Boeing’s 777-9X comes into focus with a massive CFRP wing

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Building on its 777-300ER, Boeing is evaluating its next moves in the 300 to 415-seat market, with its conceptual 777-8X/9X, powered by a smaller GE90-derived engine, composite wing, a possible fuselage stretch and shrink and higher economy seating capacity, marking what is likely to become the second major incremental evolution of the 777 family, 15% better than today’s aircraft, say those familiar with the studies.
The options to Boeing now coming into focus look to grow the 213ft metallic wingspan of the long-range twin to as much as 234ft (71.3m) with a carbon fiber design, 10ft (3.05m) wider than the 747-8. Initial estimates being evaluated by Boeing point to a lower maximum takeoff weight of around 753,000lbs (342t) for the 777-9X, which would anchor the family and preserving or growing the payload range capability of just under 8,000nm (14,800km) for today’s aircraft.
Speaking generally about future changes to the 777 in a recent interview, Larry Loftis, 777 program vice president and general manager said: “We have done a lot of work on looking at what’s next, and we have a whole range of different things. We are committed to this airplane, we are committed to this marketplace we have and we are committed to maintaining the role and…the strength in the marketplace we have.”

Last week, Emirates CEO Tim Clark, whose 777 fleet is the largest in the world, told Flightglobal the Dubai-based carrier was closely working with Boeing to design the 777-300ER successor, saying the airframer is “ready to rock and roll” with Emirates eager to sign up as launch customer if the final configuration meets its requirements.
Clark is hoping for a 777 that can fly a 50t payload, by its rules, between Dubai and Los Angeles. Today the 777-300ER is payload restricted by 20 seats on that route.
For Boeing’s Everett final assembly line, the move would transform significant portions of the 777′s manufacturing footprint with the introduction of composite fabrication to the wing’s primary structure. New autoclaves, tooling and logistics would be at the heart of adding a 787-style composite wing to the 777.
The 777 program has seen such transformations before, transitioning to a moving U-shaped final assembly line between 2006 and 2010 and continues to refine and consolidate its manufacturing process.
“We’re going to continue to evolve this, we’re going to be making this airplane for, I believe, decades,” says Loftis. “And so we’re committed to making those improvements day in and day out, and so we start looking at how when we transform this, where we start making the improvements and how we make them, it does need to dovetail into what those future product strategies look like.
“The one thing about lean is you’re never done, so it’s kind of like you’re measuring yourself against infinity,” he says, “I love where we are, we’ve got great options.”
In response to the possible features of the updated 777, Boeing says the 777 family “will benefit from years of additional refinements based on customer input and the application of new 787 technologies before the A350-1000 is scheduled to enter service [in 2017].
“We are confident that, when the market demands it, we can develop and deliver a superior airplane that provides unparalleled value to our customers. We have been working hard on developing options and we feel very comfortable with where we are in that process.”
The incremental evolution of the 777 mirrors the aircraft’s development life to date, with the introduction of the re-engined and strengthened 777-300ER, -200LR and freighter over the last decade, growing on top of the 777-200, -200ER and -300 of the 1990s. The “Red” life of the aircraft fits within the Piepenbrock framework for optimal product development in a mature market, evolving production systems and designs for long-term process optimization, rather than big “Blue” jumps through all new systems that break with the past.
Though while Loftis acknowledged that change brings disruption, the processes by which you manage those changes can be done in a strategic way:
“If you introduce a huge significant change, you do go back up the learning curve. A new major derivative, a new major thing, in some cases it depends on how widespread it is, you’re going to come up that curve again, so you’re going to go back up, so you have to learn. So there is some disruption that has to come through that.
“But what lean [manufacturing] does for you is it helps…smooth that [disruption] out. So part of the disruption or learning curve you have is it starts at the very beginning through the engineering and you’ve got to do all this creation, and we’re all human so not everything gets done 100% correct, right?
“And so it does put a little bit of disruption in through the supply chain and to the production system as a whole, but the lean part is that comes in strong is that all you’re really doing is working the quality of your processes.”
Air China Boeing 777-300ER B-2085

GE9X-Powered
To power the new jet, Boeing and General Electric look to be investigating a scaled down GE90, part of its GE9X study, evaluating a 325cm (128in) diameter fan with a lower 99,500lb thrust, a reduction of 15,500lbs from the 343cm (135in) GE90-115B that powers the 777-300ER today. The engine would draw on technology introduced on the GEnx platforms, as well as implement ceramic matrix composites for the turbine section.
With a late-decade service entry, the larger wing and its increased lift to drag ratio, coupled with the a 10% improvement in specific fuel consumption for the GE9X engine, along with material improvements across the aircraft would aim to improve fuel burn by 15% on a per seat basis.
Boeing is currently studying the entry into service timing of its widebody models to follow the 787-9 in late 2013. In response to the A350-900, Boeing is evaluating the pacing of a larger 787-10X stretch and the 777-8X/9X.
As part of the studies, Boeing is examining optimizing the fuselage around the new larger wing, looking at both a fuselage stretch and a shrink of the 777-300ER. One conceptualization of the -9X would be an additional stretch to the 777-300ER, while the -8X would be a shrink of the 365-seat jet, The 777-8X and -9X would allow Boeing to span the products between the proposed 330-seat 787-10X and 467-seat 747-8.
Inside the cabin, company sources say reshaped fuselage frames will allow a more-comfortable 10-abreast seating in economy class, growing the aircraft’s passenger capacity from a nominal 365 to 388 seats for the baseline 777-9X. The frames would be carved closer to the fuselage skin, adding about 10cm (4in) to the cabin width, but widened to maintain their strength. 
Further, as part of the study Boeing would offer a new 787-style interior, with LED lighting and larger overhead bins to the type, as it has done with its 747-8 and 737 families. In the cockpit, Boeing is looking at flight deck and avionics updates for future air traffic management systems, as well as systems architecture upgrades that would bring parts of the 787′s ARINC 629 standard and increased electrical usage to the 777.
“There are technologies that we’re learning and have created and learned from on the 787 and 747,” says Loftis, “First of all, do they have a place on the airplane? Or don’t they. We’re not going to change technology for the sake of changing technology, it has to create value for this airplane.”

25 Responses to Boeing’s 777-9X comes into focus with a massive CFRP wing

  1. Andrew September 14, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    New wing/new box, new cabin assembly,new engine, all new technology. 777 is starting its transition toward 787 archetecture.

  2. skiesandseasHD September 14, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    The improved 777 sounds fantastic already. I think the smaller engines may look a little weird though after getting used to the massive ones currently in use. The bigger wings sound impressive without even seeing them.

  3. Rob September 14, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    cfrp wing= Made in Japan?
    Could such length fit in The dreamlifter?
    What would Japanese content become on 777?

    Interesting note about less thrust. Airbus was criticized latest -1000 plans were too small.

  4. OV-099 September 14, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    Jon, the diameter of the fan on the GE90-115B is 128 inches while the diameter of the fan case is 135 inches.

    Rgds

  5. RobH September 14, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    Smaller engines?! Noooooooooooooooo! ! ! !
    Those engines are the sexiest ever in aviation!

  6. Aero Observer September 14, 2011 at 9:12 pm #

    Jon,

    Thanks for sharing the incremental approach that Boeing is considering for the 777 program. Larry Loftis is one of the good leaders at Boeing who learned the true approach to Lean and incremental improvement from Carolyn Corvi on the 737 program.

    The changes that have already been made to the 777 moving line have already proved that the Toyota approach to product development in a mature environment taught by London School of Economics Professor, Dr. Ted Piepenbrock, makes sense and profit for Boeing.

    I will be following the development of the 777 closely

  7. RC September 14, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    They may have taken their eye off the ball on the 737 (or dithered) but it sounds like they have done the homework on the 777.

    Of course the difference is in execution. Talk is cheap and so are proposals. Making thing happen on both 737 and the 777 will tell a lot

    The A350-800 is not going to happen. The -1000 may not either

    Where the -900 fits in and how well it sells in its slot will be interesting.

    Airbus was lucky on the A320 simplye becuase it came in latter and had the capcity for larger engines.

    The lack of a real technology improvement on the A350 is going to cost them. It could have easily been done with a composite wing and optimized fuselage construction (and matched the 777 width and got the freighter sales)

  8. GoBoeing September 15, 2011 at 12:31 am #

    Jon,

    Thanks for contrasting the “Red” strategy of the 777 versus the well publicized “Blue” strategy of the 787. Based on the anticipated lack of profitability of the 787 it would be a mistake for Boeing not to support Loftis and the incremental approach that Corvi championed during her tenure. The 777 and 737 are the profit engines for the company. Let’s hope they have enough of the right leadership to continue the steady improvements and not make any more outrageous gambles.

  9. SomeoneInToulouse September 15, 2011 at 4:13 am #

    “The lack of a real technology improvement on the A350 is going to cost them. It could have easily been done with a composite wing and optimized fuselage construction (and matched the 777 width and got the freighter sales)”

    It *is* composite wing and the composite fuselage is “optimised”… what are you talking about?!

  10. Christopher Dye aka CubJ3 September 15, 2011 at 7:20 am #

    Reply to RobH

    Check out the photo below. It’s always been one of my favorites. A big, beautiful, sexy beast!

    http://www.aspireaviation.com/2011/09/14/new-boeing-777x-likely-to-be-a-highly-efficient-derivative/

  11. Christopher Dye aka CubJ3 September 15, 2011 at 7:28 am #

    Jon, Could you comment on the aerodynamic advantages of a CFRP wing over metal. I have some memory of Mike Bear’s saying re 787 wing that the lighter weight and greater strength of CFRP had allowed B to design a wing that was better than a metal one – something about B’s being able to make the outer portions of the wing thinner/or othewise reduce drag (?).

  12. Joe September 15, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    You got the avionics bus wrong – the 777 uses ARINC 629 which is a dead standard. The 787 adopted AFDX (used by Airbus) which is standard ARINC 664.

  13. TC September 15, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    They could go with a standard length like on the 748 and just build a 777-8 and a 777-8F.

    Making thinner frames is a waste of time and money. At that point, it is a new engine, wing, and starting to remodel the fuselage. Once the mission has creeped to that point, there is another option. A purpose built 10 abreast, 20′ wide, aluminum fuselage that is optimized from the start to grow to 80m.

  14. johnny stick September 15, 2011 at 12:32 pm #

    I am not a airplane engineer, but i believe a CFRP wings allow for a much thinner wing compared to aluminum, therby drastically improving aerodynamic efficiency, which is everything during long high altitude cruising. In addition CFRP will maintain shape better, so better laminar airfoils can be used in an airline type of environment.

  15. David September 15, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    Airbus missed the point when they designed the A 350-1000. Back in 2006, they started from scratch with the new A350-family, and suprisingly for me was, that they went for a plane that has fewer seats than the plane it want to compete with, however with a bit more range!?
    If you start from scratch and you know exactly what the B 777 – 300 ER specications and successes are, why should you go smaller, if you have in mind that traffic will grow in the (near)future.
    Back in june of 2011, after critics appaered, I expected that they would go ahead with a little stretch of the plane, to exceed the seat capacity of the B 777-300 – ER. No, they went for a heavy (but smaller than B 777 – 300 ER) A 350-1000.
    Today we have a basic idea what Boeing could do with
    their B 777 (8X/9X), and I can only say, that the current 1000 version will have a problem if they do not stretch it and stick with the current design.
    *If it come to widebodies, it seems that Airbus is (since years) struggling to make planes “big” enough!

    Greets,
    David.

  16. V V September 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

    Well I was only 4 seats short.

    Read it here: http://wp.me/piMZI-Iz

  17. Mike September 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    So … we’ll have new wings, new engines and a substantially-changed fuselage. And a re-work of the avionics including a change of the comminucations bus architecture. Sounds very much on the “Blue” side of things rather than “Red”.

    About the only thing that’ll be the same is the original Type Certicicate and certification standards adherence: they’ll still be 1980s; just a new STC like the 747-8.
    How the FAA & EASA let them get away with that I don’t know

  18. LivingtheDream September 15, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

    Jon, thank you for your insightful article. I’ve been in this industry for almost 20 years and you are the first I’ve seen in media to explore aerospace with this level of sophistication. The “red-blue” framework you’ve referenced in your analysis is intriguing. It’s one thing to report the “surface-level” news, but something completely different searching for the core elements and evidence that can explain and predict. I look forward to your next installment and continuing to learn.

  19. Anonymous September 16, 2011 at 2:02 am #

    RE: Red vs. Blue development … I think the accelerating changes in the technological development of materials for aerospace structures, avionics, electronics, and sensor technology, the two will become more blurred.

    As evidence, see the 747-8. It is “red” development but just like the programs stated above, back then management said that it’s only new engines and a “tweak” to the wing and a “dabble” into fly by wire. We all know how that turned out. Even a “simple” change to the inboard aileron caused LCOs. The wing has a new flutter mode which required OAMS to be invented by Pio (very aptly named by the way). Flaps 30 debacle (who do they have working in Aero, inspector Lacrue from the Pink Panther?). And from what I hear, they have 8 more control laws than they had planned for. EIGHT! Their flight controls guys had better have gold bars as their repayment for saving the executives’ asses.

    I certainly hope that the new engine and wing on the 777 doesn’t f- the mojo up on that airplane. Same comment about the 737 MAX (as corny as the name sounds, I’d rather have salesmen NAME the airplanes instead of DESIGN them! KEEP THOSE BEAN COUNTERS AND MS WORD JOCKEYS WHERE THEY BELONG!).

  20. engineer September 16, 2011 at 2:08 am #

    Peter Sharpe,

    Its not just as easy as you make it sound, that just cut out the damaged area and rivet on a new panel.

    Unfortunately, the area has to be strengthened using doublers and the patch is usually far larger than the damage on the metallic structure.

    Structural repair on aircraft fuselage is not all that simple.

    If the damage is in the area of stringers than its even more complicated

    All structural repair has to be carried out IAW with the structural repair manual (SRM).

  21. Nguyen Hoang, Duc September 16, 2011 at 4:48 am #

    According to GE, the engine GE9x right now is less efficient to GEnx. However, building a very powerful engine with 115000lbs thrust and advantage material is difficult. If GE and Boeing chose the option “increasing thrust”, they would have the same mistake of Airbus, like A350-1000. Therefore, Boeing would like GE to apply the new technique of GEnx into new GE-9x, less powerful, smaller, quieter, cleaner, more efficient… Because 777X will use GE-9x, Boeing must reduce weight. So, they choose to make the wings with polymer, use more Al – Li alloy …

    This project sounds very good. However, we hope that Boeing will not mistake again.

  22. wuzafan September 16, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    I think the plastic wing would be a disaster, the newer alum alloys would be much better.
    the wing should maintain its current thickness, to allow the fuel volume to remain in the wing, and not force it into the body.
    i seem to remember that the GE90 diam was the same as the body diam of the 737, 148 in.
    the longer span wing would require a much deeper center box, than the current 777s, and that would increase drag by itself.

  23. RC20 September 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    In response to the above I think that Boeing knows what its doing on design and drag (executing on that has been a problem!)

    Whats interesting is what they are saying is we can make it light enough and depsite all the changes etc, it means we can offer lower thrust and smaller engiens, which reduces fuel cosnipao which is another factor in how much better it is than an A350. Interesing stuff.

    As you can see, on the 737, Boeing cannot just make the engine bigger as they are boxed in by the gear. Ergo all the other changes to make it competitive.

    A lot of blurring the lines between red and blue for sure!

  24. BA08 September 18, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Jon,

    Thank you for another insightful report. It is great to see coverage beyond the usual headlines of the 787. Larry Loftis’ incremental approach to the 777 is a great example of a “red” approach to product development that is paying off for Boeing. It is reminiscent of the changes and success we saw with the 737 under Carolyn Corvi’s leadership.

  25. ABC September 19, 2011 at 4:36 am #

    Kudos, Larry. Boeing needs more leaders like you –those that understand product development, manufacturing, supply chain, and lean..I look forward to seeing your continued success.

    Jon, another superb article – thanks!