Dreamliner Or Nightmare

Spend a few minutes on this web site and one will soon discover a strong bias against the use of composite materials in primary aircraft structures. So it is with utter dismay to read about Boeing's plans to build the new Dreamliner out of a titanium-carbon material.

Boeing is the world's largest aircraft manufacturer. They employ the best and brightest engineers; have access to all the latest technology and surely would not take risks that could cripple the company and put them years behind their arch rival Airbus.

Or would they?

Let's look at how Boeing management painted themselves into this corner.

Using the old belief in aviation that speed always sells, Boeing launched the Sonic Cruiser. It was a mis-fire. The world's airlines were looking for efficiency...they want cheap seats...the Sonic Cruiser was fast but not operationally efficient. So Boeing went back to the drawing board.

One option was the Boeing Blended Wing. It offered 20% + gains in efficiency, lower manufacturing costs, and very little technical risk. Its problem? NOT INVENTED HERE!!! It was conceived at McDonnell Douglas, Boeing's newly acquired step-child.

Boeing management made it clear, there was no interest in the BBW. It would not have any windows and the public would not buy into it even with computer screens at every seat, access to movies, CNN, the Weather Channel, the internet and cameras looking fore/aft/left/right/up/down, moving map displays, video games, and into the cockpit so passengers can watch the co-pilot play grab-ass with the stews. Boeing management thinks the flying public would prefer windows to watch the endless stretch of the lovely blue Pacific Ocean often covered by the endless stretch of white clouds.

There is a fallacy in their reasoning. In any given row of seats, only two people have access to a window. In most wide bodies, 80% of the passengers can't look out a window. Further, most long-range airplanes spend a lot of hours flying in darkness. If every seat had a window, passengers still could not see anything.

Yet Boeing management says the new airplane needs windows (read "it will be of a conventional configuration). Enter the Dreamliner, the 7E7 (the "E" standing for efficiency). But where could these gains come from???

Economies of scale work well with larger airplanes. The larger, the more efficient. Unfortunately for Boeing, Airbus has that base covered with the 380 even though many airlines are leaning towards fewer seats and more frequent flights. Then there is always the issue of the airplanes outgrowing the ability of airports to accommodate these massive craft and the inefficiency of trying to handle the instant crush of humanity and luggage through customs and immigration.

With "larger bemouths" out of the equation, where could additional gains be found? Aerodynamically, Boeing engineers have fine-tuned conventional designs to the point where there is not much to be had.

Unless manufacturers can find ways to allow higher temperatures in the engine's hot-section, only small efficiency gains can be achieved with new engine designs.

That leaves reducing weight as the only viable option for increasing efficiency. And GEE, everybody know composite materials are lighter than metals.

Yet the metal in the airplane is only part of the weight. You still have the engines, landing gear, all the systems, seats, passengers, crew, fuel and cargo. Even if the Boeing composite materials could deliver a 10% weight savings over aluminum, it will not translate to a 10% gain in efficiency.

By opting for a composite structure, Boeing is walking away from an engineering staff with a wealth of experience in designing metal aircraft structure...a manufacturing and process organization that is equipped to build metal airplanes...and customers who are geared to fly and maintain metal aircraft. Boeing is walking into risks they are not even aware of yet.

Boeing has said the composite 7E7 can be built for less than an aluminum aircraft. In fact, much of the composite work will be passed off to Japan Inc. About 35% of the 7E7 including the wing will be built in Japan.

Little wonder than why Japan's All Nippon Airways become the launch customer for the 7E7. That was an easy order. Boeing is far more concerned that Singapore Airlines shows little enthusiasm for the 7E7.

Click here to read about Japan's failed composite wing F-16 project.

Click here to read the www.aero-news.net post of Boeings plastic airplane press release.

Is the Dreamliner a "red herring" Click here to read comments from the Airbus head of sales who is totally unconcerned with the Dreamliner.