We last talked about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner program one month ago, when Boeing announced a further delay, due to “a series of relatively small areas” on both sides of the aircraft’s body in the “upper wing join area” that registered stress levels during static testing that “exceeded expectations“. That was the sixth time Boeing had delayed the program – and the maiden flight – to an undisclosed date.
Back at the end of June, the company did not set a new target date for the first flight, they only said that a new schedule would be released in “several weeks“. In the meantime it was announced that a new schedule for the flight test program will be released before the end of September. This means “several weeks” in Boeing terminology may mean “up to 12 weeks”… Following the mid-June top management statements that the first flight would happen before the end of the second quarter of this year, this means a new, possibly very long, additional delay to the program.
In the meantime, Boeing has completed gauntlet testing on the first 787 and conducted taxi testing up to 130 kt., while the second Dreamliner has run up its engines. The third and fourth aircraft have been powered on and off. The fifth Flight Test Plane received a new livery on July 21st, painted white with blue accents, the new livery incorporates visual and color elements from the distinctive blue-and-white Boeing Commercial Airplanes livery seen on the first 787 Dreamliner flight test airplane and other new commercial models. The simplified paint scheme will be applied to the three remaining unpainted flight test airplanes (Nos. 3, 4 and 6). The modified livery, which saves time and expense compared to the full Boeing livery, will remain on the airplane until the flight test program is completed.
Boeing has been working with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which manufactures the 787’s wings, and Fuji Heavy Industries, which handles the detailed design and assembly of the center wing box and its integration, to determine a fix. They have also confirmed earlier that a fix to the defect has been identified, but yesterday The Seattle Times has reported that the “787’s structural design problem is more complex than originally outlined“. One engineer with knowledge of the problem claimed that it will take “at least 3-4 months just to get something installed on the 787,” while a second, familiar with Boeing’s construction methods, claimed that the fix first must be installed on the nonflying test aircraft in Everett and only will be applied to flight test aircraft if proven successful.
Let’s take a look at the suggested timeframe quickly. Once the local fix is fully developed, the new parts first will have to be applied to the static test aircraft and then put on the flight test aircraft. These new parts will mean further ground testing before the first flight, but Boeing promises these fixes and the extra weight will have no impact on either performance or maintenance. As currently it’s the end of July, and according to the engineer quoted by The Seattle Times it takes 3-4 months to apply these parts, ground testing will only be able to commence around mid-November. This practically means that the first flight is being delayed until very late 2009 or more likely: to the first half of 2010.
It is also influencing the first delivery to ANA, currently slated for the 2010 first quarter (which is very unlikely to happen in the light of this prediction). Original delivery was planned for June 2008, so that ANA could have used the first Dreamliner for the Beijing Olympics… The program has suffered 73 cancellations this year. The latest structural problem likely will have a serious impact on deliveries, according to a client note issued by Bernstein Research of New York. It suggested that the company now will deliver only three in 2010, down from 15; 25 in 2011, down from 35, and 50 in 2012, down from 60.
We hope to see the 787 Dreamliner taking its maiden flight as soon as possible – either in the “traditional” blue or the new white livery – but also respect Boeing’s continous decisions to make sure that the plane is safe to fly on its maiden flight as well as for decades to come.