787s Move Along, Weight Problems Persist

By Guy Norris

The first significant 787 production line shuffle is under way at Boeing's Everett site this week with the movement of ZA001 to the flight line, ZA002 to the paint hangar and the subsequent aircraft due to move to make room for the first production-configuration aircraft, ZA100.

But while 787 watchers are encouraged by the news that the first aircraft is due to be fueled for the first time on May 5, industry analyst Bernstein Research appears to be less optimistic. In a report published on May 1, it says weight problems on the first production batch could limit range capability by as much as 15%. In addition, it believes the first delivery to ANA will not be made in the first quarter of 2010 as Boeing currently plans, and that full-rate production of 10 aircraft per month will not be achieved until mid-2013, some six months later than planned.

Bernstein says it "remains concerned about three issues: the timeline for certification; the resolution of weight and range issues on the aircraft; and the outlook for ramp-up of production rates. Boeing has failed to meet previous schedule goals on this program, and we believe that investors should adopt a conservative view on the timeline for certification."

It adds that "first production airplanes are likely to be roughly 8% overweight, with range 10%-15% less than promised. These values are worse than for most development programs and suggest that substantial redesign work will be necessary. Finally, we see the planned production ramp-up as challenging. Management has said that it intends to ramp production up to 10 airplanes per month by the end of 2012. But, the Tier 1 suppliers have not yet validated their production capacities with the new production technology, and if substantial redesign is needed to reduce weight, it will further complicate a rapid increase in delivery rates." It adds that, given a potential "stretch" of six months in the overall schedule from first flight to full rate production, it sees Boeing reaching a rate of six per month by the end of 2012.

Boeing, by contrast, says it is increasingly encouraged by progress on both the manufacturing and testing front. Boeing 787 VP and general manager Scott Fancher says results from the recent series of system, factory and gauntlet tests "give us confidence in our ability to move into further gauntlet testing using either ground power or the airplane's engines or auxiliary power unit. This is a significant milestone on the path to first flight."

Over recent weeks the 787 has successfully completed build verification tests, structures and systems integration tests, landing gear swings and factory gauntlet, which is the full simulation of the first flight using the actual airplane. Boeing adds that "all structural tests required on the static airframe prior to first flight also are complete. The final test occurred Apr 21 when the wing and trailing edges were subjected to their limit load of around 2.5g, the highest loads expected to be seen in service. "We continue to analyze the data, but the initial results are positive," Fancher says.

Boeing also confirms that ground vibration testing were concluded last week on the second test aircraft, ZA002, clearing a further hurdle to first flight. It adds that "ZA001 will undergo additional airplane power and systems tests as well as engine runs. After completing final systems checks and high-speed taxi tests, the airplane will be ready for first flight, which is on schedule for later this quarter."

The aircraft, which has been undergoing final test system installation in its temporary home in Paint Hangar 45-03, was moved to Fueling Dock F-3 on May 3. The fuel test will calibrate the aircraft's Goodrich-supplied fuel quantity indicating system and fuel quantity data concentrators. The process will be controlled via refuel panels, also supplied by Goodrich.

Photo: Boeing

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