Friday, October 30, 2009

Back to the Future

NASA Images

In the hey day of the Apollo Program NASA built huge support infrastructure to support the manned missions to the moon. This included the huge Vehicle Assembly Building (the VAB), the crawler transporters, launch pad 39A and 39B and finally the Mobile Launch Platforms (MLP) with the Launch Umbilical Towers (LUT). With the demise of that program most of that infrastructure was destroyed or renovated to support the Space Shuttles. One of those parts was the massive MLP/LUT. The platforms were modified to support the Space Shuttle but the LUTs were either reused as parts of the current Fixed Support Structure (FSS) at pads 39A and 39B or are rusting at Kennedy Space Center.
Now that NASA is planning to go beyond low Earth orbit (pending a final decision by President Obama) NASA is building up new infrastructure to support the Ares I rocket with the Orion spacecraft. One of the most visible parts of the ground support equipment (GSE) being built
to support Ares I is a new MLP with LUT. In the four pictures above you see the new launch platform with the tower just starting to rise on the platform base. So far three tower segments have been attached with several more to be lifted on top. After the structural assembly is completed will come the long process of installation of support equipment, fuel lines, elevators, and other Ares I support equipment. The tower should be completed by summer of 2012 and ready to support the next Ares test flight (either an Ares 1- or if that is cancelled a proposed Ares I-X Prime).
Of course all this is predicated on what President Obama decides what to do with NASA's manned spaceflight program. Constellation is currently underfunded by about $3billion/year according to the Augustine report released last month. NASA's most visible program is at risk of being cancelled which means that the only possible use for the MLP/LUT being currently built is as an artificial reef.

Flightblogger: The moving parts of the Charleston Decision

Flightblogger posted some very interesting analysis now that Boeing has decided to place the second 787 assembly line in Charleston.

The Surge: Boeing will set up a temporary line at Everett (on the 767 according to Flightblogger) which will handle the production ramp up until Charleston comes online. Flightblogger also said that the 787-9 will be built in Everett though he has not said if it will also be built in Charleston.

Dreamlifter: Flightblogger created an interesting table comparing the number of flights and the flight distances of flying parts into Charleston for final assembly vs flying parts into Everett. In it the Charleston line will require fewer delivery flights and fewer miles flown compared to the Everett line. Boeing currently has three LCFs and plans on adding a fourth but will probably need at least two more to support the 10/month rate coming from two assembly lines.

Lastly, Flightblogger said it is possible that airplanes coming from the Charleston line will be for customers in Europe will those from Everett will be destined for Asia/Pacific/Australia customers. While that might make sense now since the number of Asia/Pacific aircraft outnumbers those going to Europe and even South America, those dynamics could change. I don't know where those aircraft destined for North American customers (Air Canada, Continental, Delta/NW and AA) would come from but they might flow from both lines with AC, and AA taking planes from Everett and CO and DL/NW taking planes from Charleston given where their major hubs are located.

Flightblogger: The many moving parts of the Charleston line decision

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Randy Tinseth: Charleston Line to be ready by July 2011, first Charleston 787 to deliver by end of March 2012

Randy Tinseth, BCA's VP of Marketing, reported in his blog that Boeing Charleston's Final Assembly Facility should be ready by July 2011 and the first 787 to be delivered from that facility should be handed over by the 1st quarter of 2012.

This time scale give Boeing roughly 20 months to build and outfit the facility and then get production rolling over the following 9 months.

Boeing, fed up with over twenty years of labor strife has decided to locate the second line for the 787 in North Charleton, SC right next to its existing facility that produces the rear fuselage for the 787 and the Global Aeronautica facility that integrates fuselage sections from Japan and Italy to form the main fuselage of the 787.

Some take aways from Randy's Blog:

"Something very important to point out: we’re adding jobs in South Carolina, not taking them away from Puget Sound."

"The process will take about 2 years. Our goal is to have the second line up and operational in July 2011, with a first airplane delivery from Charleston in the first quarter of 2012."

"We applied the same basic assumptions and ground rules to both sites, with a heavy emphasis on long-term competitiveness and ensuring a sustainable stream of deliveries for our customers."

You can read more on Randy Tinseth's Blog, Second Line

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Boeing Selects North Charleston for 2nd 787 final assembly line

Boeing has pulled the trigger and announced that they will locate the second production line for the 787 in North Charleston, SC.

The talks with IAM has not resulted in an agreement and thus Boeing, in order to meet its contractual obligations to its customers will locate the line outside of Everett. It's important to note that this will create jobs in SC but not lead to a reduction of the workforce in Everett....for now. This decision does not come as a surprise to me and does represent a set back for the two main unions in the Washington area, IAM and SPEEA.

Boeing to Place Second 787 Assembly Line in North Charleston, SC

SEATTLE, Oct. 28 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Boeing (NYSE: BA) today announced that it has chosen its North Charleston, S.C., facility as the location for a second final assembly site for the 787 Dreamliner program. Boeing evaluated criteria that were designed to find the final assembly location within the company that would best support the 787 business plan as the program increases production rates. In addition to serving as a location for final assembly of 787 Dreamliners, the facility also will have the capability to support the testing and delivery of the airplanes.

"Establishing a second 787 assembly line in Charleston will expand our production capability to meet the market demand for the airplane," said Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "This decision allows us to continue building on the synergies we have established in South Carolina with Boeing Charleston and Global Aeronautica," he said, adding that this move will strengthen the company's competitiveness and sustainability and help it grow for the long term.

Boeing Charleston performs fabrication, assembly and systems installation for the 787 aft fuselage sections. Across the street, Global Aeronautica, which is 50 percent owned by Boeing, is responsible for joining and integrating 787 fuselage sections from other structural partners.

Until the second 787 assembly line is brought on line in North Charleston, Boeing will establish transitional surge capability at its Everett, Wash., location to ensure the successful introduction of the 787-9, the first derivative model of the 787. When the second line in Charleston is up and operating, the surge capability in Everett will be phased out.

"We're taking prudent steps to protect the interests of our customers as we introduce the 787-9 and ramp up overall production to 10 twin-aisle 787 jets per month," said Albaugh.

"While we welcome the development of this expanded capability at Boeing Charleston, the Puget Sound region is the headquarters of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Everett will continue to design and produce airplanes, including the 787, and there is tremendous opportunity for our current and future products here," Albaugh emphasized. "We remain committed to Puget Sound."

Approximately 55 airlines have ordered around 840 787 airplanes since the program was launched in 2003. The 787 family of airplanes will carry 200 to 250 passengers on flights up to 8,200 nautical miles (15,200 km). The 787 will be more efficient, quieter and have lower emissions than other airplanes while offering passengers greater comfort and the convenience of direct, nonstop flights between more cities around the world.

"The 787 will provide airlines with unprecedented operating economics and efficiencies. It also will take passengers where they want to go, when they want to go, and do it more comfortably and affordably than ever before," Albaugh said. "This airplane will allow us to continue to set the standard for commercial aviation in the second century of flight."

What is interesting is that Everett will be the location of a temporary surge production of the 787-9 until the Charleston facility is up and running. This indicates that the 787-9 production will be located in Charleston but that Everett will handle some of the inital 787-9 production.

The new Charletson facility will have not just a final assembly hall but also paint hangars, new taxiways and aprons as well as a fully functional flight test center. What this does for future labor relations with IAM and SPEEA is not completely clear but for now those relations appear to be worse than ever. Time will tell if they get better between now and 2012. Here are a few more sources of information:

Flightblogger (Scott Hamilton)

Aviation Week

Boeing decision on 2nd 787 line may be imminent

Flightblogger and various other news sources are reporting that talks between Boeing and IAM have broken down. This may lead to Boeing to decide to locate the 787 2nd assembly line in North Charleston, SC.

Yesterday, the South Carolina State Senate passed a package of incentives to lure Boeing to North Charleston for the 2nd 787 line. It now appears that those incentives along with the breakdown of talks between Boeing and the IAM will lead to Boeing making an announcement that they will locate the 2nd assembly line in North Charleston. Boeing has already purchased land in the area as well as filed the necessary permits for construction of the assembly hall located next to Global Aeronautica and Boeing Charleston. Boeing said that those actions were necessary for planning purposes.

Now Washington State politicos are not giving up. Senator Patty Murray from Washington has requested that representatives from IAM 751 and Boeing meet at her Washington State offices in order to try and agree to a no strike deal. It seems that IAM has agreed to it but there has yet been no word from Boeing to Sen. Murray's invitation.

It may be that Boeing has already made up its mind. We'll soon know.

Flightblogger: 787 Line Saga

Bloomberg: Boeing, Union urged to meet in 787 talks

Go Ares 1-X!

Here's a simulation video of the Pad Abort Test due to take place early next year:

This morning NASA launched the Ares 1-X Test rocket on a suborbital test to validate the aerodynamics and shape of the Ares 1 rocket as well as to test the three large 1st stage recovery parachutes.

The launch was delayed one day by unfavorable weather yesterday and it looked as if NASA would have problems launching it today. The main weather worries were related to triboelectrification (a phenomenon where an electric charge builds on the rocket as it flies through the atmosphere and hampering electronic signals between the ground and on board electronics).

NASA did launch at 11:30AM and was very impressive. The rocket seemed to pitch to the right soon after the rocket lifted off but looked good as it flew east directly over the Atlantic Ocean.

After about two minutes the solid rocket propellant burnt out and separation motors fired to separate the 1st stage booster from the Upper Stage Simulator (USS) which was essentially a mock 5th segment for the solid rocket motor, a mass simulator of the 2nd stage and the Orion capsule with launch escape tower.

NASA is extremely pleased with the results of the test and has said that everything went according to plan....well almost. It seems that the separation of the USS from the first stage was a bit off nominal, so much so that observers feel that there was recontact between the two segments after the physical separation. NASA will take a look at the telemetry to try and discern what may have occurred. NASA did say that the parachutes for the first stage worked (though there is a report that two of the three parachutes worked with the third failing) and that the first stage is being recovered.

Ares 1 is part of the Constellation Project which aims to replace the Space Shuttle as means to get astronauts to the ISS as well as return the US to the Moon and for flight to Mars and the Asteroid Belt. Currently NASA is build in a new mobile launch platform to handle the Ares 1 rocket as well as finish a preliminary design review on the Orion spacecraft and designing and testing a launch escape system for the Orion and a second stage using the J-2X rocket engine (designed based on the J-2 rocket that was used in Project Apollo).

However, the Ares 1 rocket may not see the light of day since a review ordered by President Obama revealed that NASA is woefully underfunded (no surprise there) to fulfill the objectives of the Constellation Project. The review made recommendations that includes scrapping the Ares 1 rocket in favor of alternative means to send US astronauts in to low Earth orbit and beyond. President Obama is expected to make a decision later this year.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

787 Round Up

Here is some more 787 news for your reading pleasure. BTW, LN 8 (ZA101) is reported by Flightblogger to be in the Boeing paint shop. This now clears the way for Boeing to start final assembly on LN 12 once that rear fuselage secion for that airplane arrives in Everett.

  • South Carolina is upping the stakes for the 2nd 787 final assembly line as the the SC State Senate approved a deal to entice Boeing to locate the line to North Charleston. This comes on the heels of news that there hasn't been much progress in Boeing's talks with the IAM to keep the second line in Everett. Paramount of Boeing's concerns is the strike by IAM that have occurred every 3 to 4 years. Boeing is trying to negotiate a 10 year moratorium on strikes by IAM. I wonder if they forgot about SPEEA?

SC Approves Boeing Incentives

  • A couple things from Flightglobal - First Mary Kirby reported that Boeing has let an RFP to equip the 787s with wireless Internet connectivity. The connectivity would be via satcom broadband and Boeing is aiming to have it integrated into the in flight entertainment system (IFE). Panasonic and many airline customers have been pushing for this for sometime and it seems that the technology has matured enough that Boeing is now making it a priority.

Boeing RFI for 787 wireless internet connectivity

  • Also from Flightglobal, is news that airline executives from Polish carrier LOT will be talking with Boeing about LOT's 787 order. The delay to the 787 has hampered LOT's ability to open up new routes. I am swilling to bet that Boeing will give the same deal and assurances to LOT that they gave to Qatar Airways.

LOT Senior Management talks 787 with Boeing

  • Lastly, a new book hit the bookshelves this week. The title of this book: Boeing 787 Dreamliner by Mark Wagner and Guy Norris. The book covers the development of the 787 from the ashes of the Sonic Cruiser through today's continued issues that Boeing is still facing. It's certainly to be an eye-opening and informative book on this aircraft.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner by Norris and Wagner

Monday, October 26, 2009

Flightblogger: Boeing complete 787 detailed design of 787 fix

Flightblogger is reporting tonight that Boeing has completed the detail design and computer validation of the last few final parts that makes up the 787 side of body join reinforcement fix. These final parts are being fabricated and should be delivered soon to be installed on the static test air frame as well as the test flight aircraft that are currently undergoing the installation of the modification.

Flightblogger is indicating that given that Boeing has finished the detailed design and computer validation of the fix that they have overcome the load issues that were discovered last Spring. Flightblogger is saying the test results received thus far are looking good.


In other 787 news, came out with some great pictures of the 787 final assembly line: - ZA100 and ZA101 at Everett

Additionally, also put out an interesting piece about the 2nd assembly line for the 787. This line is going to be crucial for Boeing to meet it delivery obligations. Here the article addresses the issues of the 2nd line, the choice ahead for Boeing and the pitfalls facing Boeing.

Second Guessing 787 Second Line

Lastly, the LCF's continue to make regular runs between the 787 suppliers and Everett. The nose section , wings, main fuselage, horizontal and vertical stabilizers for airplane 12 (LN 12) are already in Everett and I do believe the rear fuselage section is also in there though I have no confirmation. There should have been a line move already or will happen soon so that LN 8 (2nd production aircraft) will be moved out of building 40-26 thus clearing the way for airplane 12 to start final assembly in the coming days. Thus far Boeing is looking to maintain a 1 airplane/month production rate and gradually ramping that up to 10/month by the end of 2012. LN 7, the first production 787 is already outdoor on the Boeing flightline sans the Roll Royce Trent 1000s:


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ares 1-X at Complex 39B

NASA Image

A little news away from the 787. NASA rolled out the Ares 1-X rocket to launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center yesterday. What a sight it is compared to the space shuttles we've been watching for almost 30 years. The Ares 1-X is to provide aerodynamic data of the Ares 1 rocket whose first stage is based on the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Motors. The flight is to last no more than two minutes and is suborbital. The data will be used to verify the design and load limits on the actual Ares I rocket whose first flight (if it survives the White House review on Human Spaceflight) won't take place until 2015.

Ares 1-X is schedule for launch on October 27th between 8AM and 12noon.

787 news from the earnings call - Oct. 21, 2009

Boeing released its third quarter earnings results this morning and the numbers were not good with a third quarter loss stemming from charges against the 787 and 747-8 programs. Boeing had promised more information on the 787 today and this is what they had provided:

1) Boeing engineers will finish and validate the detailed design of the side of body reinforcement fix this week.
2) Boeing will select the location of the 2nd 787 assembly line within the next couple of weeks.
3) ZA001 will undergo renewed gauntlet testing as well as taxi tests after the fix is validated with tests on the static test airframe
4) The installation of the fix on the airplanes are going well and Boeing reiterated its intent to fly prior to the end of this year.
5) Each of the test flight 787s will start flying at approximately 1 month intervals after the previous one will starting with ZA001. This means that the last test flight 787 should be up in the air by the end of June 2010 assuming ZA001 starts flying on Dec.31, 2009. I really wonder, with that kind of schedule, if Boeing can certify the 787 before the end of 2010?

Boeing last shred of credibility is on the line. If they fail to deliver on the 787 then my sense tells me that I really fear for the future of this company, at least in the commercial aircraft business.

Conference Call synopsis from


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Moment of Truth

There has been a lot of information flying back and forth about the 787 (too bad the 787 isn't fly itself...yet). Flightblogger posted a few days ago that there might be a redesign of some of the 787 side of body reinforcements which might delay the 787s first flight into next year.

Well Boeing vehemently denied it not once but twice. The first was a press release by Scott Francher, VP of the 787 program. The second was a blog posting by Randy Tinseth imploring people not to necessarily to buy into "rumours"

Both times they reiterated that Boeing will have more guidance on the 787 on the 3rd quarter earnings conference call.

Well to add fuel to the fire, Morgan Stanley aerospace analyst, Heidi Wood downgraded Boeing today citing concerns that Boeing won't be able deliver the 787 until 2011 and she continues to harbor serious concerns about unknown issues that would turn up in flight testing. They're predicting another delay of 6 months.

Morgan Stanley downgrades Boeing

But wait now comes Scott Hamilton at saying that he doesn't believe that Boeing will announce another delay during tomorrow's earning call nor will they announce a delay on first delivery tomorrow.

Scott Hamilton - Boeing 3rd quarter conference call preview

At the end of the day tomorrow is Boeing's moment of truth on the 787. Moment of truth on any new problems on the 787 if any. Moment of truth in terms of Boeing regaining its credibility. And moment of truth on the 787 program itself.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flightblogger: some issues with side of body fix; Boeing: still tracking for first flight before year end

Some interesting developments today as Flightblogger put up a post this morning saying that though the side of body fix installation is going well thus far, but Boeing has issues with the fix on four of the eighteen stringers that need to have the fix installed (on each side of the aircraft) thus Boeing engineers have to redesign the fix for stringers 2 through 5 (they in the aft part of the wing

These stringers carry higher loads and are shorter compared to the other stringers. Apparently they weren't bearing enough load in simulations of the model thus needing a redesign. Flightblogger cited sources saying that this may put Boeing target of flying the 787 in 2009 in jeopardy. ZA001 was supposed to be out of the paint hangar by now according to Flightblogger, citing internal schedules. It has not yet made a reappearance on the Boeing Everett flightline.

Flightblogger also said that there has been significant progress in installing the fix on ZA002 and ZA004, so much so that these two aircraft are catching up to ZA001 and ZY997 (static test aircraft) in terms of completion.

Now the information that Flightblogger put out certainly got a lot of attention so much so that Boeing released the following statement from Scott Francher:

“The design of the side-of-body solution is on track. Installations of the fittings are proceeding well and we are pleased with the progress we are making on this important effort. We continue to be on track to fly the 787 by the end of the year.”

Now for a bit of analysis. Boeing did not address the specific issue of the need to redesign part of the side of body fix in their statement thus Flightblogger may be on to something. It would be very interesting what they have to say about it on Wednesday's earnings conference call where the big topic will continue to be the 787's long trek to first flight.

Flightblogger: Unanswered questions, cautious optimism

Boeing Statement on side of body fix

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Boeing may start 787 re-test in early November

I've gotten word that Boeing test engineers are scheduled to be called back to the 787 static test rig. This could signal the testing of the side of body fix for the 787 to verify what Boeing's FEM is predicting. This is all conjecture at this point but a few weeks ago but Guy Norris reported that some of the flight test personnel are returning to work on ZA001 so it could be a good sign that the rework is going according to schedule.

My gut still tells me that first flight would be around last week of November to the first week of December.

787 - First Signs of Life?