787 is making ‘steady progress,’ Boeing assures

Farnborough Air Show » 2008
July 16, 2008, 10:04 AM

Reportedly rising at 4 a.m. to work a 16-hour day at Boeing Commercial Airplanes division’s Everett plant in northwest U.S., Boeing 787 program vice president and general manager Pat Shanahan has been “a little busy.” Accordingly, the biggest question at Farnborough International– from those used to seeing him only at the factory–has been, “What are you doing here?”

Charged with rescuing the troubled twin-aisle twinjet project, currently running about 15 months late, Shanahan is here to assure customers and aerospace industry partners alike about the program’s “leap forward on all fronts.” (Shanahan conceded he had not told the marketing department he would characterize the 787’s status so positively, which might explain why formal production-system briefing material records only “steady progress on getting up and running.”) 

Boeing has entered the “build-verification testing” process to validate electronics and hardware. One current “pacing item” is the 787’s brakes software, while the manufacturer hopes to run the hydraulic system this month.

“Things will get really exciting when we fuel the airplane and start the engines and auxiliary power unit. [Then] we’ll move into ‘gauntlet’ testing, a series of ground tests [in which] we trick the systems into thinking [the 787] is airborne,” said Shanahan.

Boeing has been working hard to integrate sub-tier suppliers’ schedules while also increasing the pace of the program. “If the supply chain had worked as well as the composites structure does, we would already be delivering aircraft [by now],” noted Shanahan, who has had to manage completion of “traveled work” left unfinished by Boeing suppliers stretched to breaking point to meet ambitious delivery schedules. “My biggest challenge [remains] traveled work at Everett.”

Shanahan said Boeing remains “on track” to receive formal type inspection authorization. Meanwhile, Shanahan is encouraging everyone involved “not to leave it until the last day of the schedule.”

Airframe Status Updates
Regarding the initial 787 airframes, he said “Number One is in really good shape. We have [just] 35 parts shortages on the wing, and the balance of [catch-up] work is in the mid-body, where there has been an air-conditioning issue.” On 787 Number Two, airframe Section 41, the forward fuselage, produced by Spirit Aerosystems in Kansas, is “good” and the mid-body is “coming together,” proclaimed Shanahan.

He is working hard to disguise his continuing frustration with the problems he inherited when taking over the program eight months ago. “We keep getting better and better, but I’ve become harder on suppliers about what [unfinished work] they can ship. [Initially] we had been more flexible about changes [to plans].”

Shanahan said Boeing has “probably 100 people” working with partner Global Aeronautica in South Carolina, where prototype Number Four has been held up after suffering damage by incorrect fastener installation, for which the errant worker was summarily sacked. “A fundamental problem has been [the need to] drive back travelled work into [partners’] suppliers.”

The good news is that “Number Four will be the best yet, and Number Five even better.” Meanwhile, Boeing has to correct earlier mistakes. “I feel there’s an air bubble in Numbers Two and Three. That’s where our energies [are concentrated] right now.”

Finally, Boeing is working with its partners so they complete all their work before shipping major assemblies to Everett. “If we can get structural work completed [in Charleston], it will require less time in final assembly,” said Shanahan. “If [the job is] not finished [by partners and suppliers], the production system is not working.” 

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