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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Realization of A Dream Part One: A Technical Analysis of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner

                                                                                                                                                                                              


Boeing 787 Dreamliner During High Speed Taxi Tests    Image: Boeing


  "Indeed,  a wonderful opportunity was missed to give the flying public a large glimpse of the future in aircraft design, and one that would have had people flocking to airports just to see it."
 - Myron D. Stokes, Publisher, eMOTION!

Go to Press Release

BOAC, Now British Airways, Crews Cheer Arrival of DeHavilland
Comet, World's First Operational Jetliner  Image: BOAC 
Chicago - 17 June, 2012 -     In the interests of professional full disclosure, I completely disagreed with Boeing's decision to drop development of the Sonic Cruiser - an aircraft with the potential to completely reshape the commercial  air travel landscape in a way not seen since the debut of the jet-powered DeHavilland Comet, Boeing 707 and supersonic Concorde (I had the profound privilege of being aboard Concorde 4 times) in favor of the aesthetically boring -save for the exquisite interior- though technologically advanced Dreamliner. An analysis in queue, but never completed owing to national security related events which commanded our full attention, was entitled "Boeing Chooses Mediocrity Over Greatness".  Indeed,  a wonderful opportunity was missed to give the flying public a large glimpse of the future in aircraft design, and one that would have had people flocking to airports just to see it.

It should be mentioned however, that according to Flight Global's Steve Trimble last month, there is reconsideration -on going as we speak- of a somewhat reconfigured,  and in all likelihood Mach 1 capable, Sonic Cruiser as replacement for 757.


Artist's Rendering of The Sonic Cruiser: If Boeing Doesn't Build it The Japanese and The Chinese Most Certainly Will       Image: Boeing

The foregoing statement is one given substance as I recall recommending to then British Airways Director of Public Relations John Lampl that he should strongly consider having Concorde visit Tampa International Airport.  In the aftermath of having flown this superlative aircraft on its inaugural run for Miami service in March of 1984 and then again the following year, I felt this visit would act as a stimulus for further developing the passenger base in the Tampa - St.Petersburg -Clearwater market.  John agreed, and Concorde did indeed visit Tampa in 1985 and thrilled the 100,000+ people who responded to an excellent PR campaign that included a full page ad simply saying "Concorde's Coming!".


Airbus A380   Image: Airbus
  Managerial Weakness?

I always believed Boeing management, under the then captaincy of Dr. Philip Condit, weakly bowed to pressure from Airbus' John Leahy and under informed aviation media's public debunking of Boeing's Sonic Cruiser announcement in 2001 following a near total rejection of its revamped 747X in favor of the "clean sheet of paper" A380 Super Jumbo.  And in hindsight, must be viewed as nothing more than a thinly disguised fear by Leahy that the proposed near-sonic Boeing aircraft would simply neutralize the market momentum and presumed ascendancy induced by A380.


In the 2001 analysis "Boeing Going?" Leahy was quoted as saying "The 747 is a very fine airplane, but it's based on 1960's technology."  To which our editorial team responded:

 "Someone should remind Mr. Leahy that airframes, properly maintained, can theoretically last forever. Considering the reality of avionics/flight systems modularity, even a DC-3 can be modified to operate on the technological edge. Expanding on the statement '1960’s technology', he ought to remember this era produced aircraft of such superlative design and performance that they are considered aeronautical engineering benchmarks to this day. Names that readily come to mind include Concorde, SR-71, X-15 and Harrier. Not to mention we went to the moon in 1969."

Then Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Alan Mulally Unveils a 3-dimensional Model of the Sonic Cruiser during the 2001 Paris Air Show.  There is Little Doubt That Mulally Would Have Successfully Launched the Program    Image:  Boeing

In a two releases entitled "Boeing Sonic Cruiser will Change the Way the World Flies" and "Boeing Unveils the Future at Paris Air Show"  the pivotal role this aircraft could play was clearly not lost on the Boeing team when a 3-dimensional model was unveiled during the 2001 Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airfield:  PARIS, June 19, 2001 -- Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Alan Mulally unveiled a model of the company's new 'Sonic Cruiser' today at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, France, giving the world its first three-dimension look at the airplane that will change the way the world flies. The new airplane, which flies higher, faster and farther than today's jets, will connect people, ideas and opportunities in new and more efficient ways. It also will provide airlines with a means to serve their customers' changing needs and achieve greater operational benefits.

"The sonic cruiser is expected to fly at speeds of up to Mach .98 (98 percent of the speed of sound) or faster over extended ranges. The faster speeds will reduce flight times by approximately 20 percent, shortening air travel trips by about one-hour for every 3,000 miles flown. The airplane's long-range potential of 9,000 nautical miles (16,670 kilometers) or higher means passengers will be able to fly directly to their destinations, avoiding congested hubs and the delay and inconvenience of intermediate stops."

And lest you think that Boeing would have been pushing the limits of its conceptualization, design, engineering, manufacturing and design for manufacturability proficiency, one needs go no further than the review of a 1969 technical description of the company's version of the Supersonic Transport (SST)  initiative and the more comprehensive description to the Department of Defense  and to the FAA (Pratt & Whitney engine analysis)   in 1966 and 1967 respectively.
It is of interest that Airbus was forced to proffer a rival concept to Sonic Cruiser; a clear signal Boeing's announcement induced not a few sleepless nights for the European aircraft manufacturer's executive suite.  According to our sources, the flight experience transparency materials concept announced in 2010, is either a direct derivative of an internal 2001 concept or was heavily influenced by same.


Airbus "Flight Experience Transparency" Concept Airliner                  Image:  Airbus



"Of course, I very much want 787 to succeed brilliantly.  And, although confident that every problem has a solution, I remain convinced that only a short to mid-term solution has been crafted to gain FAA certification." - Aerospace Industry Supplier


Delivery of 787 Aircraft to Launch Customer ANA at Everett, WA
 Production Facilities in September 2011
Destined For Success: Dreamliner Completing World Tour

With the delivery of 787 aircraft to launch customer ANA last September, and the near completion of its world tour flight demonstrations, Boeing appears to be on a roll.

The myriad manufacturing process issues, particularly the conjoining of metal to composites, seemed to have been resolved, although academic colleagues in the field of metallurgy and an aerospace industry supplier are not totally convinced that Boeing has crafted a long term solution to the latter concern.   "In my mind, I keep envisioning a [DeHavilland] Comet-like state of affairs from an aircraft structural integrity standpoint; the result of pushing the technological envelope too far, too fast.  While I have seen Boeing engineers over the decades demonstrate an incredible knack for ultra-complex problem solving, the issue of composites being used this extensively in an airframe (50%) and conjoined metal to composite in the wing box is a new animal.  No one has demonstrated or answered convincingly to my satisfaction that separation of the conjoined components will not occur subsequent to X amount of flight cycles.  You can't put one thing that doesn't move on top of something that does.

Boeing 707   Image: Boeing

"Of course, I very much want 787 to succeed brilliantly.  And, although confident that every problem has a solution, I remain convinced that only a short to mid-term solution has been crafted to gain FAA approval.  An approval mind you, that prompted a GAO investigation into the 787-specific modified certification processes."


To be continued next week...

Related:

Boeing 787 From the Ground Up    
Composite Material For Aerospace Structures
787 Video
Influence of Implementation of Composite Materials In Civil Aircraft Industry on Reduction of Environment Pollution and Greenhouse Effect


Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird Cutaway: http://members.ync.net/jam/cutaways/sr71a.html