think that aircraft manufactures did set overly optimistic timeline initially in an attempt to bring new product to the market.

Paul Wolf (Renton, WA):

With a renewed emphasis on designing and building quality in as expressed by executive leadership, the efforts to discover and resolve issues now (and by process) will pay dividends many times over. Our customers and the flying public expect quality. Not passing issues into fleet operations is the right thing to do.

Tom (Australia):

A sensible decision. It worries me though, when the site of failure is described as being in the (note the quotation marks) "side-of-body". Surely we are all mature enough to acknowledges that it was 'part of the wing'?

Jun Leido (Manila, Philippines):

I'm thoroughly disappointed for the additional delay. I may have no stake on Boeing, its suppliers or any of the airlines who have chosen this marvelous airplane - but as a Boeing fan, it's frustrating that we just can't get things done. At it's core, it's an disservice to the men and women of Boeing who works hard for the company - to think that the 787 is not it's only product.

First - Heads Must Roll.

We need to show accountability to what's happening and exert responsibility.

Second - Sales Must Get Into Action

The competitions have been getting orders left and right for their other planes, where are we at that? Their A350 is nowhere near firm configuration, still it's looking like it's a better plane.


I do admire Boeing's guts in admitting the Dreamliner's not fully ready to fly. At least, you have not been deceiving us, just disappointing us. Your competitor flew a plane that wouldn't enter service for years - because THEY KEPT FROM THE PUBLIC many flaws of the plane.

Paul S (Calgary, Canada):

This is the 5th postponement to the 787's first flight and personally, I'm now quite skeptical about what Boeing says.

Before this latest delay, All Nippon was scheduled to receive their 1st 787 into service by February 2010. I'm beginning to think it will be mid-2011 before this actually occurs. But will Boeing say so?

Luis (Bolivia):

I used to be such a big Boeing fan... but this is now ridiculous.

Hope the thing gets in the air eventually... at least before the A350.

I won't become an Airbus fan though... GO EMBRAER!

Jack (Tukwila WA):

Way too much sugar-coating going on. 777 had tremendous challenges and was on time BECAUSE of the people (proving experience and foresight).

787 has proven many times that there's inexperience on a grand scale showing that Boeing DOESN'T have the experience and foresight. A wingbox structural failure is NOT a set back. It is showing that a massive and critical problem exists and should have been caught YEARS ago (not in some static test that should only confirm what engineering MUST already know).

This is pure disappointment for what used to be Boeing's core competency.

hamilcar (Philippines):

Though both are computer designed, the input for 777 are metallurgy---a study of a hundred years old, while the application of composite to a large size plane is, unprecedented. Considering the significance of this plane in the next 100 years, what needed now is hard work and resolution, but not putting up a show.

Dan (France):

I have to agreed with Jack from Tukwila. Failure on the wingbox is very serious. There are two statements in this post that hint at how serious the situation is.

First one, that Boeing won't start the test flight program until they can make it 'productive'. Presumably, this means that with a patched wing-box, it would not have been possible to expand the flight envelope for certification (ie, they could only fly it in a straight line with low payload - rather pointless).

Second one, that Boeing engineers will refine analytical models'. This highlights the inadequacy of the engineers' stress modelling capabilities. Building such a capability on a trial and error basis (such as is apparently taking place now) is basic R&D that should have been complete a decade ago, and no way to be proceeding at this stage of a program.

hamilcar (Philippines):

The inadequecy in the stress modeling capability of the engineers of A380's failed wing section proves how difficult it is in performing the balancing act between weight-saving and strength in terms of novel materials for wide-body airplanes. In a way, trial and error gives away the information about the equilibrium of weight-saving and strength.

Dan (Moscow, Russia):

I guess many people don't understand that this news come as a serious blow to Boeing's credibility. Just a few days before, Pat Shanahan was briefing the media on 787 progress at the Paris Air Show and I bet he was well aware of the recent test results (although I can only guess).

He probably knew about the upcoming delay but reassured the press that the Dreamliner was right on track. No only did Boeing fail to deliver on its promises (again!), but it has also reinforced the opinion that official Boeing media releases simply cannot be trusted. While the executives might think that the 3,500-plane backlog gives the company some breathing space, they also need to understand that this backlogs rests on trust the customers place in Boeing - but this trust is quickly lost when your company repeatedly fails to deliver and fails to come up with honest answers.

Gregory Schmitz (Anchorage, AK-USA ):

The issue is not that you found a problem, its how you have handled it. You know you are not going to fly it until its fixed which fortunately Boeing at least recognizes it has to be right (which is self interested not any indication of integrity no matter how you spin it).

If the program had not been screwed up from the start, this would have been a minor problem and corrected. Now its huge. Boeing not only has a black eye, the entire face of Boeing is one huge discolored livid bruise.

You can’t build an airplane on time and you can’t negotiate a settlement with your unions which like it or not are part of your company .

While it was found in May there was a issue to be resolved, all the hype types were saying June 30. Totally dishonest. You all could run for congress and fit in nicely.

So, back to a previous comment, you are not making great progress, you are still floundering. Great progress is when you actually complete the test program and deliver an aircraft. Until then, its just so much hype and spin.

You need to get top flight engineers back in charge of the project, not sales, bean counters and PR types. Neither one can handle a complex industrial project. If I did my job as badly as they have, they would not have to fire me, I would quit.

Boeing has proven its fallen back to its bad old hubris and ego. You guys just don’t get it.

Sadly the hopes of a nation and Boeing employees are dependent on how Boeing does its business, and its been an abysmal track record for some time now.

Kinbin (Taipei Taiwan):

After the barrage of posts and threads, one must beg answers to ONE underlying question.

Why was senior management (yes, including Randy), and us fans of this blog, led to believe that all had been well, when some techies and front line managers out on the shop floor assessing the post-static test results from the 2nd Dreamliner probably knew about the situation but DID NOT elevate it up the 'chain'? Transparency is key, especially on that shop floor.

I may be wrong. Maybe production did know about it, but an erroneous engineering disposition was made instead, and the issue was deemed resolved.

Imagine, Randy could be spending his resources instead on touting the merits of the family of aircraft, and NOT in damage control mode again. *sad*

Rob (Sin City Nevada):

Yes, it is a disappointment that the 787 did not make first flight on schedule.

Serious problem or not, other aircraft manufactures did set schedule with revision due to set back because of overly optimistic scheduling.

Now, this is a good time to find the problem with correction before making first flight, rather to push on just because attempting to stay on schedule.

One does not want serious problem development once the plane take flight.

Don't forget, this is a revolutionary development in material and process, the same physic does not apply due to the use of composite, not metal which take additional time.

I am sure the A350 development team is watching this closely to avoid similar problem in their program.

Rob (Sin City Nevada):

It is interesting to point out that other aircraft manufacturers experienced similar problem. Due to the seriousness of the problem, it is viable to correct it before first flight rather than allowing the problem fester. By allowing the extra time to research, develop, and implement the solution, Boeing will deliver a product that is safe to fly for many years to come.

Jonathan Heckman (Philadelphia, PA - USA):

Randy, Thank you for posting this.

I think it helps explain why the delay was necessary. Despite the screams of disappointment from airline offices around the world, getting the airplane built correctly (so that it's safe) is far more important than fulfilling the agenda. Management made the right call on this one, and I'm sure it took some courage to delay the airplane's first flight amidst heavy pressure from airlines and the entire world.

This is an entirely new airplane - all composite - and it incorporates many new technologies that will take time to learn. The Boeing Company is known for producing safe and efficient aircraft. And, although I'm a little disappointed that the 787 did not fly as soon as everyone would've liked, this decision renews trust in BCA and their quality output.


John M. Switlik (Wichita, KS):

Why do I get the feeling that a bunch of people are running around like deer blinded by the headlights?

Well, accomplishments are best exclaimed when complete. Until then, only hubris would say to mouth off. Gosh, this has grated on me from the beginning.

Boeing was an excellent engineering company at one time. What happened?

You PR, and sales, guys have a place, but, please be aware that we live in a 'real' world where it (the world) rules not us. Okay, we wrest control as we learn. But, no one in their right mind broadcasts out their deeds before they are done, let alone do so many years in advance.

The 'potemkin' event is indicative of some deep issues within Boeing. Where the heck is your board?

Where are the Tech Excel people who can speak the truth to the public who deserve to know what is correct, not PR drivel.

Oh, yes, you put out the newairplane site. It's basically propaganda, from what I can see.

Jerry1t (NYC):

Boeing has been delivering a lot of disappointing news in the last two years.

No one doubts the ambition of this new plane, but Boeing clearly has handled it poorly. There was good reason to cancel the flight but it is a metaphor for the whole program and the way that Boeing has communicated its failures.

There should be a lot of management consideration for both past and present mistakes.

We who are fans, investors and supporters of the Company have been badly hurt by the inability to execute this properly. It is not a good sign and this overly optimistic blog does not make up for the consistent failures to get it right.

If Boeing is such a great engineering Company, why does it make so many mistakes.

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