Thursday, December 23, 2010

Boeing announces the resumption of flight tests

As expected this came across today. My comments and other information will follow:

Boeing Resumes 787 Flight Testing

- Interim solution verified through extensive testing

- Schedule assessment expected to conclude in January

EVERETT, Wash., Dec. 23, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- Boeing (NYSE: BA) will resume flight test activities on the 787 Dreamliner later today. The company has installed an interim version of updated power distribution system software and conducted a rigorous set of reviews to confirm the flight readiness of ZA004, the first of the six flight test airplanes that will return to flight.

"Initially, we will resume a series of Boeing tests that remain to be completed in the flight test program. That testing will be followed later by a resumption of certification testing," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the 787 program. Today's testing will include an intentional deployment of the Ram Air Turbine (RAT), which is a small turbine that is deployed when back-up power is required.

Boeing and Hamilton Sundstrand completed testing of the interim software updates earlier this week. Verification of the system included laboratory testing of standalone components, integration testing with other systems, flight simulator testing and ground-based testing on a flight test airplane.

In the last several weeks, the company continued ground testing as part of the certification program. Additional ground testing will be done by the company on the production version of the airplane to further verify performance of the changes being made.

"As we return to flight test and determine the pace of that activity, we remain focused on developing a new program schedule," Fancher added. "We expect to complete our assessment of the program schedule in January."

Flight testing of the 787 was suspended last month following an in-flight electrical incident on a test flight in Laredo, Texas.

A couple of key points:
1) Testing is being done on an interim software fix. This is not the final version that will be required on all production planes
2) Boeing tests - Boeing is conducting these test not the FAA
3) The first test involves the deployment and testing of the RAT - Did the RAT not work as expected on ZA002?
4) One 787 will return to flight test, the others?

Ok my take....Boeing is going to be testing an interim software fix; hardware fix, it seems, is done. The FAA is more concerned with the way the power distribution systems handled during the in flight emergency on ZA002. Now this software fix is going to run through different scenarios and test conditions to see how it reacts. Boeing is going to have to demonstrate to the FAA the power distribution software will react in way intended in the case of an in flight fire. Because this is an interim fix I expect that there will be changes made that will have to be tested in the systems integration and engineering lab before being flown on ZA004 which I assume will be the test bed for this software fix.

Until the FAA is 100% satisfied that this fix does not allow the recurrence of the problems that the crew experienced on the flight deck, Boeing will have to continue to make changes to the software and test it in the ground labs and in flight test before the FAA will allow certification testing to restart. Boeing tells me that they are having continued discussions with the FAA over the resumptions of certification test flights which I presume will include a discussion of the results of the Boeing flight tests and the software fixes that are being tested.

Boeing has told me a couple of tid bits.

1) All the flights that occurred on November 7th including the ferry flights will be logged as official 787 flights. This includes ZA002's flight. It should appear on the 787 flight test scorecard. It is already on my flight test tracker and I will update it for all flight that are carried out for today onwards.

2) The other 787s will be rejoining the flight test program in the days and weeks ahead. ZA004 will not be the only 787 flying in these Boeing tests.

3) An industry source has told me that Boeing plans to have the new delivery schedule ready around the week of January 17th though it is not a certain time frame. A lot will depend on how these test flights go as well as complete review of the work that the program has to complete on all the built 787s that are scattered all over Everett.

Lastly, Guy Norris has a post up on the Aviation Week site. In it he reveals that Boeing is getting the systems labs operational again to fully support the flight testing of the oftware fix. Guy also says that Boeing expects to see certification flight testing to resume sometime in January.

Read Guy's post:

Guy Norris: 787 Return to Flight

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