Boeing’s Next EcoDemonstrator Nearly Ready for Flight

 - June 3, 2021, 1:00 PM
Boeing's latest ecoDemonstrator—a 737 Max 9 destined for Alaska Airlines—will carry 20 new technology elements program leaders plan to evaluate. (Image: Boeing)

Boeing has scheduled the first test flight of its latest ecoDemonstrator—an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 carrying 20 new technology elements—for June 29. The airplane, expected to enter revenue service with Alaska Airlines dressed in a special ecoDemonstrator livery by the middle of next year, will carry out test flights using a 30 percent blend of sustainable aviation fuel derived from animal fats and greases until December 2. 

The 20 technologies planned for the latest ecoDemonstrator include a new fire extinguishing agent to replace Halon 1301 in the engine compartment. Boeing is partnering with Meggitt to test and acquire certification data for a less ozone-depleting agent called CF3I for future aircraft. Global authorities have banned the production of Halon and ICAO has set a 2024 deadline for discontinuing its use.

Additionally, the latest ecoDemonstrator phase calls for collaboration with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to measure greenhouse-gas levels in the atmosphere to support the agency's climate modeling and long-term forecasting. The testing will determine the best location on an aircraft to place the measuring equipment, explained ecoDemonstrator program technical leader Doug Christensen during an online press briefing on Thursday.

“So now we can work with airlines to essentially crowdsource the gathering of measurements and data from a wide variety of locations,” said Christensen. Boeing plans to gather data from a variety of locations, weather conditions, and airport environments to ensure the best strategy to support the NOAA’s wider efforts, he added.

Other technologies slated for testing include evaluation of acoustic lining concepts within the right engine nacelle aimed at cutting noise on current engines and inform designs for future models. Plans call for flying the aircraft with the acoustic panels over a sophisticated ground array in Moses Lake, Washington, to measure their effectiveness.

Of all the new technologies planned for testing, Christensen said he felt most excited about a program to convert carbon fiber waste into interior side panels. While testing continues on the manufacturing processes, airplane trials will center on the panels’ acoustic properties. Although Boeing already recycles all its carbon fiber for items such as kayak paddles, this would mark the first time the recycled material would enter into the aircraft supply chain, he explained.

Addressing recent concerns over cabin air cleanliness, the latest ecoDemonstrator phase will also test new air vents designed to direct air downward onto passengers’ laps and thereby create a “curtain” of air between seat rows to mitigate germ spread. “So if you’ve gotten on an airplane and the person sitting in front of you sneezes and those particles are floating around, it makes you nervous,” noted Christensen. “These nozzles will actually drive the air down and away from the breathing area and cause the particles to be recirculated and cleaned.”