The Boeing 787 Dreamliner: an impressive aircraft

What does the much delayed maiden flight of the Boeing 787 tell us about integrity?

But how difficult can it be for Boeing to make yet another new aircraft? The answer depends on how different the 787 aircraft is from anything the company has built in the past. Some initial indication that is significantly different can be taken from its being named Dreamliner.

Perhaps the level of difficulty is also evident from the extent of the delays. The maiden flight has eventually been achieved 27 months after its originally planned date. The program has been subject to numerous delays due to a variety of issues involving suppliers, supply chains, mistakes and strikes.

Innovative integrity

Let’s look at some of the innovative aspects of this product, which enhance the integrity of the aircraft and/or the development program.

This is the first aircraft in a new product range which is ultimately planned to replace the entire existing product line, under Boeing’s Yellowstone project. So it is the first of a new generation; it is a break with the past and is establishing a product architecture for the future.

This is the first commercial airliner to be built which employs such a high proportion of composite materials. Boeing claim: “by manufacturing a one-piece fuselage section, we are eliminating 1,500 aluminum sheets and 40,000 – 50,000 fasteners.”

It is the first aircraft to offer life-cycle maintenance under Boeing’s GoldCare program which is described thus: “It performs all maintenance and parts support, tracking airplane condition and configuration and guaranteeing airplane schedule reliability—all within a set, predictable per-flight-hour cost.”  Read more here.

However, most comprehensive of all, it is an aircraft development program in which Boeing has integrated the operations of its suppliers across the globe to a much greater extent than ever before. This openness with suppliers began in about 1998 and, known as “Working Together“, was first applied to the development of the Boeing 777. However, on the 787, this has been taken to a much higher level.

Major parts are not only manufactured by suppliers in disparate parts of the world, but are also delivered as sub-assemblies. Difficulties in managing and integrating the resulting supply chains have all played their part in the delays in the 787 development

Watch how it is made!

It is ambitious, but as the saying goes: “nothing ventured, nothing gained”!

By John Lewis

5 thoughts on “The Boeing 787 Dreamliner: an impressive aircraft

  1. Boeing tried to leap frog Airbus, which had much greater experience with carbon-resin composites. The fuselage of the 787 is built in one piece barrels made by Alenia, a European firm based in Italy (which I think is a co-worker on the Toulouse based ATR, Avion de Transport Regional, an Airbus associate).

    Airbus is more conservative with its A350 XWB, which is made with composite panels on an aluminum skeleton. If Boeing slips, Airbus will look smart. First flight of the 787 occurred with the wings only tested at 105% loads, instead of the mandatory 150%. That may mean certification may not be around the corner.
    This being said, building a plane enforces integrity the way nature does it. Absolutely.

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    1. Thanks for the additional details and insight, Patrice.

      Yes, Boeing’s strategy of leap frogging seemed inspired when its initial and bold attempt, the Sonic Cruiser, was announced. Whether or not they misjudged the market, the conditions have changed so much since then that it hardly matters!

      The 7E7 program appears to pale in comparison, but nevertheless benefits considerably from its predecessor. In terms of innovation, while it has retreated from its attempt at “outbound”, it remains an example of “inbound” innovation. I’ve tried to describe the distinction here.

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      1. Thanks. An intriguing detail is that the wings of the 787 are made by Mitsubishi… which is working on its own single aisle jet. So far, so good. Of course those wings were supposed to be made in carbon-resin… Up to 2 or 3 weeks ago, when Mitsubishi annouced that, after all, they would be more conservative… As the saying goes, we will see…
        The Sonic Cruiser made no aerodynamic sense whatsoever. Around Mach One is the worst possible speed.
        PA

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