As certification of the 787 Dreamliner approaches at the end of this year and launch customer All Nippon Airways (ANA) prepares to take delivery of its first airplane, Boeing’s service ready team is putting the final touches on preparation for entry into service. Mike Fleming, Boeing director of 787 services and support, is busy strengthening each segment of what he described as a three-legged stool in which the airplane is ready, support is ready and the customer is ready.
And these elements certainly ought to be ready because two-and-a-half years of delays in the 787 program have provided more time for the service-ready team to prepare aspects such as training, equipment and inventory. The team’s first 787 customer is Boeing’s own flight test operation. “From a support perspective, since the start of flight test we’ve had people learning the airplane inside out,” Fleming said.
The curriculums for all the 787 training courses are complete, including computer-based training. In May, Boeing completed its pilot qualification and simulator qualification plans, and regulatory agencies and airlines helped review those plans. The regulators have also been attending the training and using the computer-based training and flight training devices and simulators.
More than 130 Boeing flight test and instructor pilots had trained on the 787, both in Seattle and at Boeing’s training center in Singapore. These pilots are earning provisional type ratings, which will be finalized once the 787 is certified.
Maintenance training on the 787 began with Boeing and supplier field service representatives as well as Boeing service engineers and technical support personnel. “We were trying the training ourselves,” said Fleming. “Figuring how effective that training was, how effective the devices were and also giving our maintenance trainers the opportunity to practice and to interface with students.” Boeing and the 787 suppliers also trained each other’s service engineers and field service representatives, he said, “to make our people more knowledgeable about the detailed systems.”
ANA maintenance training began in March and counted for credit with Japan’s regulators (JCAB). More than 50 ANA mechanics had passed their JCAB examinations as of late June. Maintenance training has also begun at Japan Air Lines.
There are different courses, depending on the trainee’s job, whether inspector, mechanic or composites repair technician. The base maintenance course takes about four weeks and covers 787 systems in depth. Skills required for the 787 are similar to those for the 777, and both airplanes share the same type of composite materials, although the 787 uses far more, with most of the airframe structure made of composites.
Smooth Transition To Composites
The transition to composites structure should be no different than the move from analog mechanical systems to electronics-based systems. “There will be a similar transition from working on metal to composites,” Fleming explained. “If you talk to somebody familiar with composites, they’re not concerned, other than the fact that their work statement is going to grow because there are more composites on the airplane.”
Fleming appreciates the flexibility offered by composites structure. The repair protocol for small damage on the 787 is either a bolted repair using a titanium patch or a bonded composites repair, either a layup over the damage or a scarf repair, which replaces the damaged section. The 787 structural repair manual is already completed and has guidelines for damage limits. If the damage is not covered by the manual, the customer has to call Boeing to determine the proper fix. “It depends on the size of the damage, the extent of the damage and how quickly you want to get out of town,” Fleming said.
For small damage, Boeing has developed a four-inch composite repair that can be done in an hour. For significant repairs like those for a tail strike, nosegear collapse or ground vehicle damage around a cargo door, he explained, both a metal and composite airplane will be grounded for a while. “You’re going to have to remove the damaged structure and replace it,” he said. On a 787, this will likely involve a bolted repair, but instead of a patch, the damaged area will be cut out and replaced.
The focus for the repair manual, in any case, is on high-threat areas where damage might be expected to occur, but swapping out a fuselage barrel is not included because it’s unlikely to be necessary.
For certification of the composite structure, Boeing had to address barely visible impact damage, which is damage that would not be apparent during a visual inspection or preflight walk around. “We had to show that the structure was good in the event that someone missed that,” Fleming said.
“[When repairing composites] you have to check the stress that’s going into the area, just as you do with metal,” said Fleming. “You can do bolted repairs on minor damage and large damage. I can do bonded [repairs] on large damage if I wanted to, but it’s going to be more complex and time consuming. The requirement is that you show that the repair from a strength capability meets the certification basis and the requirements of the airplane life. You have to show it good for both static strength and fatigue.”
Ramp Damage Checker
To help mechanics find composites damage, Boeing is specifying a ramp damage checker that uses ultrasound to check the extent of suspected damage. “It’s a go/no-go device for a mechanic to use who is not an NDI [nondestructive inspection] expert,” Fleming said. “You scan across the area and a red light gives an indication, then you call an NDI expert to do the inspection. New tools make the airline more efficient. Every mechanic doesn’t have to be an ultrasound technician.”
Boeing’s service-ready team had finished validating nearly all of the 6,400 maintenance tasks in the 787 maintenance manual as of late June. The remaining 56 were pending information from 787 flight testing, for example, flight control rigging limits.
The 787 will generate about 20,000 maintenance messages, a normal number for that size airplane, and the service-ready team has been troubleshooting and validating those messages as they develop during flight testing, as well as using desktop simulators. It would be impossible for all 20,000 messages to occur during flight test.
The structural repair manual standards section, fault isolation manuals, wiring diagrams and illustrated parts definition have been released and are ready for submission with the certification documents. Test pilots are using the airplane flight manual, and flight test mechanics, field service representatives and service engineers are using the maintenance and fault isolation manuals and wiring diagrams to maintain the flight test 787s.
The documentation has to include a process for updating as change occurs during flight test, but the closer the 787 gets to certification, the more mature its configuration and the fewer changes are necessary. All changes must be visible across the entire supply chain.
The service-ready team also has to help 787 customers prepare for ground operations with all the ground service equipment (GSE) needed for daily operations and maintenance. Over the life of the 787, about 325 tools are needed, and 179 have been validated so far. Only 115 tools will be required at entry into service, and of those 115, 107 have been validated. Some of the tools won’t be needed until later in the 787’s life, such as the landing gear overhaul tools for the 12-year overhaul interval.
One key support tool is a maintenance laptop computer. Boeing’s specification calls for a hardened unit, and Panasonic’s Toughbook meets those requirements. The laptop is used by mechanics to interface with the 787, to download maintenance data and upload software upgrades, either wirelessly or hardwired.
The final leg of the service-ready stool is parts. Boeing has been working with suppliers to make sure that inventory is ready to flow and also populating customers’ warehouses with 787 parts in preparation for entry into service. Until the 787 is certified, however, those parts have to remain segregated. “You have to show that those parts are kept quarantined from the regular airline supply,” Fleming said, “and once we certify the airplane, they can get released.”
Maintenance costs are designed to be lower for the 787 because it uses fewer line replaceable units, with fewer hydraulic and pneumatic components due to the many electrically driven systems.