It seems curious that the Boeing 787’s horizontal stabilizer, perhaps one of the most easily overlooked parts of any new design by the casual observer, is fast becoming one of the major talking points of the program – but for two very different reasons.
First it has become a major irritant to the hard-pressed schedule because not once, but twice, it has been the subject of inspections following the discovery earlier this summer of sloppy workmanship. Following a first round of inspections in June, another is now underway following Boeing’s audit of work practices at Alenia – the Italian manufacturer which makes the unit.
Secondly, out of seemingly nowhere, it has become a major new hope for the program. Teams working on innovations to help bring the 787-9 stretch back on spec, are planning to take advantage of a pre-planned weight saving redesign of the horizontal stabilizer to also introduce hybrid laminar flow control (HLFC) – a first for the industry on any large, production commercial aircraft. The technology, to be applied at the leading edges of the vertical and horizontal tails, sucks in boundary layer air through tiny holes in the skin, helping to delay the transition of the air from smooth, laminar flow to turbulent flow – thereby cutting drag.
Checks today, experimentation tomorrow. (Guy Norris)
It seems Boeing is reaching deep into its box of tricks to make the 787 the success it was always meant to be. However, in this case, necessity is the mother of invention, and HLFC is making its appearance sooner than anyone – Boeing included – probably expected. The good news for the 787, and the industry at large, is that the same technology will be fed back into the earlier -8 should it prove a success at lopping off more than 1% drag on the -9.