Boeing Preaches Discipline as 787-9 Approaches Certification

 - May 8, 2014, 11:23 AM
Boeing 787-9 Line Number 4, a production airplane destined for Japan's All Nippon Airways, conducts function and reliability and ETOPS testing. (Photo: Gregory Polek)

Boeing likes to refer to “discipline” when it describes the approach it has taken with the 787-9, discipline in defining the firm configuration of the airplane and discipline related to the program’s engineering plan. Speaking recently to a group of reporters assembled at Boeing’s offices in Everett, Washington, vice president of 787 development Mark Jenks outlined how the company learned from the well-documented mistakes made during development of the 787-8 and how that education translated into near flawless execution on the 787-9, starting with the firm configuration in mid-2010.

“We did a very disciplined job on the -9 to make sure that we met all of those criteria for that major gate so that the airplane was verified to meet all our customer requirements, that the risks had all been appropriately addressed and that we were ready to proceed in to doing the detailed design, releasing the engineering, building the tools and building the initial airplanes,” said Jenks. “So really the discipline of the -9 started with that process… The next phase was really about how we executed the engineering plan, and really again bringing a lot of discipline to bear on the basic execution of designing the airplane and releasing all the engineering models to build.”

Jenks reported that the company stayed three to four weeks ahead of its engineering schedule throughout the 787-9’s entire development phase, meaning each week it would see between 98- and 100-percent on-time performance. That discipline proved key to starting manufacturing on schedule, he added, allowing the company to load the factory in Everett with the first sections of the -9 on the precise day it projected two and a half years earlier.

Finally, he explained, the development of a risk-mitigation plan ensured that the rather extensive changes made to the 787-9 did not disrupt the progress of the program; if a particular change did not work as planned, Boeing ensured engineers had time to react or fix the problem. In the worst case, if all else failed, he said, the company could resort to “fallbacks” that prevented what Jenks described as damage to the program.

In terms of design performance, Jenks praised the teams for a “fantastic job” in managing the weight of the airplane. In fact, the weight the company declared during firm configuration review four years ago has barely changed, he said. “We’re actually a few hundred pounds lighter after four years of development than when we started at firm configuration back in 2010,” said Jenks. “So really I think that’s a testament to the discipline that was used up front in having a really firm configuration, an airplane that was well defined and met the customer requirements and that we were really ready to execute.”

By early this month three flight-test airplanes—two Rolls-Royce-powered models and a GE-powered machine—had accumulated more than 1,300 hours during more than 500 flights. A production airplane destined for All Nippon Airways and outfitted with a full interior now performs function and reliability (F&R) and ETOPS testing. The company plans to use the sixth airplane to roll off the line, another production airplane destined for United Airlines, to conduct more function and reliability testing as the program approaches completion by mid-year. Plans call for Line Number 5—the airplane scheduled for first customer delivery—to go to launch customer Air New Zealand in mid-July. Boeing plans to refurbish all three flight-test airplanes and eventually deliver them to customers.