How about reverse engineering a 727?

My colleague Stephen Trimble today blogged over on The Dew Line that Iran plans to reverse-engineer its very own Lockheed Martin RQ-170 from the example of the US stealth drone its forces apparently shot down earlier this month. As Stephen suggests, good luck to them.

Your correspondent back in October joined Boeing for a tour of European 787 suppliers, and was treated to a memorable presentation by Dassault Systemes chief executive Bernard Charles. Making the point that modern 3D digital design software has transformed our concept of reality, Charles observed that if Chinese counterfeiters were to buy a 787 and attempt to copy it, they would never succeed – but if they got ahold of the digital plans, they could do it.

That remark left one programme insider none too bemused; working from digital plans would clearly be miles better than trying to measure up all the parts with a pair of calipers, but still doesn’t take into account the fact that the machine’s measurements are only one aspect of its true essence, which arguably resides in its 18 million lines of computer code as much as its shape and size.

The incident brought to mind a real example of Chinese reverse engineering, which followed president Nixon’s opening of the door to “Red China” back in 1972. One early goodwill gesture, Flight is told, was the sale to Beijing of three Boeing 727s. On a subsequent visit, Boeing legend Joe “father of the 747″ Sutter was shown a fourth aircraft, which certainly looked like a 727.

But, on inspecting the machine, Sutter found such incongruities as a control yoke that would have taken the strength of three gorillas to move and urged the Chinese not to attempt a flight. Thankfully they heeded his advice.

5 Responses to How about reverse engineering a 727?

  1. Winston 9 December, 2011 at 8:58 pm #


  2. Andre van Staden 10 December, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    I was always under the impression that the Chinese had reversed engineered a B707, the Shanghai Y-10, as per Joe Sutters own book “747″?

  3. Charly Prevost 10 December, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    Why not mention the Y11 while you are at it?

  4. Dan Thisdell 12 December, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    707 is probably more like it.

  5. Amy Jorgenson 12 December, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    I think it would be an interesting idea to pull this off. I’d like to see the finished product it he idea ever came to fruition.

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