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.
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.”