Boeing delays first flight of 787 to address side-body concerns

Need for reinforcement in a section of the side-body appeared during testing of the static test version of the 787 Dreamliner. Boeing also is said to be considering a second Dreamliner assembly plant to accommodate ramp up to produce 10 aircraft a month by 2012.

The Boeing Co. (Seattle, Wash., USA) announced on June 23 that first flight of the composites-intensive 787 Dreamliner will be postponed due to a need to reinforce an area within the side-of-body section of the aircraft. The plane was scheduled to make its maiden flight by the end of this month.

The need was identified during recent regularly scheduled tests on the full-scale static test airplane. Preliminary analysis indicated that flight test could proceed this month as planned. However, after further testing and consideration of possible modified flight test plans, the decision was made late last week that first flight should instead be postponed until productive flight testing could occur.

First flight and first delivery will be rescheduled following the final determination of the required modification and testing plan. It will be several weeks before the new schedule is available. The 787 team will continue with other aspects of testing on Airplane #1, including final gauntlet testing and low-speed taxiing. Work will also continue on the other five flight test aircraft and the subsequent aircraft in the production system.

Scott Carson, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes said a team of experts has already identified several potential solutions.

"Consideration was given to a temporary solution that would allow us to fly as scheduled, but we ultimately concluded that the right thing was to develop, design, test and incorporate a permanent modification to the localized area requiring reinforcement. Structural modifications like these are not uncommon in the development of new airplanes, and this is not an issue related to our choice of materials or the assembly and installation work of our team," Carson said.

In other Boeing news, the company reported on June 15 that the second Boeing 787 Dreamliner has moved to the flight line to begin fuel testing. This is the second of six 787s being used in the all-new airplane's flight-test program.

"Momentum continues to build with each milestone achieved," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the 787 Dreamliner program. Each of the six flight-test airplanes will be used for a specific set of tests during the flight-test program. This airplane, designated ZA002, will focus on systems performance. Like its predecessor, ZA001, this airplane has successfully completed a rigorous series of tests while still in the factory. Fuel testing began immediately upon the airplane entering the fuel dock.

ZA002 features the livery of the Dreamliner's launch customer, ANA (All Nippon Airways) of Japan. "ANA will be the first to fly the 787 Dreamliner in commercial service," Fancher noted. "We are honored to fly in ANA livery throughout the flight-test program as a tribute to our partnership in bringing this all-new airplane to market."

Boeing also reported that final assembly has begun on the first Dreamliner destined for delivery in first quarter 2010 to launch customer ANA. Boeing and ANA celebrated the occasion with a traditional "Kagami wari" ceremony, the breaking open of a wooden "Taru" (sake barrel) lid with wooden mallets.

"This is a great day for the 787 team," said Fancher. "In 2004, ANA demonstrated great faith in Boeing and the 787 by placing the largest launch order for any new airplane in Boeing history. Since then, the ANA team has been an integral part of developing the 787 family of airplanes.

Finally, Boeing executives at the Paris Airshow told The Seattle Times, in a story published June 18, that ramping up the current pace of 787 production may necessitate construction of a second aircraft assembly facility and negotiation of new contracts with suppliers to provide more aircraft parts than originally planned.

According to the report, Boeing says it wants to produce 10 Dreamliners per month by the end of 2012, which would likely require a second Dreamliner production line. The report notes that partner executives made clear at the Paris Airshow that getting the supply chain up to that speed will be difficult.

Kiyotaka Ichimaru, an executive at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI, Tokyo, Japan), which makes the 787's composite wings in Japan, said producing 10 wing sets a month will require substantial new investment as well as a revamp of the assembly methods at the MHI wing plant in Nagoya. "Just a speeding up of what we are doing" won't be sufficient, said Ichimaru, general manager of the civil aircraft and aero-engine department. "We need a drastic change in how we make some portions" of the wings.

According to the report, Jeff Turner, CEO of Boeing partner Spirit AeroSystems (Wichita, Kan., USA), which makes the forward composite fuselage section, said there's space in his plant to make 10 a month, but the existing equipment and tooling can make only seven a month. "We think we understand the demands of that buildup," Turner told the newspaper. "We have to negotiate what that higher level of production would be."

The first line in Boeing's Everett assembly facility was designed to roll out seven Dreamliners a month, and that's the production rate all the partners originally signed on for when they joined the jet program. It's uncertain whether a second assembly facility would be located in Everett; nor is it known when Boeing might construct such a facility.

Information: Click here for original Seattle Times story.