By Kevin Meyer
Those of us that work for organizations that actually make something have had to deal with the gut-wrenching tests that are a normal part of product development. Well I should say those of us that actually want the product to meet specification and become valuable to a customer. But how many of us have had to deal with a test like the one Boeing's 787 Dreamliner just went through… and passed:
Yes, that's a 787 undergoing "ultimate load" testing, where the fuselage is pressurized and the wings are then forced to 150% of the worst expected in the most extreme of conditions. I'll no longer be concerned when I see wings bounce a couple feet during some decent turbulence – these were deflected over 25 feet. I wonder how many Boeing engineers had to change their underwear by the time that test was over. How many of use who have gone through product testing also had to evacuate nearby buildings just in case something went wrong?
Aviation junkies can track 787 testing on Boeing's 787 Flight Test website, which also has some interesting stats on the six test aircraft. There's even a video of the 787 undergoing the ultimate load test.
I was thinking about the Dreamliner while winging my way over to Japan yesterday. Yes, back to the land of maguro, Okunomatsu Shuzo, and natto. Two of which I love, one of which I tried by decided never again. A long while back I wrote about the battle between Boeing's 787 and the Airbus A380 – each representing a different strategic gamble on the future of aviation. Boeing was betting that single aisle jets would become more advantageous than monster high-capacity planes. I looked at that difference as being analogous to lean manufacturing's one piece flow versus batch processing.
The A380 represents a bet-the-house wager on one of the most
disliked same-old models of air travel: the hub-and-spoke. The A380 is
built around the assumption that airlines will continue to fly smaller
planes on shorter routes (spokes) into a few large hubs, then onward to
the next hub on giant airplanes.
Boeing doesn't take the current hub-and-spoke model as a given.
Marty Bentrott, vice president of sales, marketing and in-service
support for the 787, says that since 1990, the number of city pairs
more than 3,000 nautical miles apart served by the world's airlines
have doubled, the number of frequencies offered by the airlines have
doubled, and the number of available seat-kilometers (seating capacity
times miles flown) have doubled. None of these trends show any signs of
abating; meanwhile, the average airplane size has actually declined
slightly. Clearly, customers prefer more point-to-point flights, flown
more frequently, on smaller airplanes.
That was – wow – three years ago. So what has happened with the market?
Looks like Boeing may have guessed right. Although to be safe they aren't sitting still, and will be rolling out the 747-8 upgraded version of the 747 in a couple years. It builds on the reliability of the 747 design with 787 technology, hence the "-8" in the name. Compare that upgrade development cost to a monster like the A380.
Airbus continues to have production problems and just delayed more deliveries. Not that the 787 has come anywhere close to meeting schedule, but at least things seem to be rolling pretty fast now, with the first delivery to ANA expected this November.