Why does Boeing want to make it harder for 787 passengers to survive a plane crash?
That's the hugely loaded question that is being asked this week by a 46-year Boeing engineer, Vince Weldon, who went public with his concerns about the 787's crashworthiness on a Dan Rather-hosted TV special last night. Watch the show here.
Weldon believes Boeing is rushing the 787 into service before it knows for sure how the all-composite fuselage will behave in a crash landing scenario. Two key questions: Will composite structure absorb as much of the impact shock as an aluminum airframe? Does composite resist fire as well as metal?
I had my say about this issue during a live spot on the TV morning show Fox & Friends this morning, but -- in case you missed it -- here's the gist of what I said.
The bottom line is that Boeing will have to prove that the 787 meets at least the crashworthiness standard of aluminum structures. If there are unknowns or validated problems, the FAA will rightly refuse to certify the aircraft.
Weldon's real question, however, may be whether Boeing or the FAA knows enough composite structures to make a reasonable judgement.
This may be a philosophical clash more than anything else.
Weldon comes from a generation of venerated Boeing engineers who were famous for being hard-headed about safety and testing. This is a group that believed in physically validating almost any assumption.
But times have changed across the the industry. These days, more engineering assumptions are validated digitally in computer labs versus physically in flight test conditions.
I would not write Weldon off as a disgruntled employee grinding a composite ax. But nor would I write off the consensus opinion -- shared by every airframe manufacturer in the business -- that composites are a safer and more efficient alternative to metal.