Wednesday, March 31, 2010

787 review and look ahead

Now that the first quarter of 2010 has come to an end, it seems like a good time for a brief review and a look ahead.

Thus far the 787 flight test fleet has accumulated over 406 test flight hours (through March 31st) spread over 134 flight. ZA001 has conducted most of the test flight as expected with ZA002 conducting the second most flights.

There is some concern amongst many followers of this program (including articles in the Wall Street Journal) that the 787 hasn't been flown enough to achieve the needed flight test hours for certification. Boeing has said that the test flight program will entail 3,100 flight hours spread across the 6 test airplanes. In order for Boeing to have the necessary hours by mid November which is 32 weeks from now (I picked mid-November as it will allow Boeing enough time to get the production 787 ready for customer delivery by Dec. 31, 2010...another 6 weeks) they would need to fly the test fleet at a clip of 82 hours per week starting now.

James Albaugh has stated that the 787 test fleet would be flying around 90 hours per week starting around the middle of this year. However, if Boeing is to meet it's 787 delivery target that it has set for itself, then it would need to start flying longer 787 sorties starting now. Currently, Boeing is averaging a little over 3 hours per flight through the 134 flights that have been conducted thus far. Boeing does plan on flying longer flights but that probably won't occur until the FAA has issued the Type Inspection Authorization that is needed to formally kick off the certification process. That was supposed to have happened by today as of the time I'm writing this post it has not occurred.

Flight Test Look Ahead
In the meanwhile, ZA001 continues to fly test flights. ZA002 is in the midst of upgrading it flight software to the Wedge 5.5 version that ZA004 had recently tested on the ground and in the air. This is the service-ready version of the 787 flight software. It is anticipated that ZA002 should be back in the air by the end of next week (around April 9th). Both ZA003 and ZA004 should both be flying again by Saturday, April 3rd. ZA005 is on the Boeing flightline, preparing for it's first flight and should be flying around May 8th. This will be the first flight of the GEnx-1B on the 787. The last flight test aircraft (also equipped with the GEnx-1B), ZA006, should be in the air by June 4th and is currently in building 40-24.

Production
787 production continues apace with an important milestone taking place yesterday. LN 20 (ZA175), a 787 for Japan Airlines, started final assembly. This is the first weight optimized 787 to enter into final assembly and is introducing a major block point change with weight savings incorporated into the aircraft.

Boeing is slowly ramping up 787 production and the next aircraft LN 21 (ZA176) will enter final assembly around April 12th thus ZA 175 would be in position 1 for about 2 weeks before pulsing to the next assembly position. The dramatic reduction of traveled work (two words that hasn't been mentioned in some time) certainly has helped as well as the learning curve when it comes to assembling the 787s. Now the concern is managing the change incorporation process of the existing production 787s though Boeing does have a plan for that.

10 comments:

mgate said...

I have a question. It seems to me that there will be quite a few (6?) production aircraft ready to go by the time flight testing is done and the 787 is certified by all the bodies.

Does this mean Boeing will be able to deliver all of these aircraft at the same time or, at least, in very quick succession once testing is done?

Uresh said...

Each of the production aircraft hasto go through its own check out flights with Boeing and customer pilots so it's not like they would be all delivered en masse after certification. Additionally it does take time to equipe each of the airplanes with their interiors and engines which they don't have right now. Boeing has to pay the vendors when those items are delivered and they don't want to pay for it now when the aircraft won't be delivered for another 8 months.

skywalker said...

Uresh, I agree with you that the program looks pressed for time. However, worthy of note is that the flight hours we see on the flight test website are not the actual accumulated hours for certification. Albaugh has said that some tests can be performed concurrently and then counted as separate flight hours. As such, simple division will not yield the pacing required to meet the delivery deadline. In the end, your approach should be a good approximation. With all that said, I do want to thank you for the updates on the 787 program. I enjoy reading your posts and appreciate all your efforts!

Uresh said...

Thanks for the kind words!!!

Johann said...

You are comparing average length per flight to number of hours needed to be flown per month which may not present a full picture. Sometimes ZA001 is flying twice a day (like today) for ~2 hours each. It should really be flight hours per airframe per day (as opposed to per flight) to give a better comparison. It's still going to be short but it will be a bit closer to what is "needed".

You are providing a great resource for us that don't have time to track each flight on flightaware :) Keep it up!

Uresh said...

Johann, thanks for the compliments! True that the test fleet sometimes fly more than two flights a day but the average you see is the average per flight. The average flight time has been actually decreasing over the months that I've been tracking (from 3.79 hours in Dec. to 2.91 hours in March). I'm hoping that the average flight hours will increase once the TIA is issued.

mono mono said...

It's great that load tests have passed but I've always wondered what the effects of flight cycles on composites are. Could cycles cause micro-fissures? In some ways I feel safer with metal because it's some form of a molecular crystalline structure but these composites are totally different. I realize fighters have had composites for years and wonder how that translates over to 787. Just a bunch of questions...

Uresh said...

mono mono...The fatigue tests on the 787 fuselage will answer those questions. Those test should start soon and will take about three years to complete.

John said...

Just a thought....
How many of the 3100hrs are for the GE version.
Could the RR version be certified in < 3100hrs?
Thanks for your efforts

Ruscoe

Uresh said...

The four Trent-powered aircraft (ZA001 to ZA004) should fly about 2,430 hours and ZA005-ZA006 should fly the balance - 670 hours.