As if I was not getting enough of an aviation fix at Farnborough last week, I decided to read the Kindle version of 'Boeing 787 Dreamliner' by journalist Guy Norris and photographer Mark Wagner to help me decompress after the show at night.
Norris, I am told, formerly worked for Flight - he lists a number of past and present Flight journalists in the acknowledgements - and is now at a rival publication.
For a good understanding of the issues and challenges involved in developing a modern aircraft this is a great read. As it was published in 2009, it misses more recent developments in the programme and the 787's service entry in late 2011.
I found the early chapters most fascinating, because here Norris discusses the Sonic Cruiser at length. The 787, it turns out, was originally a 'reference' type against which airlines could assess the Sonic Cruiser concept. While aviation fans no doubt regret that the Sonic Cruiser never saw the light of day - that thing sure did look cool - the airlines simply didn't want it.
The book also sheds light on Boeing's decision to forgo further development of the 747 series in the 1990s. Again, lukewarm airlines.
Norris does a superb job explaining why the 787 is special: the revolutionary use of composites, the aircraft's innovative use of fly by wire technology, and its space age power system. He also spends a good deal of time discussing the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 and GE GEnx engines and how this pair was chosen over Pratt & Whitney's alternative.
Norris also captures the heady optimism of the 787's early days. One gem is Boeing's promise to the Chinese carriers that all of them would have the 787 in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Oops!
Like a horror novel in which things just keep getting worse for the protagonists, the programme's problems start to mount: unfinished subassemblies arrive unlabelled in Seattle, there is a severe shortage of fasteners, and quality control becomes a major problem. Boeing eventually sorted all this out, but only at great cost to its prestige and after serious delays.
Although 'Boeing 787 Dreamliner' is a satisfying read, it would have been good to learn more about Boeing's interactions with airline customers as programme delays became legion. What were customers saying to Boeing executives? How, specifically, did the 787's late entry hurt the airlines' plans for specific routes? What compromises was Boeing forced to make to keep customers waiting?
Given that the 787 has yet to enter service for most of the carriers who will eventually fly it, these questions are still very sensitive. Most of the key players involved in developing, selling, and buying the aircraft are still very much in play. Thus, reminiscing about meeting room battles is not something 787 stakeholders will be keen to do for several years.
By the time they are willing to open up, the 787 will be a reliable and ubiquitous work horse, warranting barely a glance as it slides up to the boarding gate. Boeing, Airbus, and the world's other airframers will have moved on to other developmental dramas.