Short Article: Boeing 787 Systems Summary

This semester is almost over for me, with just 2 weeks of classes left before final exams! It’s hard to believe how fast it’s gone by. Realizing that I’m halfway through college is very encouraging though, and it makes me want to work even harder to finish up with the degree.

One of the classes I am just finishing up is Advanced Aircraft Systems. We are taking the class with a British professor, Martin Grant, who has been with the college for many years. He makes the class very interesting, and does a good job of breaking down complicated systems into smaller sections that are easier to understand and talk about.

One of the extra assignments we had for this week was to research some information on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner from the Boeing website, and write a 2-page paper on some of its systems and design history. While most of the background information was quite familiar to me (I’ve followed the program since 2009) I still found plenty of new material about the aircraft specifications. I realized that I can finally understand the more complicated articles when they talk about bleed air systems, pneumatic pumps, and emergency oxygen systems. Going to class really does help!

It’s only two pages long, so I’m just posting it below. Enjoy the read!

PS> GlobalAir doesn’t have any for sale yet, so I’ll have to wait a few years before buying one.

Tailwing of a model Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft is pictured at the Boeing booth at the Singapore Airshow
The tailwing of a model Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft is pictured at the Boeing booth at the Singapore Airshow February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Boeing 787 Systems Paper

 

Introduction

 

The Boeing 787 is one of the most innovative wide-body aircraft of the 21st Century. It has become the most popular airplane to use on many long-haul routes, and both airline executives and passengers alike have come to love it. What is making this new aircraft so successful? The combination of modern technology, innovative design concepts, and a strong focus on a better passenger experience have all helped. Everything from the engines to the cabin lighting is different from earlier Boeing aircraft. Many of the new ideas that were tested on the 787 performed so well that Boeing chose to add the same features to their other models, including the 737 MAX, the 777-X, and the 747-8i. Overall the 787 Program has started its early years with tremendous success, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Concept

 

Throughout the early 2000’s, Boeing’s long-term industry forecast started to shift to a more global map. They realized that most of the major airlines around the world were adding more direct flights, that would often cut out a stop by pushing the limit of their planes’ endurance. It was generally acknowledged by the travelling that public that transferring flights at a large, busy hub was undesirable, as it added several hours in a crowded airport. Airlines were also realizing that it was hard to fly routes with an aircraft as large as the Boeing 747 or Airbus A340, since many times the load factor would not be high enough to fill the planes to capacity.

The proposed solution that would help improve some of these issues and ensure Boeing’s success for the next 20-30 years was labeled the 7E7. According the Boeing website, the “E” was supposed to stand for the “efficiency” that the new aircraft would be designed with. The mid-sized aircraft would have operating costs low enough that would make it ideal for point-to-point flights from 2nd and 3rd tier cities, where the passenger load might not be high enough to use a 777 or 747. Boeing took a bold approach with the 787, and they were willing to take risks to pioneer new technologies that hadn’t been tested on transport category aircraft before. It was a gamble that they based the entire company’s future on, and it turned out to be a success.

 

 

Design

 

The engineering team focused on creating an airplane with low “life-time” costs. With improvements in computer simulations and digital design programs, Boeing’s research showed that a large factor in determining the profitability of an airplane was long-term maintenance. By incorporating the one-piece composite barrel design for the main fuselage, Boeing eliminated the need for thousands of rivets and connection points, which translates to less required inspection and fixes for fatigued parts in the future.

Passengers travelling on the 787 often marvel at how airy and comfortable the cabin feels. This is because of the intentionally designed mood lighting, larger windows, and lower cabin altitude. The composite structure is very resistant to corrosion, which also allows for a higher humidity level. The cabin is quieter also, with the new engine technology incorporating a higher bypass ratio, laminar flow characteristics, and new nacelle shapes to reduce drag and noise.

The flight deck is also completely re-designed, with full digital displays for all system and instrument panels. With central maintenance computing functions (CMCF), much of the diagnostics on the aircraft systems and engines are completely autonomous, and they help reduce much of the pilot workload. The redesigned ergonomics also make it more comfortable for the pilot to fly for several hours at a time.

Systems

 

The 787 relies primarily on no-bleed electric systems to power the aircraft controls. This makes the airplane more efficient overall, by reducing weight avoiding the divergence of high-speed engine airflow to use for a traditional pneumatic system. The hydraulic systems (left, center, and right) are operated at around 5,000psi, with a flow of about 30 gpm. The two hydraulic pumps are both electric, and only one of them is required for normal operation in flight; the secondary pump acts as an auxiliary, coming on only during takeoff and landing. The environment systems for cabin pressurization come from low pressure air conditioning packs, which use clean air instead of traditional engine bleed air. This helps improve engine efficiency, while also avoiding many of the problems related to contaminated air.

 

Differences to earlier designed Boeing aircraft

 

Many of the differences with earlier aircraft models have already been briefly mentioned. Incorporating composites into the structural design was the biggest change, but there was also a much greater focus on the electrical systems throughout the aircraft. The 787 has much higher capacity battery power, which has been the cause of several electrical fires and related problems the airplane experienced. The better cabin environment is a huge improvement to earlier designs in the 757 and 767 family of aircraft. The 787 Dreamliner also has a noticeably greater wing flex, which helps the airplane absorb turbulence and stress forces more smoothly. Aesthetically it also looks much more streamlined and laminar than other planes.

 

Closing

 

In summary, the 787 Dreamliner is an excellent example of modern engineering capabilities that companies like Boeing have shown to possess. The clean slate design helps the plane to stand out from its competition, rather than just serving as a marginal upgrade to a similar previous model. Airlines and passengers alike will continue to appreciate the new features and lower operating costs for many years to come. As a passenger who has flown on the 787 several times, and as a future airline pilot, it is my opinion that the Dreamliner will continue to play an important role in airline expansion and route development for global markets.

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