Exclusive: Boeing delays Dreamliner Four in Charleston after structural damage

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Delivery of the fourth 787 flight test aircraft has been delayed due to damage sustained to the center fuselage at the Global Aeronautica facility in Charleston, SC, Boeing has confirmed.

Sources in both Everett and Charleston tell FlightBlogger that the repair, which was completed this past weekend, centers around damage caused to section 44, a monolithic bonnet structure joined to the center wing box fabricated by Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica.

“An Alenia Aeronautica employee had an issue not following proper procedures, we’ve had a production issue that has resulted,” said Boeing. “The repair has been completed and the issue has been resolved.”

Boeing is currently assessing the schedule situation adding that, “we will know soon” when the center fuselage will be delivered.

Alenia North America, which holds a fifty-percent share in the Global Aeronautica joint venture with Boeing, was unable to comment on the incident by press time.

Boeing underscored that the incident was isolated and unrepresentative of the production system but declined to provide specific details about the incident.

According to sources, incorrect fasteners were improperly installed in the wrong holes causing damage to the composite structure during the join process in Charleston. When installed, each fastener “splintered out the hole” causing significant enough damage to postpone delivery of the center fuselage.

Boeing added that Global Aeronautica would have met the commitment of the completion of assembly and on-time delivery had the incident not taken place. As a result, the center fuselage is being held in Charleston for continuing assembly work to meet the level of completion originally committed to Boeing by Global Aeronautica.

Boeing does not currently have a timeline for the delivery of the center fuselage for Dreamliner Four to Everett.

Indications of the delay arose last week when the nose and center fuselage sections were removed from the delivery calendar without explanation.

Boeing and Global Aeronautica have a “zero tolerance for fiber breakout” for composite structure prompting the time-consuming repairs to section 44, says a veteran engineer familiar with the problems.

Boeing acknowledged that the follow-on impact of the delay to the flight test program and overall FAA certification, if any, is unclear.

The delay in delivery of Dreamliner Four is not expected to impact thefirst flight timeline as Dreamliner One prepares to take to the skyearly in the fourth quarter. That aircraft has been making steadyprogress towards flight with the recent installation of both theinboard flaps and honeycomb-shaped radar.

Dreamliner Four, responsible for additional validation of theRolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine during the flight test campaign, isexpected to fly by late December. The remaining 787 flight testaircraft, Dreamliners Five and Six, will be used to gain certificationof the General Electric GEnx-1B64 engines.

In early April, Boeing added “schedule margin” to the 787 program bringing to the total program delay to 15 months.

In an effort to regain confidence in its new plan, Pat Shanahan,General Manager and VP of the 787 program, identified key milestonesthat would be achieved by the close of the 2nd quarter of 2008.

Of the six milestones the company identified, five have been completed.The sixth was to be the commencement of final assembly for DreamlinerFour.

Both 787 structural test aircraft have moved off the assembly line,Dreamliner Three entered final assembly in late April, hardwareairworthiness qualifications are complete and power-on testing forDreamliner One was completed on June 19.

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According to Bob Noble, VP of Supplier Management for the 787 Program,the nose section 41 was intended for shipment on June 19. It would’vebeen the first 100% complete barrel shipped to Everett since deliveriesfirst began in May of 2007. The center fuselage was to follow closelybehind to begin final assembly operations by the close of June. Thenose section is now being held by Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita untilthe center fuselage is ready for delivery.

Aside from the nose and center fuselage sections, all other majorstructural sections for Dreamliner Four have arrived in Everett.

This incident may raise fresh questions about the challenge presentedby Boeing’s decision to use an all-composite barrel. A similar issue onan aluminium fuselage might have less meaningful impact on structuredeliveries, though Boeing added that, “We have very thorough repairmethods on 787, we’ve been doing tests since we decided to go withcomposite.”

17 Responses to Exclusive: Boeing delays Dreamliner Four in Charleston after structural damage

  1. Lee July 1, 2008 at 12:31 am #

    While most of us know little or nothing about new and exotic materials, “splintered out the hole” doesn’t sound too good. Great picture, by the way; looks like the Hulk got loose in there.

  2. Max Udaskin July 1, 2008 at 2:23 am #

    I know this is the first time for doing this, but if an installation of a wrong fastener can cause the fuselage to splinter, what will happen if a pilot has to pull, let’s say 1.5 g’s for evasive action. The wings I know have been tested and passed with more than 150% load factor, but has Boeing tested the effects on the fuselage?

    Max

  3. Blu Yonder July 1, 2008 at 8:57 am #

    I am not at all convinced about this new twist. Wrong fastners cause so much damage. This plane had to have less fastners but it seems that these same fastners are creating havoc with the structure in itself. What is going on exactly? What happens if this is done in service?
    The more time pases the more this plane seems to be an accountant’s dream… as much as possible with as least as possible. This can be applied to many things in life but in commercial aircraft this is a big no no.
    I am really upset but it seems Boeing is back to “Marketing makes it happen” again.

  4. Built in USA July 1, 2008 at 9:15 am #

    Lovely OUTSOURCING straight to the heart of American greed and CHEAPNESS.

    BOEING got what it deserves…a complete and utter mess.

    Had this plane been built with American hands it would have more than likely been ON TIME!

  5. NYC777 July 1, 2008 at 9:46 am #

    To Built in USA,

    You should know that the damage occured in Charleston, SC where an American worker caused the damage. It had nothing to do with where the section was built. I suggest you get a bit more educated about the entire thing!

  6. NYC777 July 1, 2008 at 10:55 am #

    Ok Charles, Dreamliner 1 was not or ever damaged when the temporary fasteners were removed. I would like to know the basis of your silly statements if you ahve any. You’re just trying to create issues to drive the stock price down aren’t you?

  7. ARC July 1, 2008 at 12:46 pm #

    Some people act like delays never have happened until now in the aviation industry. The 787 is ground breaking in the use of composites to this size of a structure. There are going to be delays. There isn’t some magical plan that will show them how to manufacture the 787 without any sort of delays. The A380 and 747 were delayed when they first went into production. And I’ll even be willing to bet that the A350 will be delayed too. The point is that whenever a new aircraft is making its debute there are going to be delays along the way. And do you really think that Boeing will let any one of their 787′s fly if there is any doubt in their structural integrity?

  8. Josh Wong July 1, 2008 at 2:31 pm #

    Composites are a material of intense scientific study. The structural integrity, durability, long term fatigue lives under constantly varying cycles of loading and fracture mechanics are not well understood. Look at the number of academic journals still in existence on composite materials. Flying commercial planes substantially made of carbon-fiber composites are testing the human design limits and inviting troubles after 5-10 years. The inspection and repair protocols may not be followed strictly by every airliner. It is a great gamble if this project will succeed after 10 years.

  9. Roger Noma July 1, 2008 at 3:48 pm #

    Boeing has to be feeling real good about the $14/hr Charleston workers. Much better deal then their $25/hr workers.

  10. Blu Yonder July 2, 2008 at 6:00 am #

    Dear Anonymous,
    Some of your so called armchair experts, might be infact experts in other fields in aviation or other industries and also, paying passengers, so kindly do not be patronising.
    The fact that internet has made it possible to the general public to look into the production method of the 787 should be an eye opener to all manufacturers. The A380 had a higher level of scrutiny also from on location TV. (remember the short tail camera cable and what it meant?)
    From my “armchair” I am seeing a plane which seems to be learning process in itself, when an airliner should be a tried and tested complex system. Planes are subjected to so much wear that damage that can be caused in this manner is realy and honestly worrying. This plane is turning out to be a very delicate piece of equipment which is going to cost the earth to maintain and lots of down time to make sure incidents like these are properly solved.
    Kind Regards,

    Blu Yonder

  11. Luke July 2, 2008 at 8:10 am #

    Blu Yonder,

    If you over-tighten the drain plug of your car’s oil pan, what happens? The component is not going to perform as desired, due to an improperly installed fastener. This damage can cripple the vehicle. Cars carry significantly more people daily than airplanes, yet are so fragile that a single fastner can bring their engines to a grinding halt!

    Like on the 787, you fix the component around the discrepant fastener, then carry on with life. Problems happen in any piece of complex machinery, that’s the way it is.

    How is assembling an airplane any way representative of the loads that it will see in-service? Are the baggage handlers going to be removing an reinstalling the fasteners that are joining the barrels of the 787 together? Any loads that it would see in-service that would splinter the composite around a fastener are bearing loads, which are analyzed by stress engineers using well-established techniques and allowables.

  12. Thad Beier July 2, 2008 at 10:54 am #

    There was an interesting description of these fasteners in Aviation Week a few weeks ago. When I heard about fastener problems holding up the Dreamliner last spring and summer, I was thinking “How could Boeing be having a hard time finding the right rivets?” It just didn’t seem possible.

    But no, these fasteners are extremely high-tech systems in and of themselves. As the person above noted, there aren’t as many fasteners in the 787 (not by a factor of 10) as on aluminum planes, but those fasteners that are there are complex, expensive, and customized to particular applications.

    I am so looking forward to seeing this baby fly I almost can’t stand it! The last couple of months have been good, seeing Boeing finally meeting its new mileposts (after having moved them another mile down the road a few times!)

  13. Blu Yonder July 2, 2008 at 10:55 am #

    Luke,

    I am sure that the flying public will see the difference between a car’s oil drain plug and an aircraft fuselage fastner. I will not go in this futile discussion over which one is the safety issue, people can come to their own conclusion.
    I note with satisfaction that FAA is auditing the plant after this. For me this is enough to make me sleep better!

    regards

  14. Joerg M. July 2, 2008 at 12:40 pm #

    I find it a little bit disturbing, that such an damage caused a delay worth reporting. I assume the that the repair guidlines for the material are already in place for a plane that should be delivered already and hopefully will in a year or so. So how can you expect an airline aircraft mechanic to repair such a problem when the people producing this stuff already need that much time, that they delay the delivery of the other components …

  15. Luke July 2, 2008 at 1:25 pm #

    The point is that fasteners get mis-installed. When an oil drain plug fails due to mis-installation, it can result in the failure of the engine. Not exactly a safe situation, especially when one considers the number of cars on the road today.

    How is a fuselage fastener any worse? Airliners are not designed to +0.00 margins with a safety factor of 1.0 and design factor of 1.0, and they don’t use the maximum possible allowables. There are uncertainties in the analysis that we are capable of, and in the materials and construction, so conservatisms are used.

    Is it a perfect system? No. But to be worrying about something as trivial as a mis-installed fastener (11 of them, really), with the safety record of the airline industry what it is, seems excessive. CFRP is already out there, flying on airliners, and has had incorrect fasteners installed in it. Yet those planes have not fallen out of the sky.

    And the review at Alenia has been reported to NOT be related to this incident.

  16. Bernard July 2, 2008 at 3:04 pm #

    Some questions:

    When repair is done in few days, why the delay in delivery?

    Is the FAA audit a unforeseen event or is there a correlation?

    What is really happened?

    I think its a cover up trick!

  17. PD July 8, 2008 at 4:00 am #

    The incident happened about the 3rd week of May. It took Alenia/Boeing and somebody else’s mom about couple of weeks to figure out how extensive the damage was. Of course the “amazing” Alienia’s engineering team had to figure the repair. Come to think about it, it took Alenia a couple days to have even noticed the wrong fasteners were installed.(Way to go Alenia QC/QA)
    The repair itself was like the coolest science experiment in grade school. Remember, this composite stuff is kinda new so not even the Boeing Gods are positive that its all good.
    As far as the FAA audit, it was scheduled. Sadly they were so hooked on the crazy amount of FOD stuck in sealant everywhere, they missed most of the paperwork Aliena hid from their eyes.
    Its really a joy to work here. The $14/hr locals, the overpaid hack contractors who coddle the Boeing guys here are entertainment.
    Let alone, the mechs that come from Italy who misdrill about 30-50 holes, dont sign paperwork, and wonder why a 5/32 fastener doesnt fit properly in that 1/4 hole they just drilled. Oh well thats what sealant is for!