The 787 "Dreamliner" represents Boeing's latest foray into the world of commercial passenger air travel. To this point, the project represents an advanced, ambitious project which could sink or swim the aircraft firm which already suffers from a down economy and drop in air travel in general. Should it succeed as planned, the 787 sets the stage to become the top-performing jet airliner that Boeing has ever produced. The program was launched back in 2004 though first flight was not achieved until late 2009, some two years late. The 787 was unveiled in a "roll-out" ceremony on July 8th, 2007. Before it had even flown, the 787 became the fastest-selling wide-body class airliner in history, perhaps a sign of better things to come for the Boeing Company. The Dreamliner will wield parts, materials and entire components through a multitude of national and international companies across the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, India and Italy among others.
As of this writing, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner has not entered operational service with any one airliner firm. All Nippon Airways Company, Ltd of Japan is slated to be the first commercial operator of the Boeing product. These 787s are expected to hit the airways in the latter portion of 2010 if the program continues on track.
Some 54 airliner firms are expected to begin 787 Dreamliner operations between late 2010 through 2017. On paper, the two largest expected customers will be ILFC (International Lease Finance Corporation) of the United States with 67 examples and Al Nippon of Japan with 55 examples. Some top names to utilize the Dreamliner will include Aeroflot, AeroMexico, Air Berlin, Air Canada, Air China, Air India, Kuwait Airways, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Qantas and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Each operator will make their own respective selection as to engine brands (General Electric or Rolls Royce) and all of these are slated to use the 787-8 and 787-9 production model types.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner Walk-Around
To the casual observer, the 787 does not offer much in the way of changes, at least from an external perspective. The design is, in fact, quite conventional in appearance despite some early Dreamliner design interpretations featuring a fashionable and futuristic airframe. The fuselage is tubular with the flightdeck situated at the extreme forward of the design. The conical nose is noticeably short and the cockpit sports four large window panels. The two center windscreen panels are afforded individual windshield wipers. There are four crew/passenger access doors to either fuselage side. The first set is immediately aft of the cockpit with the second set just a ways down the fuselage ahead of each wingroot. The third, is set just aft of the main wing assemblies with the fourth set ahead of the empennage. The wings themselves are low-mounted in typical commercial airliner fashion and sport noticeable dihedral. Wing sweep (approximately 32.2 degrees) is noticeably excessive along the leading edge and less so along the trailing edge. The empennage is also conventional and dominated by the tall shark-like vertical fin. Horizontal planes extend out of each aft fuselage side and showcase their own dihedral. The fuselage tapers off into a sharp cone past the tail. The undercarriage is made up of a two-wheeled nose landing gear leg and a pair of 4-wheeled main landing gears. The main legs are fitted under each wingroot with the nose leg fitted under and aft of the cockpit floor.
Internally, the 787 makes use of composites, aluminum, titanium and steel, producing a light-weight airframe in the process (theoretically improving range). The fuselage will rely heavily on composite construction and make the 787 the first commercial passenger airliner to do so. The use of composites has come under some scrutiny from outside parties when relating its use with lighting strikes, visible fatigue markers, crash survivability and moisture absorbance. Boeing, of course, counters these fears with the data they have available.
The 787 Cockpit
The 787 Dreamliner flightdeck naturally sports state-of-the-art equipment. The instrument panel is dominated by a set of four large liquid-crystal customizable multi-function displays (MFDs) similar to those found on military aircraft for decades. Engine controls are located between the pilot and copilot along an easily accessible central console. Each pilot position is redundant to an extent and feature a traditional yoke control column (as opposed to the side stick controls found in the Airbus 380 and in military aircraft). Heads-Up Displays (HUDs) are fixed to the cockpit ceiling directly ahead of each pilot's sight line and supply pertinent in-flight information on-the-fly and without the need for the pilots to take their eyes off of the air ahead. The curved cockpit ceiling also contains easily accessible control systems.
As of this writing, some 851 Dreamliners are on order and most of these are of the 787-8 type (656 examples) whilst the rest are of the 787-9 type (195 examples). No orders for the 787-3 have been placed as of yet. Orders began as early as 2004 with 56 being placed. 2005 saw 235 examples placed on order while 2006 netted a further 157. A total of 369 orders were placed in 2007 while 93 came onboard in 2008. 2009 saw 59 examples ordered.
Taking a page out of those expensive and complicated military aircraft in today's skies, Boeing is utilizing subcontractors to produce individual sections and components of the Dreamliner with final production being handled by Boeing. As of this writing, only two 787s have been completed with first flight achieved on December 15th, 2009. The 787-3 is expected to cost between $150 - $155.5 million USD per example while the 787-8 will range in the $161 - $171.5 realm. The 787-9 is priced out between $194 - 205.5 million.
787 Variants - the 787-3, 787-8, 787-9 and 787-10
The 787-3 is the short-range model of the 787 Dreamliner family. The 787-3 features a standard operating crew of two personnel made up of the pilot and copilot. Seating is expected to be between 290 and 330 passengers depending on the cabin seat arrangements. Length is listed at 186 feet with a wingspan of 170 feet and a height of 55 feet, 6 inches. The fuselage measures in at 19 feet, 5 inches high with a width of 18 feet, 11 inches. The cabin itself measures in at 18 feet across. These fuselage measurements are the same across the 787-3, 787-8 and the 787-9 model types. Empty weight for the 787-3 is listed at 223,000lbs while a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 375,000 is reported. Cruising speed will be approximately 561 miles per hour while a maximum speed of 587 miles per hour is possible. Range will fall between 2,880 and 3,510 miles. Service ceiling is 43,000 feet across all three Dreamliner models. The 787-3 is intended to replace the 757-300 and 767-200 Boeing products as well as threaten the future of the categorically similar Airbus A300 and A310 in use. As of this writing, no 787-3s have been ordered and no date is set for its availability.
Despite the number designations, the 787-8 actually represents the "base" 787 Dreamliner product. The 787-8 will feature seating between 210 and 250 passengers depending on the arrangement. Wingspan is a wider 197 feet, 3 inch design featuring the same 32.2 degree sweepback. Height, fuselage and cabin measurements all mimic the 787-3 model. Empty weight is listed at 242,000lbs and MTOW is 502,500lbs. Speed specifications are all equal to the 787-3 though range is now increased in an impressive 8,000 to 9,440 mile distance. The 787-8 should eventually replace the 767-200ER and 767-300ER models in the Boeing product line. Operations are expected to begin sometime in late 2010.
The 787-9 is the "stretch" product of the 787 Dreamliner family line, essentially a long-fuselage Dreamliner, featuring room for 250 to 290 passengers. Length is reported at 206 feet while sharing the same 197 foot, 3 inch wingspan of the 787-8 model. Height, fuselage and cabin measurements are equal to the 787-3 and 787-8 models though internal cargo capacity is greater than the two. Empty weight is 254,000lbs with a MTOW of 547,000lbs. Speed measurements are equal across all three models. Range of the 787-9 is now increased out to 9,210 to 9,780 miles in its defined long-range role. The 787-9 is expected to replace the 767-400ER in the Boeing product line and threaten the future use of the Airbus A330 series. Operations are expected to begin sometime in 2013.
The 787-10 is a proposed variant based on the 787-9 to compete directly for customers eyeballing the French Airbus A350-900 series for their passenger transport needs. It represents a stretched fuselage model with seating between 290 and 310 passengers. The added passenger space will decrease the overall operational range and internal cargo capabilities of the base 787-9 design but the move is to feed potential Boeing customers and their respective requirements. Though not officially launched as a product by Boeing, all indications are that the aircraft will be a committed addition to the Dreamliner product line in the near future.
Other Dreamliner variants may include a cargo hauler and military transport/refueler type - though there is no commitment on any of these fronts from both Boeing or the US military. There is a rumor that the 787 could replace the 747-series VC-25 "Air Force One" within time.
787 Dreamliner Engines
Engine choices for the 787 will be the General Electric (GE Aviation) GEnx or the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 series turbofan engines. The choice for Boeing to go with two suppliers is something of a departure from the norm for the company and essentially brought about by customer desires. Thrust output per powerplant model will be as follows (x2 engines) - 53,000lbs (for the 787-3), 64,000lbs (for the 787-8), 71,000lbs (for the 787-9). The engine partners were announced on April 6th, 2004. The GEnx is looking to become the successor to the aging CF6 turbofan series. Engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney submitted a powerplant proposal but was not selected.
The multiple choice of engine types means that the 787 Dreamliner will promote a "quick-change" powerplant feature designed to accept either engine brand type (GE or Rolls Royce). Boeing targets some 24 hours for the switch to take place, making this a cost-effective and expedient measure for its operators. There is some concern on the part of potential customers that expect the engine switch to take place in the range of fifteen days due to the complex nature of the systems involved when dealing with this process. Boeing is optimistic that it will meet its 24-hour turnaround goal.
Other Items of Note
Boeing wanted the 787 Dreamliner to supply its passengers with in-flight internet access so a network was designed and integrated into the aircraft. However, the network is said to be tied with the aircraft's critical internal systems including flight control and navigation as well as the communications suite. This has raised some alarms with the FAA that passengers may be able to gain access (either forcibly or accidentally) to these sensitive systems in-flight. Boeing has rebutted this concern by explaining the various protective measures in place to keep the passenger network access separate from the actual aircraft network systems. Once thoroughly tested and completed, Boeing will supply its proof to the FAA to solidify the systems safety.
As expected in any aircraft development program, weight has inevitably crept up on the 787 much to the dismay of its potential customers. Added weight in airplane-speak translates to reduced range with the inherently higher fuel consumption involved. Boeing is continuing tests and will use the first six 787 production models to improve the design.
The 787 Dreamliner was formerly known under the designation of "7E7". This changed as of January 28th, 2005.