As expected, Boeing launched the long-range 777X family in grand style at the recent Dubai Airshow. But behind the scenes, the company says engineering work to ready the new derivative for launch has gone better than ever, proving that the Airplane Development organization created in last year's radical shake-up, is working.
Formed as a result of the painful delays and missteps encountered on the initial phases of the 787 and 747-8 programs, Airplane Development is designed to bridge the gap between concept design and production, and is dedicated to bringing aircraft through development and certification. The initiative, which was announced late in 2012 by Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Ray Conner, was unveiled as part of company-wide efforts to inject more discipline into its processes as it ramps up to historically high production levels and simultaneously tackles five new development programs. Led by the 787-9 and 737 MAX, these also include the 777X, 787-10X and KC-46A tanker.
The company says the poster child for the reorganization is the 787-9, the initial stretch derivative of the 787-8 now undergoing initial flight testing. “The entire development of the 787-9 was under this new structure and the results are pretty clear,” says Airplane Development's vice president and general manager, Scott Fancher. “We loaded the aircraft into production on schedule, two years from when we set the date, and the aircraft weighs less. That says something about the discipline of the process. The engineering was released [to production] on average a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. The 787-9 got us back to the roots of reliable development and, frankly, the same playbook was deployed out on the MAX.”
The 787-9 also paves the way for many of the features of the new process, acting as a bellwether for the 777X and 787-10 programs. “We're balancing how we redistribute development activities,” says Fancher who adds “. . . it is another example of going back to how we did things in the past. With the 787-8 the majority of the detailed design was done by partners, but when we went to the -9 we went back to what we did historically. It is a rebalancing rather than a drastic change.”
The two-step process of creating the design centers and the allocation of 777X and MAX engineering work is another example cited by Fancher. In late October, Boeing announced that detailed design on the 777X will be carried out by its engineering teams at sites in Charleston, S.C., Huntsville, Ala., Long Beach, Calif., Philadelphia and St. Louis. Boeing's design center in Moscow is also scheduled to be involved in the 777X work. Separately, Boeing is also expected to give responsibility for the 777X engine nacelles to its recently established design engineering center in Charleston. The site is also assuming the same role for the 737 MAX nacelles.
Jim Peterson, director of engineering and propulsion for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, provides more detail about the decision to bring the development of the new MAX nacelle in-house to benefit from the 787 experience. “It is easier for us to get aligned with engine makers, but with nacelle makers it became more difficult to understand what kind of technology was useful to the airframe and what we could gain of value,” he says. “Also, when you take a technology jump of the sort we made with the 787 and its laminar flow nacelle, it makes sense to spin it off and apply it to a new product. We developed all the aerodynamics and manufacturing techniques on the 787 and proved it will work.”
The idea of involving engineering resources from around the country beyond the traditional realm of Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) makes obvious sense to Fancher. “Roughly half of the engineers at Boeing are in BCA. The other half are in Defense and Space and Research and Development. It would be silly not to tap half of the resources of the Boeing Company,” he says. “We want to make sure we tap the talents and resources we really need. Half of the people solving the 787 side-of-body issue [a late structural test discovery which delayed first flight by around six months] were not from BCA.”