Air France 447 – French nuclear submarine to assist A330 search

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France’s defence ministry has deployed a nuclear submarine to aid the hunt for the Airbus A330 which disappeared over the South Atlantic on 1 June.

The submarine, S604 Emeraude, is fitted with an array of radar and sonar equipment and will be brought into the search over the next week, says the French defence ministry.

Two French naval vessels are also set to arrive in the next few days.

French support for the search effort for the Air France A330 already includes a Boeing E-3, two Breguet Atlantique 2 aircraft, and a Dassault Falcon 50 maritime patrol jet.


Air France 447 – AF447 Data Suggests Faulty Speed Data

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Jens Flottau/Frankfurt jflottau@freenet.de

Data from Air France flight 447’s automatic ACARS message indicates the pilots may not have had access to the correct speed information during the final minutes of the flight.

The list of fault messages sent to Air France’s operations headquarters in Paris includes a sequence of notes that hints at the three Air Data Inertial Reference Unit (ADIRU) computers to show diverging information. ADIRU compiles data delivered by the pitot tubes and process it to the aircraft’s other computers.

The list, obtained by AviationWeek among others, gives an insight into the sequence of computer and system failures on the Airbus A330-200. During the last four minutes the situation worsened. At 2:10 a.m. zulu, the autopilot was either switched off by the pilots or automatically. The function is switched off automatically if speed drops by some margin below a previously defined minimum. The aircraft subsequently flew in “alternate law” conditions that do not provide full automatic envelope protection. Other functions, such as the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) or the rudder travel limiter failed at the same time. Shortly after the ADIRU notices (2:11 and 2:12 a.m.), the ACARS alerts show a “F/CTL PRIM 1 FAULT” and a “F/CTL SEC 1 FAULT” indicating malfunctions of the first primary and secondary flight control computers. Shortly thereafter, the string of messages ends.

In an “Accident Information Telex” to operators, Airbus writes that the ACARS content indicates that “there was inconsistency between the different measured airspeeds. Therefore and without prejudging the final outcome of the investigation, the data available leads Airbus to remind operators what are the applicable operational recommendations in case of unreliable airspeed information.”

The diverging speed inputs could come from icing of the pitot tubes, industry sources indicate – a phenomenon not uncommon when flying in weather conditions that prevailed at the time of the accident. In its telex, Airbus points out that “the aircraft was crossing a tropical multicell convective area at the time of the accident.”

The ACARS content only shows what systems and computers malfunctioned, but there’s no information yet available about what actually happened to important parameters such as airspeed, altitude or pitch angle during the last few minutes of the flight. It also is still unclear if the loss of control happened as a result of a multiple system failure and subsequent stall or because of the severe turbulence that is likely to have hit the aircraft during its 75 mile (or 12 min.) travel through the storm front.

Brazil’s Defence Ministry had to admit on Friday that wreckage found floating on the Atlantic on Tuesday does not belong to the aircraft. A senior French government official pointed out that French search troops have not found a single piece of the aircraft yet. While there appears to be no hope for survivors among the 228 on board, finding the accident site quickly could turn out to be crucial to find out more about what caused AF448 to crash. The black box’s batteries last for around 30 days, and the French air accident investigation branch BEA has indicated it is not optimistic it can find the piece in deep sea.

Separately, a Spanish newspaper quotes the crew of an Iberia Airbus A340 that flew seven minutes behind AF447 on the same track. According to the crew, air traffic control failed to contact the Air France jet after 1:33 a.m. zulu in spite of trying several times. The Iberia pilots – who deviated 30 miles east from the track to circumnavigate thick clowds – then tried to get in touch with their French colleagues, too, but did not succeed either. The pilot of a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 that had passed the region 30 minutes earlier said that he had to fly several detours to avoid heavy weather, but otherwise described the flight as routine.

Photo credit: Air France


Air France 447 – Airbus: Lost jet had inconsistent airspeed data

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(CNN) — Automated messages sent from Air France Flight 447 just before it disappeared this week indicate the plane’s systems were providing contradictory information about its airspeed, the jet’s manufacturer said Friday.

Friends and relatives of the 228 people aboard Air France Flight 447 attend a memorial service Thursday in Brazil.

Friends and relatives of the 228 people aboard Air France Flight 447 attend a memorial service Thursday in Brazil.

That suggests the pilots may have been flying either too fast or too slow through the violent weather conditions they encountered before the crash, officials said.

In addition, investigators have said the plane’s autopilot disengaged, cabin pressure was lost and there was an electrical failure before the disaster.

Transmissions from the aircraft in the final moments before it vanished over the Atlantic Ocean show there was an “inconsistency” in measured airspeeds, Airbus said.

Experts say that could mean the pilot’s and co-pilot’s sensors were showing different speeds.

“If they’re malfunctioning, it can give a false read that can be misinterpreted in the cockpit, and a disaster can follow,” said Peter Goeltz, the former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Goeltz also said it is possible that the jet’s speed indicator was faulty.

“That could really be disastrous, and it’s happened before,” he said, speaking generally.

The jet flew into a storm before going down and may have been flying at the wrong speed for those weather conditions, officials have said.

The pilots sent no distress calls, but the aircraft’s computer system relayed about four minutes of automated messages indicating a loss of cabin pressure and an electrical failure, according to investigators.

Airbus confirmed to CNN on Friday that in the wake of the crash, it sent a Telex to operators of that type of jet — the A330-200 — reminding them of what to do when speed indicators give conflicting readouts.

Airbus said the message was recommended by the French investigating agency, which plans to hold a news conference Saturday morning.

On its Web site, Airbus says the plane was delivered to Air France in April 2005. It had accumulated about 18,800 flight hours in about 2,500 flights.

“Airbus has offered full technical assistance to the investigation board,” the company said. It also offers sympathy to the “families, friends and loved ones affected” by the crash.

Meanwhile, Goeltz said the search for the voice and data recorders from the Airbus becomes more difficult as ocean currents take any debris away from the crash site.

“The batteries on these locator devices attached to the black boxes have a limited life span — just 30 days,” he told CNN’s “American Morning.”

“The longer time goes on, the further away from the actual crash site the debris floats.

“It’s just going to be terribly challenging to find where to start the search for these data recorders, and the clock’s ticking,” Goeltz said.

Adding urgency to the search for wreckage from the A330, Brazilian officials said Thursday debris pulled aboard search ships from the Atlantic Ocean this week was not from the aircraft, which disappeared Monday on a flight from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris, France. Video Watch as experts question whether recovery is possible »

All 228 passengers and crew aboard the jetliner died when it went down Monday northeast of Fernando de Noronha Islands, an archipelago 355 kilometers (220 miles) off the northeast coast of Brazil. Map of Flight 447’s flight path »

While the depth of the ocean presents a challenge, “We’ve recovered boxes as deep as 6 or 7,000 feet. We’ve recovered debris from as much as 10,000 feet,” Goeltz said.

Various authorities have said the depth of the water in the area ranges from 3,000 meters (9,840 feet) to 7,500 meters (24,600 feet).

Cmdr. Christophe Prazuck of the French Ministry of Defense said Friday night that a French research vessel carrying a deep-diving submersible is headed for the search area. The submarine could pinpoint the recorders, he said, but it must rely on another vessel to retrieve them.

The submersible, which helped recover artifacts from the Titanic disaster, is expected to reach its destination this weekend.

Investigators said the plane flew through lightning and turbulence, but they don’t know what role, if any, the weather might have played in the crash.

Meanwhile, there has been broad speculation about why the Air France plane crashed, and France’s transportation minister has warned that “extreme prudence” should be used in releasing information.

Investigators also say the autopilot system that flies the plane much of the time may have failed.

A Spanish pilot reported seeing an “intense flash” in the locale where the plane was lost, the Spanish carrier Air Comet told CNN on Thursday, confirming a report in the Spanish daily El Mundo.

The co-pilot and a passenger on the flight between Lima, Peru, and Lisbon, Portugal, also said they saw a light. Air Comet said a written copy of the pilot’s report has been sent to Air France, Airbus and the Spanish civil aviation authority.

CNN’s Richard Quest contributed to this report.


Air France 447 – Confusion Over Debris Complicates Search for Plane

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Brazil Air Force/Bloomberg News

Brazilian Air Force officials looking out from a plane as it flew over the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil on Wednesday.

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PARIS — Brazil’s military forces said that the only piece of the debris they recovered thus far from the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday did not belong to the Air France Flight 447 that disappeared Sunday night on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, throwing the investigation into confusion and angering the French government.

Although the discovery is a setback — and calls into question early theories on why the plane disappeared — Brazil says that it earlier in the week has spotted other debris it thought was from the plane and will now try to retrieve those pieces to confirm where they came from. Locating wreckage from the plane would help investigators determine where it went down and aid in their search for the black boxes containing data and voice recorders.

And finding these black boxes is an urgent concern for investigators because the signal the boxes emit will begin to fade after 30 days. Without substantial physical clues, the data and voice recorders would likely provide the only explanation for the crash.

Late Friday, France’s military said it was sending a nuclear submarine to try to help detect signals from the black boxes.The Brazilian military had not initially recovered the other debris spotted by search planes, including what they thought was an airplane seat and life jacket, because it was concentrating on finding survivors.

But as aviation experts have tried to construct theories of what happened to the plane, an Airbus A330, on the basis of a slender set of facts, the discovery that the 8-foot-long structural support piece found Thursday was not from the plane destroyed a key piece of evidence for the theory that the plane broke up at high altitude. Some aviation experts had thought that because a large part had been found closer to Rio than other debris, that meant the plane came apart at high altitude, allowing the parts to spread widely.

In a news conference at the investigation’s base in Recife Friday morning, the military said that it still believed the debris spotted Tuesday in a 2-mile stretch belonged to the Air France plane and that it was doubling back to recover the pieces while battling rain and poor visibility in the area.

The new uncertainty over the disaster came after a warning fromAirbus, the manufacturer of the missing jet, the timing of which may indicate one focus of the investigation. Airbus issued the warning on Thursday to all its customers to follow established procedures when pilots suspect airspeed indicators are not functioning properly. The bulletin appeared to be the first hint that malfunctioning instruments indicators might have played an important role in the crash that Air France said had killed all 228 onboard.

In radio interviews on Friday, France’s transportation minister, Dominique Bussereau, urged “extreme prudence” about judging the source of any debris that is recovered until it could be properly analyzed. “The main objective is to get our hands on the black boxes, the flight data recorders,” Mr. Bussereau said.

“French authorities have been saying for several days that we have to be extremely prudent. Our planes and naval ships have seen nothing.”

He said it was “bad news” that the Brazilian teams had been mistaken about the large piece of debris. “We would have preferred that it had come from the plane and that we had some information.”

On Friday, the Paris prosecutor’s office said it had opened its own criminal investigation of the crash, a routine legal procedure whenever a French national dies abroad. Of the 228 passengers, 61 were French citizens.

With the setback in the investigation and no definitive answers concerning the plane’s final whereabouts, friends and relatives of the passengers have been struggling with their grief.

“Yesterday I thought it was over but this morning when I heard the debris were not from the plane, I didn’t know what I should think,” said Élodie Grandvalet, a close family friend of Isabelle Hochabaeff, 41, and her husband Yvan, 44, two of the victims from France.

The confusion started when the Brazilian military said on its Web site Thursday that it had recovered an 8-foot long structural support piece, a pallet, used in the cargo area of airplanes. But by Thursday night, the military had retracted that and said that the pallet — wooden — did not, in fact, belong to Flight 447.

The Airbus statement on airspeed indicators, approved by French investigators, said that the message had been sent “without prejudging the final outcome of the investigation,” but clearly it pointed to the possibility that mismanaging the plane’s speed could have been one step in a cascade of on-board failures, leading to the crash northeast of Brazil on Monday.

The message noted that “there was inconsistency between the different measured airspeeds” in the Airbus 330 that crashed, one of several error messages that were sent by the plane’s automatic systems to an Air France maintenance base.

Airspeed on jets is measured by the combination of a tube that faces forward, called a Pitot tube, and an opening on the side of the plane known as a static port. The plane’s speed is determined by comparing the pressure in the Pitot tube that is created by the oncoming wind with the pressure from the static port.

The model that crashed, an A330, has three pairs of tubes and static ports. But other instruments can also be involved in calculating air speed, and the notice to airlines, called an Accident Information Telex, did not specify the nature of the inconsistency.

The message went to airlines that operate all Airbus models, from narrow-body A318 models to the double-decker jumbo A380.

Failure to manage an inconsistency properly has been cited in several crashes of big jets from various manufacturers. In 1996, a Boeing 757 taking off from the Dominican Republic crashed because the airspeed indicators of the captain and the first officer disagreed, and the crew mismanaged the problem. Mud wasps had nested in one of the Pitot tubes.

A plane that flies too slow can lose lift and crash; too fast and it can break up in the air.

The Airbus notice referred to the Quick Reference Handbook and the Flight Crew Operating Manual, which is a more detailed volume that is also kept in the cockpit. For all the models, however, the advice is the same: keep the plane level and keep the throttle setting in place while troubleshooting. The ability to fix the problem in flight would depend, of course, on its source.

With only limited information available, and without the flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder, experts around the world could not do much more than speculate. A series of system failures could be set off by an on-board fire, by a failure that allowed ice buildup on a critical instrument, or by a variety of other causes, experts said.

The Airbus notice pointed out that the airplane was crossing an area of multiple thunderstorms at the time of the accident early Monday. Severe thunderstorms can cause crashes, although it is not clear whether the conditions that the flight encountered, on its planned route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, were unusual.

At AccuWeather.com, a commercial weather service, forecasters calculated that thunderstorms in the region of the crash could have generated updrafts in the range of 100 miles per hour, although Daniel G. Kottlowski, a senior meteorologist, conceded that this was not unusual weather.

He noted that one message sent out automatically by the plane indicated the cabin had depressurized, and he suggested perhaps this had forced the crew to descend into breathable air — and a more intense part of the storm.

Nicola Clark reported from Paris, Matthew L. Wald from Washington and Liz Robbins from New York. Andrew Downie contributed reporting from São Paulo, Brazil and Sergio Peçanha from New York.

New York Times


Air France 447 – Comando da Aeronáutica – Nota 13

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05/06/2009 – 13h26
Nota 13- 05.06.09

RELATÓRIO DAS BUSCAS DO VOO 447 DA AIR FRANCE

O Comando da Marinha e o Comando da Aeronáutica informam que a Operação de busca seguirá a mesma conduta adotada nos dias anteriores. As aeronaves envolvidas irão informar os eventuais avistamentos de destroços aos três navios da Marinha do Brasil que se encontram na área de operação. Nesta sexta-feira, uma aeronave francesa Atlantic Rescue D passou a integrar o conjunto de aeronaves engajadas nos esforços de busca.

Na área de buscas, o serviço de meteorologia aeronáutico prevê pancadas de chuva e trovoadas isoladas, com ondulações no mar de 1,8 metros. A visibilidade durante as precipitações cai para 4 mil metros.

O Comando das operações recebeu a visita de um grupo de 10 familiares das vítimas do vôo AF 447 para conhecer detalhes sobre as operações de busca. O grupo foi recebido no Centro Integrado de Defesa Aérea e Controle do Espaço Aéreo (CINDACTA III), em Recife.

Ainda nesta manhã, jornalistas que compareceram ao CINDACTA III puderam conhecer as características operacionais da aeronave R-99.

No total, doze aeronaves estão mobilizadas na Base Aérea de Natal e em Fernando de Noronha para o trabalho de busca, além dos três navios e um helicóptero da Marinha. Dois outros navios da Marinha estão a caminho da região onde deverão se juntar aos demais.

CENTRO DE COMUNICAÇÃO SOCIAL DA MARINHA
CENTRO DE COMUNICAÇÃO SOCIAL DA AERONÁUTICA


Realising the 787 dream

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By Jon Ostrower

Roughly a year ago, Boeing was fighting its way out of a production paralysis in 787 development, marked by parts shortages and design changes, along with a fight to regain control of the supply chain.

But even as the global credit crisis has hit the industry, design changes have begun to slow and Boeing’s first flight-test Dreamliners have emerged from the nightmare, ready to perform.

In spring 2008, three of six flight-test aircraft were in final assembly. The programme was showing signs of forward motion, with a slate of milestones laid out for Boeing to regain credibility by demonstrating forward progress on a predefined timetable.

ANA
© ANA

By 1 July 2008, then-787 programme general manager and vice-president Pat Shanahan said ZA001, the first flight-test 787, would have achieved power-on. Final assembly of ZA003 and ZA004 would be under way, and all first-flight hardware would be qualified and ready for first flight by the year-end.

While June saw power-on for ZA001, a major milestone in bringing the 787 to life, that month also brought news of a production mishap at the Global Aeronautica facility in Charleston, South Carolina, Boeing’s 50/50 joint venture with Alenia Aeronautica. A contract employee’s use of improper fasteners damaged the skin of the aircraft, resulting in a delay in delivery to Everett of the centre fuselage for ZA004.

By mid-summer, the aerospace community was gathering at Farnborough for the biennial air show. Boeing appeared confident, but had no target for final assembly to begin on its fourth 787 test aircraft and the programme chief was saying publicly he had yet to receive the brake-control monitoring software from Crane Aerospace, a unit of GE Aviation.

IMPROPER VERIFICATION

Behind the scenes, Boeing and Crane were struggling to complete the software because of improper verification conducted by Indian company HCL. Sources say the software, which was delivered to Everett prematurely, caused feedback loops that crippled the brake-control system in systems integration laboratory testing. Crane’s budget for the programme ballooned more than 10 times after requiring massive upfront costs to straighten out the situation, say those directly involved in the software development.

The “blue label” brake-control software was delivered to Boeing in late October, with the formal “red label” version two weeks later. But by last February, Crane said a further redesign was required because of higher-than-expected brake temperatures interfering with remote data concentrator units restricting aircraft turnaround times in certain conditions.

As the summer drew to a close, ZA004 final assembly was under way, but Boeing’s list of 787 challenges continued to grow, even as the pace of work on ZA001 was moving rapidly, but not swiftly enough to meet the end-of-the-year target. Assembly completion of Dreamliner One had slipped more than six weeks from its original target of late August to early October, pushing first flight forecasts into the early part of 2009.

787 static frame test
© Boeing

As Boeing worked to correct highly scrutinised design and supply chain issues, it was dealt another blow when the airframer’s largest labour union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, authorised a strike on 3 September, the second such sanction in three years. The 27,000-strong membership ground Boeing’s commercial product lines to a halt for 57 days, disrupting not only the 787 schedule, but many airlines that were expecting new aircraft deliveries.

Within days of the machinists returning, Boeing announced it would not be able to meet its 2008 787 first flight date, blaming the strike, although the company had already been behind its revised schedule even before the action, say multiple programme sources.

The programme suffered yet another setback when it was revealed that roughly 3% of the fasteners installed across all aircraft, an amount numbering in the thousands, were improperly installed due to a poorly written specification. The 787 was grounded again, with production frozen until the fasteners in the critical locations could be removed and replaced. The latest problem reverberated through the supply chain, halting work on supplier structural sections while fasteners were replaced.

Across the factory, the 747-8 was suffering as resources were diverted towards the 787. Design changes on that aircraft were taking their toll on the supply chain’s ability to keep up. Eventually, Boeing would be forced to delay the entry into service of its first 747-8 freighter by as much as six months.

LEADERSHIP SHAKE-UP

Along with a revision of its first 787 flight and delivery schedule to the second quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010, respectively, Boeing shook up its leadership team, promoting programme manager Pat Shanahan, and replacing him with head of Missile Defense programmes Scott Fancher, who became vice-president and general manager of the 787 programme. Fancher served as Shanahan’s number two when he was responsible for the company’s Missile Defense programmes.

Shanahan was tasked to run all aircraft programmes in a significant realignment that included bringing the 787 under the Boeing Commercial Airplanes umbrella of oversight. Previously, it was its own entity and operated separately from the legacy programmes.

Shanahan replaced Carolyn Corvi, whose departure came as a significant surprise to those inside and outside Boeing. Industry analysts and programme staff expressed surprise at Corvi’s premature departure, because she was a major engine of productivity and innovation for jetliner production at Boeing.

As 2008 drew to a close, the 787 was again a programme in transition – new leadership, production challenges and an uncertain economy lay ahead.

When 2009 arrived, Boeing was again finding its footing, preparing for the arrival of its fifth flight-test aircraft for final assembly. On 2 January, ZA001 left the 787 final assembly line in Building 40-26 for a spot two bays down for final fastener rework and systems testing. The aircraft was repowered-on at the end of January, signalling a restart of the push towards its first flight.

UNCERTAINTY SHRINKS BOEING’S ORDER BACKLOG

EVEN AS technical progress advances on the 787, economic uncertainty has taken its toll on Boeing’s record backlog in the first half of 2009. Four cancellations have resulted in the backlog shrinking by a net total of 49 units, far ahead of any of its other commercial programmes.

Boeing earned a follow-on order of eight aircraft from Bahrain-based Gulf Air, but Russia’s S7 Group cancelled an order for 15 aircraft, Dubai-based lessor LCAL cancelled 16 of 21 it had on order, VIP customer Sky Peace cancelled one, and most recently it was revealed that an unidentified cancellation for 25 aircraft originated from the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The early months of 2009 saw the arrival and the start of final assembly of the final two flight-test aircraft, ZA005 and ZA006.

The programme has been steadily gaining momentum since March, when all the aircraft systems were elevated to flight status. Boeing has found the aircraft systems performing beyond expectations, completing testing milestones faster than expected.

Programme leaders say the past two years have not only been devoted to production issues, but revising the design of many parts of the aircraft to improve systems maturity.

For example, in April, Boeing completed the factory gauntlet – the first of three closed-loop system testing phases – sooner than expected. ZA001 was run through a full simulated first flight profile with chief project pilot Mike Carriker at the controls.

“We were able to accomplish that testing in about half the time we had originally planned, demonstrating increasing maturity of the systems on the aircraft and reliability and repeatability of those systems,” says Fancher.

Static test frame ZY997 completed all requirements in support of the first flight in late April as the limit load test that saw the test airframe’s wings deflected about 5.2m (17ft) or 120-130% of maximum load.

After running the gauntlet and completing a series of gear swing tests, ZA001 left 40-24 and transitioned to the paint hangar for a comprehensive aqueous wash of its fuel tanks, to have final instrumentation installed and close out the wing tanks ahead of fuel tests.

Boeing
© Boeing

Meanwhile, in early May, ZA001 left the confines of the paint hangar and officially moved to the fuel dock for fuel system testing and validation of the internal power distribution capability, which included the first start for the Hamilton Sundstrand auxiliary power unit two days ahead of schedule, says Fancher.

By late May, the aircraft moved from the fuel dock to the flight line for myriad tests, including the first electric start of a commercial engine on a commercial aircraft when, on 21 May, the twin Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines were spooled up.

Boeing is confident its flight-test programme will get under way this month, pointing to additional consolidation of preflight testing by shortening the final gauntlet testing, while expanding the intermediate gauntlet to meet its latest schedule commitment of flying the first 787 by the close of the second quarter.

CHALLENGING ROAD

For Boeing, the road ahead for the 787 is no less challenging than the path that brought the airframer to this point.

Boeing has laid out an ambitious six-aircraft flight-test plan – expected to start this month – to achieve US Federal Aviation Administration, European Aviation Safety Agency and Japanese JCAB certification by the first quarter of 2010.

Key to achieving certification in eight to nine months, as Boeing sees it, is a change in the methodology of its test campaign. The flight-test team has had 22 months of additional time to prepare for the 6,800h campaign, which was originally set to begin in August 2007.

Jon Ostrower/Flight International
© Jon Ostrower/Flight International

Boeing’s changes in flight-test methodology include recognising efficiency improvements it could introduce in advance. The amount of time allocated for flight-testing and for unknown contingencies or “discovery layups” is based on conservatively held assumptions from previous programmes.

“Where we do have an ability to change is how much time we take for planned layups and when we do ground tests,” says Frank Rasor, 787 test programme manager.

Boeing believes it will save significant time by using prefabricated ice shapes rather than having to search for known icing conditions in flight. Also, it is using a pressure valve system for flight load survey, rather than the previous system that took 30 days to install during flight testing. The new system, including prefabricated pressure belts with internal electronics, reduces layup time to seven days.

Rasor says Boeing built in 15-20% additional margin into the flight test for “contingent testing, so that would include the availability of any airplane, any time”.

In April, Boeing had submitted 2,280 compliance reports – nearly 60% of the total required by the FAA for certification under Part 25 regulations for the programme. Of the 3,900 “deliverables” required by the FAA, only 275 directly depend on data from flight-testing.

The company has six flight-test aircraft in various states of completion at its Everett facility and two further ground-test airframes for static and fatigue trials.

Static airframe ZY997 will undertake a robust test programme in the middle of 2009 to support flight testing. Full-scale ground testing will continue on ZY997 into the middle of 2009 to support flight-testing of the fatigue airframe, ZY998. Tests on the second airframe are supporting certification of the aircraft through 165,000 simulated cycles tested over three years to understand the long-term wear-and-tear on the aircraft.

Four of the six flight-test aircraft will be fitted with Trent 1000 engines, including ZA001, the first 787 to fly. These first four test aircraft will account for most of the programme’s flight test hours, with 2,430 flight and 3,100 ground hours, respectively.

ZA002 will support systems testing, with ZA003 validating cabin architecture. ZA004 will validate range and performance, and aircraft three to six will all support 207-330min extended twin-engine operations certification.

Two additional flight-test aircraft, ZA005 and ZA006, will be powered by General Electric GEnx-1B engines for 670 flight and 600 ground test hours. Much of the testing for GEnx-1B certification will be done primarily by ZA005, which will be equipped with a full data systems and ZA006 will follow on with additional lightning protection tests.

POINT TO POINT PHILOSOPHY

When Boeing envisaged the 787, it created a mid-size aircraft that embodied the company’s point-to-point philosophy underscored by unparalleled range at entry into service.

By bypassing traditional hubs, Boeing’s belief is that the 787 could enlarge the number of direct city pairs offered by airlines.

Only one aircraft previously boasted such promises of ranges of more than 14,800km (8,000nm) in a first-generation technology package: Airbus’s A380. Before its first flight, the A380 was 4-5t overweight. The excess growth represented less than 1% of the total maximum take-off weight of 560t, although operators were still disappointed at the loss of payload range, once estimated to be as many as 50 passengers.

For the 787, an aircraft with a 220,000kg (484,000lb) maximum take-off weight, less than half of the A380, every kilogram matters that much more.

Boeing recently acknowledged that the first aircraft would be overweight, but has never specified by how much. The first production 787, aircraft seven, is expected to begin final assembly in June, and will be weighed to determine both the baseline weight and the extent of the weight gain.

Despite the expected shortfall, Boeing is committed to the performance of its early aircraft. “The bottom line is, we think that with the first block of aircraft, we’ll have aircraft that do the missions our customers need, and as we continue to improve on weight, aerodynamics and engine performance going forward, that will only improve,” says Fancher.

Boeing now advertises the range of the 787-8 as 14,150-15,170km, a reduction of about 550km from the first touted of range of 14,800-15,720km.

Bernstein Research said in a recent report that the first production 787s would be as much as 8% overweight, resulting in a 10-15% shortfall in range, putting the aircraft performance closer to 12,760km.

But Boeing says: “The conclusion on range is inaccurate.” It claims the 787-8’s range is closer to 14,800km than 13,000km.

Aircraft seven will be the first to incorporate significant weight reduction into the design. Most of the changes focus on removing weight from the wing. A second early blockpoint change is planned around aircraft 20 that will feature “broader weight improvements, including wiring”, says Fancher.

In recent months, customers have expressed doubt about the 787’s ability to perform as first promised. Andres Conesa, chief executive of Aeromexico, said in February: “The expectation was that the aircraft could go all the way to Greece [from Mexico City]. It has changed. Today we don’t know the final conditions.” The distance between Mexico City and Athens is about 14,000km.

Jon Ostrower/Flight International
© Jon Ostrower/Flight International

In March, Shanghai Airlines openly considered cancelling part of its 787 order as Chinese carriers were working to renegotiate with Boeing on their early delivery slots. The carrier’s chairman, Zhou Chi, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying the aircraft did not “fully meet the quality Boeing touted earlier”.

It was revealed in April that many of the early 787 operators, including the five Chinese airlines that helped launch the aircraft’s namesake in 2004, delayed early deliveries, moving many early production aircraft into the hands of launch customer All Nippon Airways. Also, the first six test 787s originally bound for ANA, Delta Air Lines and Royal Air Maroc, were no longer scheduled for delivery.

Many industry watchers suggested that the significant increase in weight contributed to the change, although Boeing says some customers opted for production standard 787s because they would be available earlier than refurbished flight-test aircraft. The change in the Chinese delivery schedule was later confirmed in April by airlines, including China Southern, announcing a deferral of both 787 and A380 deliveries.

WEIGHT REDUCTION

For Boeing, much of the future 787 weight reduction depends on understanding how the aircraft performs in flight – information that will not be known fully until the flight-test programme is well under way.

Programme sources indicate that many of the full-scale structure tests Boeing has conducted revealed significant structural over-engineering, with some areas exceeding twice the required strength for certification.

“What we focus on is getting this aircraft given how it is performing, and how the weight case, how the loads are distributed across the aircraft once it is built and tested, where can we go and incorporate more efficient structure to take weight out,” says Fancher. “[Weight reduction] tends to be very specific actions, not a parametric approach and that’s where our focus is on the -9 and the -8 improvements going forward.”

Engine suppliers R-R and GE have been able to make use of programme delays to improve the performance of their respective powerplants.

After many months of additional development, GE expects its GEnx-1B engine to be at spec at entry into service, with additional aerofoils, a revised low-pressure turbine, and improved durability of the combustor.

For the Trent 1000 engine, R-R had an even higher hill to climb, with an acknowledged 4-5% shortfall in fuel burn. The manufacturer now says it will deliver what it calls the Build 4A engine, expected to be flight-tested by year-end on ZA004.

Build 4A features a revised six-stage low-pressure turbine, higher aspect-ratio blades, relocation of the intermediate-pressure compressor bleed offtake ports, and improved aerodynamics on the fan outlet guide vanes.

All these improvements will bring the engine within 1% of target specific fuel consumption by entry into service, and exceed cruise SFC by 0.5%.

Without aerodynamic data and route proving trials that can be gained only in the forthcoming flight-test programme, many of these performance estimates fall within a reasonable, albeit speculative, analysis.

Yet the contribution of technologies such as trailing-edge variable camber, raked blended winglets, drooping ailerons and spoilers, laminar flow optimised engine nacelles and additional engine performance improvements, all leave open questions until real-world data can deliver a conclusive verdict on aircraft performance.

“In the long run, this will be an excellent aircraft,” said Steven Udvar-Hazy, chief executive of Boeing’s largest customer, International Lease Finance, in March. “But I pity the airlines that get the first ones. Obviously those aircraft will not be the same standard as those 787s later on.”

HERCULEAN TASK

By all outward appearances, Boeing has left behind the production paralysis that marked the first two years of the 787 programme, giving way to the herculean task of ramping up for an ambitious 10-aircraft-a-month production rate by the end of 2012.

What Boeing sees now are the opening years of what could be a three-decade or an even longer road to delivering several thousand 787s. Boeing holds orders for 861 787s from 56 customers. The key now is getting those aircraft built and into their hands as quickly as possible.

Boeing
© Boeing

With suppliers unprepared to meet schedule commitments during the early phases of production, Boeing was forced to perform “travelled work” that was originally intended to be performed by suppliers, but instead was shifted to final assembly and delivery in Everett.

Fancher recognises the obstacles in front of him, but is bullish about beating the challenges. “We’ve got plenty of condition of assembly to improve yet, plenty of travelled work to pull through the system to get to a fully stable production system, but we’re on track to make that happen, and every day we’re seeing stability spread deeper and deeper into the production system,” says Fancher.

He cites the body joins for aircraft five and six as a significant point of progress for the programme, beating the planned 21-day span time by two and seven days, respectively.

But even with this marked improvement in progress, key areas of the supply chain raise significant misgivings about Boeing’s ability to reach 10 aircraft a month by the end of 2012.

Boeing’s ability to assemble and deliver one 787 every three days ultimately depends on its supply chain’s ability to deliver one shipset at the same rate to final assembly.

Industry analysts cite integration times of more than 300 days for the centre fuselage section by Global Aeronautica in Charleston as a potential “bottleneck” for the production ramp-up.

Global Aeronautica, which began as a 50-50 joint venture between Alenia Aeronautica and Vought Aircraft Industries, became half owned by Boeing when it bought Vought’s share in March 2008.

The facility, which receives structural elements from Alenia, Kawasaki and Fuji, is now a two-line, five-station pulsing production system, with room for a third line expected to be activated during the coming ramp-up.

Boeing is keeping a close watch on Charleston and is keenly aware that flow times at Global Aeronautica are a key to supporting the production ramp-up.

“We do a difficult body join there from a complexity standpoint, three elements of the aircraft coming together at the same time,” says Fancher. “We are learning about that join, about the tooling and the tooling concepts that were used as a basis of the design at that station, and have seven improvement plans in place that I status every week, for improving the flow at that location.”

Boeing chief executive Jim McNerney says: “We have taken more direct control of that factory, which I think has moved along process improvements significantly and we’re making good progress there.

“While it has represented a bottleneck, we are confident that it won’t as we meet our production schedule.”

Despite Boeing’s growing confidence in its production system, the company still expects to see changes in how responsibility of its supply chain is laid out.

“Now, [switching suppliers] does happen and clearly, as we go forward, we’ll look at some rebalancing of work scope as we sort through where work is most efficiently and cost effectively done but, by and large, the focus is on helping our supply chain succeed, not moving the work in a rapid fashion [with travelled work],” says Fancher.

To guide the ramp-up, Boeing has created a command centre for the 787’s global production, called the Production Integration Center. On 9 December 2008, the centre became fully “operational on day one, all over the world in some form or another”, says Bob Noble, vice-president of 787 supplier management.

The idea of the centre, in one form or another, says Noble, was always in the plan to co-ordinate 787 production, although when the supply chain failed to meet the ambitious ramp-up, Boeing gave the green light for the centre in March 2008.

PAINFUL HISTORY

The centre’s mission statement belies both the painful history and lessons that have been learned from the acute growing pains during early production. It is: “To provide situational awareness, early issue detection and real-time problem resolution for the 787 Dreamliner production system.”

Noble says that he does not believe Boeing could have avoided the production problems with the production centre had it been established earlier, because the lessons learned helped to create the requirements for the centre itself.

“We were able to build the room…with a full understanding of our production system and our needs. So chances the are, if we tried to build something two or three years ago, we probably would not have done this. We probably would not have got it as right as this really feels like.”

Noble says the integration centre was born out of a need “to take advantage of the night”, adding that opportunities were often lost to get to grips with production issues that arose in the daytime in Japan or Italy when it was nighttime in Everett.

“You can lose a couple of days just getting a problem identified,” says Noble.

The integration centre ties in Boeing’s seven major structural partners and delves deeper into the sub-tiers of the global supply chain. The facility constantly monitors conditions around the world, ranging from floods, earthquakes and tornadoes to riots and, recently, swine flu.

Boeing openly acknowledges the challenge ahead, although it sees the integration centre as the centrepiece to taking production of the 787 to a streamlined 24/7 operation.

“Problems will continue to occur,” says Noble. “Every programme will always have some kind of problem; the object here is to know it quickly and be able to resolve it quickly.”


BOEING CLOCKS IN FOR BUSY DAY

The underpinning of Boeing’s 787 testing is based on efficient use of the 24h clock, ensuring that no part of the day is wasted. Three shifts support the aircraft.

Boeing envisages a day beginning at 06:00 with the arrival of the test crew, followed by a pre-flight briefing 30min later.

At 07:00, each of the six flight-test aircraft will be released back to the flight-test crew after undergoing maintenance or preparations overnight, beginning the 8h testing block. By 08:00, the 90min pre-flight briefings will be wrapping up and the aircraft will be in the sky by 09:00 for a typical 5h testing block. By 14:00, the aircraft will head back to base for a touchdown at 15:00, followed by 2h of post-test debrief.

After touchdown, the aircraft will be handed over for 16h of overnight maintenance and preparation by the second and third shifts, culminating in the aircraft’s 07:00 release the following day, for the process to begin again.

Boeing then runs preliminary analyses of the data gathered during the day, running from 17:00 to 21:00.

Boeing’s Production Integration Center at the company’s Everett facility will also support the Seattle flight-test centre during the overnight schedule by co-ordinating maintenance routines overnight to ensure the aircraft are flying again by the next morning, says Bob Noble, vice-president of 787 supplier management.