Boeing 787 Dreamliner has a range of 10,000 miles, is far quieter than ordinary jets, and is constructed using a “moulding” process that has eliminated 1,500 aluminum sheets and 50,000 fasteners.
The much-delayed Boeing 787 Dreamliner is also three years late and has cost a reported $32 billion.
Aluminium has been the standard material used in aircraft for more than a century – even the Wright brothers’ famous first flight in 1903 used an aircraft made partially from the metal.
Now the “aluminium age” could be about to end – with the delivery of the first large-scale commercial aircraft made using 50% “composite materials” including plastics and carbon fibre.
Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner programme, said:
“It took a lot of hard work to get to this day.”
Boeing 787 Dreamliner has been much delayed – its maiden flight was delayed for more than two years – and will cost up to $200 million. The delays are reported to have cost maker Boeing more than $32 billion.
The new aircraft offers hi-tech entertainment with Android touchscreens built into every seat – even in Economy. The “composite” design – using mixed materials such as titanium and carbon fibre – is believed to have been a spur for rival Airbus to incorporate carbon fibre in future aircraft.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a blue and white-painted long-range aircraft, which boasts a graceful new design with raked wingtips and will leave for Japan on Tuesday and enter service domestically on October 26.
Boeing has taken orders for 821 Dreamliners, which will compete with the future Airbus A350, due in 2013.
“It is simpler than today’s aeroplanes and offers increased functionality and efficiency,” says Boeing’s official description of the plane.
“The team has incorporated airplane health-monitoring systems that allow the airplane to self-monitor and report systems maintenance requirements to ground-based computer systems by itself.”
“You can tell the Dreamliner is special the moment you see it coming in to land,” says Jonathan Margolis, a technology specialist who saw one of its first test flights.
“The near silence is almost spooky. But the thing which struck me most when I saw it at the Farnborough Air Show was the obvious suppleness of the composite structure. You can clearly see the wings flexing. It almost looks like an Airfix kit.”
“Speaking to the pilot later, he confirmed that as a result of its ultra-light airframe, the 787 is exceptionally manoeuvrable and easy to fly precisely.”
Boeing abandoned plans for a sound barrier-chasing “Sonic Cruiser” 10 years ago and worked on lighter long-range jets as cash-starved airlines valued efficiency over speed. The comapny expects 787 Dreamliner to become the standard for future passenger planes.
Mike Sinnett, the 787 Dreamliner program’s chief project engineer, said:
“Technology will only get more efficient and lighter.
“The plane’s lighter weight allows airlines to operate routes even when the demand is insufficient for larger aircraft like the Boeing 777 or 747, or the Airbus 380 superjumbo.”
Scott Fancher added: “For aviation we believe this is as important as the 707 was with the introduction of the jet age.”
Fancher moved to head off any fears over the new materials, stressing the tough moulded composites used to create the aircraft were nothing like ordinary plastic.
“Plastic is what you have on the dashboard of your car. This is not plastic,” he told reporters.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner development program has been delayed seven times due to challenges with engineering, supply chain glitches and a 58-day labor strike in 2008.
“We have been waiting for the 787 for over 3 years as we expected it in the summer of 2008,” said senior vice president Satoru Fujiki who took part in negotiations to buy the 787.
“I can’t say the delayed delivery didn’t have any impact but ANA and Boeing worked closely to mitigate it,” Fujiki said, adding Boeing had provided alternative jets to meet the shortfall.
All Nippon Airways (ANA) has ordered a total of 55 Dreamliners worth $11 billion at current list prices, including 40 of the 260-passenger 787-8 variant being delivered this week.
ANA plans to take delivery of four planes in 2011 and an additional eight next year.
The Seattle Times reported on Sunday that Boeing 787 program costs had topped $32 billion due to delays. That estimate raised questions, the newspaper said, over whether the new jet would make money for Boeing before “well into the 2020s, if ever.” Boeing declined comment on the claims.
Analysts say new jets typically cost closer to $15 billion.
Boeing also faces Wall Street concerns over its ability to reach its target of lifting output to 10 planes a month by 2013.
The delivery comes as Boeing remains locked in a dispute with one of its top labor unions in Washington state, where it has traditionally built its aircraft.
The International Association of Machinists and the National Labor Relations Board accuse Boeing of building a non-union 787 plant in South Carolina to punish the IAM for past strikes.
Boeing denies that claim, saying the jobs in South Carolina represent new employment, not the relocation of existing work.
BOEING 787 DREAMLINER SPEC
Seats: 210 to 250 passengers
Range: 7,650 to 8,200 nautical miles
Wing span: 197 ft (60m)
Length: 186 ft (57m)
Height: 56 ft (17m)
Cruise speed: (Mach 0.85)
Total cargo volume: 4,400 cubic feet