Confident Boeing revises 787 pre-flight testing methodology

Washington DC
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With Boeing pushing closer to a June first flight of its long-delayed 787, the company has revised its pre-flight testing methodology after expressing growing confidence in the aircraft systems.

The result, says 787 programme vice-president and general manager Scott Fancher, is a significantly reduced final gauntlet, originally set for eight days, and an expanded intermediate gauntlet, now running at seven days.

"We've actually pulled that to the left," says Fancher of the intermediate gauntlet. "Because quite frankly the systems are mature and ready to take it earlier from where we originally planned."

The aircraft was originally scheduled to fly shortly after its first roll-out - on 8 July 2007 - and enter service with All Nippon Airways in May 2008. As things now stand, ANA should take delivery of the first 787 in the first quarter of 2010.

787 engine start
 © Boeing

Fancher describes the intermediate gauntlet as much more expansive than the factory gauntlet run last month: "Here we will operate the aircraft on engines seven days, 24/7 with aircrew on the flightdeck simulating ground and flight environments - not just nominal flight profiles, but a wide range of off-nominals as well, demonstrating the full robustness and gaining confidence in the robustness of the aircraft."

Boeing was able to revise its pre-flight testing following a re-evaluation of "what [testing] can be done concurrently and what the true requirements are prior to flight", it says.

The company declines to specify what testing is being held until after the first flight or being performed concurrently, or whether it will be conducted among groups of systems, or tasks within systems, but the company has found a significant time savings on the road to the first flight.

Boeing's first 787 Dreamliner, ZA001, has been advancing steadily over recent months and performed what Boeing calls "the first all-electric start of a commercial jetliner engine on a twin-aisle commercial jetliner" on 21 May, when its twin Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines were started at 09:31 local time for a 40min engine run.

Separately, Fancher says that Boeing expects to lock in the firm configuration of the 787-9 by the fourth quarter of 2009, and says the aircraft is on track to enter service in early 2013 with launch customer Air New Zealand.

He says more Boeing engineers are working on the design of 787-9 than were on the -8, adding that the key to this successful derivative development programme is "don't forget the lessons learned on the -8".