October 08, 2012
Credit: Photo Credit: Guy Norris/AWST
Guy Norris Glasgow, Mont.
From the outside, Boeing's EcoDemonstrator looks like any other American Airlines 737-800, but beneath the skin this is a flying testbed for near-, mid- and long-term technologies the manufacturer hopes will dramatically improve efficiency and safety while reducing noise and fuel burn.
The EcoDemonstrator also represents a new way of testing for Boeing and is more than just a one-off exercise in packaging new ideas for a short flight-test program. Though the 737-800 will be refurbished for delivery in November to American, from which it is on loan, the aircraft is the first of a series of demonstrators that will help Boeing prove and fast-track advanced technologies into the product lineup.
As such, the EcoDemonstrator plan is a significant departure from past practices in which Boeing has flight-tested discrete, new commercial technologies on a platform-specific basis. Even the long-retired “Dash 80” 707 prototype, for example, which became a general workhorse for everything from high-flotation landing gear to aft-mounted engines, was never used for the range of simultaneous flight-deck, systems and aerodynamics tests like those packaged on the EcoDemonstrator.
The EcoDemonstrator concept provides a new tool for the company's product-development organization as it seeks to narrow down options for updates of current projects as well as future programs. Boeing says the initiative also forms an adjunct to continuing flight-tests of product-specific advances, such as the recently evaluated fuel-saving hybrid-laminar-flow-control system tested on a 787-8 for application in the forthcoming 787-9 stretch.
The idea for the EcoDemonstrator series grew out of low-noise concept flights in the 2000s, culminating in the Quiet Technology Demonstrator (QTD) 2 in 2005. As a result of the QTD, engine fan-duct and primary nozzle chevrons that were tested on a General Electric GE90-115B-powered 777-300ER are now seen everyday at airports around the world. Fan and core chevrons have migrated to the GEnx-2Bs on current production 747-8s, while fan-duct chevrons also appear as standard on both GE and Rolls-Royce-powered 787s. Fan noise on the GE90-115B was reduced by increasing the sound-absorbing area of the inlet and was lip-tested in the QTD2, and the same technology helped avoid 200 lb. of sidewall sound insulation on the 787, not to mention the 600 lb. of sound-suppression weight saved by the chevrons.
Sensing the value of grouping together advanced-study concepts that by themselves may not have justified a dedicated flight-test effort, Boeing also flew a technology-demonstrator 737 effort in the mid-2000s that tested a range of flight-deck and connectivity developments. Pushed by Boeing's environmental performance senior technical executive and former QTD manager, Belur Shivashankara, plans for a follow-on program to the QTD2, meanwhile, morphed into an Environmental Technology Demonstrator before turning into the current test series.
“We have a plan to roll out EcoDemonstrators on a yearly basis,” says Jeanne Yu, environmental performance director for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. The next demonstrator will be one of Boeing's original 787 development aircraft and is due to be modified in late 2013, while the company is reviewing options for demonstrators beyond that.