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The 787 Dreamliner lifts its nose during taxi run  (Source: Boeing)
Boeing's 787 Dreamliner inches closer to its first flight

Boeing's highly anticipated 787 Dreamliner is more than two years late, but things are finally starting to kick into high gear with the aircraft's development. Over the weekend, Boeing test pilots taxied the jet down the runway at 150 mph and managed to lift its nose off the ground [video].

"Our pilots told me the airplane performed beautifully," said 787 chief project engineer Mike Delaney. "We're going through and analyzing the data to ensure we're ready for first flight. From evaluations we've done so far, everything looks good."

While this may seem like a small step to some, this is just the precursor to the big event which is scheduled for Tuesday. On Tuesday at 10 am PST -- if all goes according to plan -- Boeing's 787 will take to the air for the first time. According to HeraldNet, the composite-bodied aircraft will remain aloft for more than five hours as critical systems and flight performance/handling characteristics are carefully monitored.

3News reports that roughly 600 engineers and 400 mechanics will be on hand for the exhaustive nine-month flight testing phase of the program. During this phase, six aircraft will be flown on a regular basis to work out any problems that are bound to crop up during typical flight testing.

The 787 has been plagued with problems during its prolonged development. Most recently, problems with the aircraft's wingbox were discovered. It was found that composite sheets covering the wings were delaminating under stress.

Many of the problems surrounding the 787, however, have come from the fact that much of the production of key components of the aircraft have been farmed out to different contractors around the world.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO and president Scott Carson noted in early 2008, "The fundamental design and technologies of the 787 remain sound," said Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO and president Scott Carson. "However, we continue to be challenged by start-up issues in our factory and in our extended global supply-chain."

For those that haven't been keeping up with the program, the 787's airframe is composed of 50 percent composites, 20 percent aluminum, 15 percent titanium, and 10 percent steel. The 787 can cruise at Mach 0.85 and uses 20 percent less fuel than a comparable Airbus A330. For those that like to stay connected while in the air, the 787 also features built-in wired networking.

Boeing has 840 firm orders for its sleek 787 Dreamliner as of November 2009.

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RE: Many of the problems surrounding the 787....
By MozeeToby on 12/14/2009 11:19:40 AM , Rating: 2
You make it sound like there is A) No reason to move to a composite airframe and B) No composite airframes flying today. Neither of which are true and besides that there is a reason that flight testing happens before passengers are flown.

A nearly 100% composite airframe reduces weight considerably, saving on fuel costs and indirectly saving on maintenance. It also allows for larger windows and a higher cabin pressure, since composite doesn't suffer from fatigue stress damage as much as aluminum does.

Saying that it isn't certified and trying to assert that therefore the Boeing engineers don't understand the physics and materials science does a discredit to engineering. Do you really think that Boeing would put as much money as they have into this plane without knowing if it would fly without tearing itself apart?

Composites have been used in airframe construction since the 80's. The nearly all composite airframe is the result of more than 30 years of R&D on a wide variety of airframes. It's going to fly just fine.

RE: Many of the problems surrounding the 787....
By Amiga500 on 12/14/09, Rating: -1
By Oregonian2 on 12/14/2009 1:14:38 PM , Rating: 2
Overweight compared to the design target weight or overweight compared to the more conservative alternative?

RE: Many of the problems surrounding the 787....
By Amiga500 on 12/14/09, Rating: -1
By rangerdavid on 12/14/2009 2:29:53 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not starting a flame war, I'm just calling "BS" on you on you for this:

For the moment, composites are heavier, harder to design, quite unknown in terms of impact tolerance, environmental degradation, lightening strike attenuation, crack propagation...

Please explain this further. Are you suggesting that Boeing used composites solely to reduce the part count for ease of manufacturing? Are you talking about extruded or intruded plastics?

If Boeing says it has used such a high proportion of composite materials in this airframe to reduce weight, what evidence do you have to the contrary (both of some ulterior motive, and (what I consider a very strange assertion) that composites are "heavy" and untested?

By rangerdavid on 12/14/2009 2:22:05 PM , Rating: 2
Composites have been used in airframe construction since the 80's. The nearly all composite airframe is the result of more than 30 years of R&D on a wide variety of airframes. It's going to fly just fine.

Amen. I was going to post the same comment...

Composites have been seeing use in a variety of modern airframes, many used in the military (where wing load can be quite extreme) and engineers from Boeing, McDonald Douglas, and others have quite a lot of experience with this material.

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