Compared to the flood of orders for the Airbus A320Neo and Boeing 737MAX announced at the last Paris show, the news so far at this year’s show on this front has been fairly low key. Although Airbus has made the biggest impact, notching up 120 new firm orders for the Neo (ILFC 50 and Lufthansa 70), Boeing has secured a small – but potentially significant - commitment from SkyMark Airlines of Japan for four MAX. However with the exception of impending deals like EasyJet’s big Neo selection, most of the big orders are already booked for now. The combined firm backlog for both stands at a staggering 3,621, of which around two-thirds is currently made up of Neos. The focus for Airbus and Boeing is therefore switching from design to execution, with the first physical signs of progress appearing on both sides. The initial Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engine for the Neo has entered flight test on the engine maker’s 747SP flying testbed, while Boeing is adding more automation and fuselage buildup capacity at its Renton factory south of Seattle.
737MAX lower lobe mock-up (Guy Norris)
Boeing recently took the wraps off a physical mock-up of the redesigned Section 41 lower lobe of the MAX. In this age of digital design, CATIA and virtual reality it may seem odd that such measures have a place in today’s design process. Yet when designers were trying to figure out how to adapt the internal configuration to the extended nose leg of the MAX, which increases ground clearance for the aircraft’s new CFM Leap-1B engine, the old fashioned physical mock-up was considered the only way to go. The nose leg is extended 8 inches, requiring the ‘dog house’ nose gear fairing to be extended. To make room, the Section 41 aft electronics bulkhead in the lower lobe had to be moved 4 in. to the rear. The mock-up, complete with see-through plastic skins, allows designers to check for positioning of systems and ergonomics for maintenance personnel.
A peek inside the revised 'dog house' nose gear housing (Guy Norris)
Not far from the mock-up the Renton factory itself is being readied for change. In 2015, the MAX Transition Line (the open area to the right of the left-hand bay in this graphic (below) of the Renton factory) will assemble the first of four aircraft for flight-testing, which is to begin in 2016. First delivery is set for late 2017. The transition line is expected to be used as each MAX variant comes into production. Southwest Airlines takes delivery of the first MAX, a 737-8, with the stretch 737-9 entering the line in 2018, followed by the 737-7 in 2019.
Construction of an automated Vertical Panel Assembly Line (VPAL) is also underway that will further speed wing assembly (below)