August 2009 Archives

787: Where we stand

This morning Boeing outlined our revised schedule for the 787 Dreamliner. Given the progress over the summer addressing the “side-of-body” issue, we now expect a 787 first flight by the end of this year, with first deliveries starting in the 4th quarter of 2010.

We also announced today that we expect to achieve a Dreamliner production rate of 10 airplanes a month in late 2013.

The way you might characterize the new schedule and plan is, we’re cautiously confident - particularly because we’ve added some time to the flight-test program. But we’re fully aware - from what we’ve been through so far - that potential issues can and do crop up.

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What I can say is that our team has made substantial progress addressing the side-of-body reinforcement issue.

While the solution is straightforward, implementing it on existing airplanes will be paced by the limited access in the side-of-body area. For instance, the space in the center wing box where the modification must be installed limits the number of people who can work there. But fortunately, we won’t face that problem farther down the road in production. In the future, the modification will be installed before airplanes reach final assembly.

Installing the modification is one of the things that must take place before we fly. We’ll also conduct static and fatigue testing to validate the durability of the modification, or solution.

Clearly there’s a lot to do. But as I mentioned, we’re making good progress and our team is eager to continue moving forward.

One additional note related to this announcement. We also said today that we’ve concluded that the initial flight test 787s have no commercial market value after development. As we said in our news release, that’s because of the inordinate amount of rework and modifications those airplanes have had. As a result, Boeing will take a $2.5 billion non-cash charge against third-quarter results to reclassify costs previously recorded for those airplanes.

So, to pose the same question I asked in the last post, where do we stand with the Dreamliner? As our CEO, Jim McNerney, said this morning, we continue to believe that the 787 will be a game changer for our customers.

Our challenge remains what it has been since day one: execute the program and get the Dreamliner to our customers, and the flying public, as soon as we can.

I get around

I’m back in Seattle after wrapping up an event-filled week attending MAKS 2009, better known as the Moscow Air Show.

But I wanted to take a moment to reflect on an exciting week in Everett while I was away. The second 787 Dreamliner (ZA002), performed a series of low-speed taxi tests at Paine Field. We completed three full days of testing on the airplane last week.

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It’s great for the whole program to see this airplane, painted in the ANA livery, propelled under its own power and preparing for flight.

I’ve gotten to know a number of colleagues at ANA over the years, and I know it has to be an honor for them as well to see their livery on this airplane. It’s an appropriate tribute to our partnership with ANA.

During the taxi testing, multiple pilots, including Randy Neville, Regis Hancock and Heather Ross took the airplane through a series of laps down the runway – getting a little faster each time – to test the steering and braking. Powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, the 787 reached speeds of approximately 100 knots (about 115 miles per hour).

Flight engineers now will review the data and then proceed into more ground testing.

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Watch a video of the low speed taxi tests for 787 Dreamliner ZA002 here, or just click on the image above.

What I think is especially interesting is that each lap down the runway during taxi test includes a specific testing objective - sometimes multiple objectives. For example, on Wednesday we tested the braking system by using only the brakes. Typically the brakes are employed along with thrust reversers. Since this was a brakes-only test, the brakes had to be cooled in between runs.

By precisely performing each test and documenting the results, the team can analyze the data and make adjustments where needed.

It’s amazing to contemplate the volume and variety of the testing the 787 team completes each day. They have to be precise in their preparation, implementation, documentation and analysis of an astounding amount of complex material. The team tells me the airplane is performing well, and completing this testing now will be very helpful as we get closer to first flight on Airplane #1.

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So where do we stand? Completing taxi testing on Airplane #2 puts us a step closer to being ready to fly after we complete the side-of-body modification on our flight test airplanes. As we’ve mentioned, our focus is on developing and implementing a detailed plan for design, analysis, component tests, full-scale static testing and production modification. This takes time, resources and many organizations working together. We plan to announce the new program schedule later this quarter.

In the meantime, we’re maintaining flight-readiness status - keeping our crews proficient and prepared to start flight testing. As we know and expect, issues will pop up – in which case we’ll knock them down. Our 787 team is relentless and I know they’re doing everything in their power to get the job done.

We’ll continue to keep our heads down, staying focused on getting the 787 Dreamliner in the air.

Big time

The first 747-8 Freighter is now in final assembly - more than 80% assembled in fact.

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Looking impressive in final assembly - we can now get a complete view of the first 747-8.

Last Friday we marked a big time milestone in Everett when mechanics turned on the power to the airplane for the first time – a complex series of tasks that energize and activate the 747-8’s systems.

With power on, the program can begin testing the 747-8 Freighter’s systems - including electrical, hydraulics and pneumatics. One 747 team leader had a descriptive way of putting it. He said, “The airplane is alive.”

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747 Final Assembly mechanic George Beaudette helps “plug in” the first 747-8 Freighter on Aug. 14th - starting the “power on” process.

As we saw with 787 power on, this important step for the 747-8 validates the installation of the power distribution system as well as its functionality.

The mechanics who plugged the “stingers” into the 747-8 Freighter sent about 30 kilovolt-amperes of electricity through roughly 116 miles of wire and 9,500 connectors.

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747 Final Assembly’s Mike Bryan looks on as power brings alive the flight deck of the 747-8 Freighter.

A lot of great effort and progress has gone into this airplane. Getting to this stage is the result of some close coordination between manufacturing and engineering teams, as well as our suppliers.

Of course there’s still more to accomplish before we complete assembly of the first freighter, and then fly it as scheduled in the fourth quarter.

787 / Alenia

We’ve gotten a number of questions and seen numerous media reports about a “stop-work” order involving one of our major 787 partners.

So I wanted to clarify a few things about what you might be reading or hearing. The reports discuss work conducted at Alenia Aeronautica, the Dreamliner partner that builds the all-composite sections 44 and 46 of the 787 fuselage.

As the 787 program noted today, the issue involves adding relatively simple patches to the fuselage sections of about 25 airplanes. The repairs will not have a significant impact on the 787 program either in cost or schedule.

What we want to emphasize, and what’s not made clear in a lot of the coverage today is that minor fixes such as these are not uncommon at this stage in airplane development and production. This is not a safety-of-flight issue, either.

Boeing determined in June, after detailed inspections, that there were microscopic wrinkles in the skin plies (or layers) of fuselage sections produced by Alenia at its Grottaglie, Italy, facility. The solution is a simple patch at two locations - to restore full structural margins.

By the way, this solution has already been designed and is being installed now at Global Aeronautica in South Carolina. It will be installed on completed fuselage sections in Italy and here in Everett.

This issue would not have caused a delay in first flight, and did not appear on any of the first seven fuselage units, which include the first five flight-test airplanes, as well as the static and fatigue-test airplanes.

Commitment to air safety

Although I’ve rarely written about air safety, it’s a topic that’s always at the forefront of everyone’s minds here at Boeing.

Recent high-profile airplane incidents have led to some questioning about the safety of our air transportation system. I was asked many times about safety at the recent Paris Air Show. The discussion has spilled into social media and has sparked some blog and twitter comments comparing the safety attributes of competing airplane types.

It’s not Boeing’s or my practice to attempt to compare safety features of various airplanes - regardless of manufacturer - so don’t expect me to do that here.

All commercial airplanes, whether designed and manufactured by Boeing or another company, must meet the same stringent safety requirements before they’re certified to enter service. The fact is, today’s air system is safer than ever - and there are statistics to prove it.

Since the 1960’s, Boeing has published annually the “Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents.”

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Click on the image above to download the PDF of the latest Boeing Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents.

We began doing this report as part of our overall commitment to improve safety. Clearly we need to understand what the data is telling us before we can take meaningful steps toward improving air safety.

Boeing has just released the latest update, which includes the statistics from 2008. You can view it by clicking above or by downloading the PDF of the report here.

The new report shows that although there was a slight increase in “hull loss” accidents in 2008, the overall trend for air accidents over the past 20 or so years has been downward. By the way, a hull loss represents an airplane that is not economically practical to repair – like “totaling” your car. And remember you can have a hull loss accident without having fatalities.

People throughout the aviation community constantly strive to enhance air safety. Their work is not always visible to the public, but it’s happening every day. You can read about one example of these efforts in the July issue of Frontiers magazine.

Although the commercial aviation industry is highly competitive, all participants – regulators, manufacturers and operators – have a shared interest in identifying and addressing safety issues.

I can attest to the fact that air safety is the primary focus of everyone at Boeing. It’s the combined result of regulatory oversight, how airplanes are designed and produced, how crews operate and maintain them, and how the air traffic and airport infrastructure support them.

That’s why we work with governments, operators and other industry members every day to continuously advance safety in all aspects of the global air transportation system.

Largest 777 operator

With the delivery of a new 777-300ER last week, Emirates became the world’s largest operator of 777s.

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The delivery at Paine Field in Everett (top photo) marks Emirates’ 78th 777 overall, and the airline’s 45th -300ER. The Dubai-based carrier also has nine 777-200s, 12 777-300s, 10 777-200LRs and two 777 Freighters in its fleet (bottom photo - courtesy of Emirates). Emirates is the only airline to operate every 777 model.

 

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