Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

David Talbot

A View from David Talbot

Boeing's 787 Delayed for Reinforcement

The 787 is the first commercial aircraft in which major structural parts are made of composites rather than aluminum alloys.

  • June 23, 2009

It’s not easy being a green airliner. The 787 Dreamliner–Boeing’s midsize, fuel-efficient passenger jet–is being delayed again.

Credit: Boeing

The maiden flight of the 787–already two years overdue–was to take place on June 30, but today Boeing announced an indefinite delay to add more structural reinforcements.

“Consideration was given to a temporary solution that would allow us to fly as scheduled, but we ultimately concluded that the right thing was to develop, design, test and incorporate a permanent modification to the localized area requiring reinforcement,” Scott Carson, president and CEO of Boeing’s commercial-airplanes division, explained in a statement. “Structural modifications like these are not uncommon in the development of new airplanes, and this is not an issue related to our choice of materials or the assembly and installation work of our team.”

Carson’s mention of materials is important. The 787 is the first commercial aircraft in which major structural parts are made of composites rather than aluminum alloys. The difference slashes weight and helps boost the fuel efficiency of the plane by 20 percent. Back in 2003, we reported on this pioneering effort in commercial aviation.

Composite materials are notoriously difficult to model. Their fiber layers are oriented in different directions, and each layer is made of many individual fibers that vary somewhat in thickness. Such complex materials are far harder to precisely re-create in computer models, compared to monolithic chunks of aluminum. And Boeing has encountered trouble with 787 composites before. As we reported last spring, the company said that parts of the 787’s composite-made wing box–the major structural piece inside each wing, measuring more than 15 meters by 5 meters and weighing 55,000 pounds–had buckled in stress tests. To fix that problem, Boeing added new pieces and brackets and rerouted wiring to accommodate the retrofits.

The new schedule for the first flight–and the first delivery of some of the 865 787s that have been ordered by airlines–will not be available for several weeks, the company said.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

    Bimonthly digital/PDF edition

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special interest publications

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.