787 First Flight delay perspective
Update, June 25:
In the myriad of stories about the new 787 delay is this nugget from an Australian reporter: “The 787-8 is currently around 7.5 tonnes overweight and showing a burn of around 4% more fuel than necessary to meet the performance that Qantas thought it was buying.”
Update, 2:50 PM PDT:
- The delay will be a minimum of 2-3 months.
- The weak points are where the wing box attaches to the fuselage.
- Delamination occurred during the static tests.
- Morgan Stanley now predicts entry-into-service in 2011, slipping from March 2010.
- Boeing stock was off ~7% or ~$2.5bn.
- The impact on suppliers remains uncertain.
- From 6 AM PDT to this update, 1,200 stories appeared on Google News about this delay.
- Today the GAO said the Pentagon should reconsider the Boeing-Bell V-22 program because of poor performance, reliability and excessive costs during the time the tilt-rotor has been on duty in Iraq.
- We learned that the roll-out of the 747-8F has shifted from September to November.
The Wall Street Journal has this humorous lead to its story:
Hold the sake? Boeing Co. and All Nippon Airways Co. managers last week marked a “week of 787 Dreamliner Milestones” by smashing open a ceremonial barrel of the rice spirit.
The hangover set in on Tuesday.
The first flight of the 787 is delayed by several weeks, Boeing announced this morning. The full press release is published in a separate post below. Here is the key part of the press release:
Boeing today announced that first flight of the 787 Dreamliner will be postponed due to a need to reinforce an area within the side-of-body section of the aircraft.
The need was identified during the recent regularly scheduled tests on the full-scale static test airplane. Preliminary analysis indicated that flight test could proceed this month as planned. However, after further testing and consideration of possible modified flight test plans, the decision was made late last week that first flight should instead be postponed until productive flight testing could occur.
First flight and first delivery will be rescheduled following the final determination of the required modification and testing plan. It will be several weeks before the new schedule is available. The 787 team will continue with other aspects of testing on Airplane #1, including final gauntlet testing and low-speed taxiing. Work will also continue on the other five flight test aircraft and the subsequent aircraft in the production system.
We were told several months ago that testing had revealed a weakness in the wing-to-body join. The Boeing statement above refers to the need to reinforce an area within the side-of-body section of the aircraft, without specifically identifying the location.
Update: Boeing just confirmed to us that it is a wing-to-body joint.
We were also told at that time that flight testing could proceed, but that it would have to employ techniques that would have lower stress and G forces than normal flight testing would require. The Boeing statement suggests that this information was correct.
A webcast at 10 AM EDT should clear up a number of details.
With a delay of several weeks, EIS now easily slips into 2Q10 and perhaps later.
At the Paris Air Show, Pat Shanahan, Boeing’s VP of Product & Services and former head of the 787 program, acknowledged that there was no margin remaining in the flight test program (ie, no buffers in the timeline).
The press release says the decision to postpone first flight was made late last week–this was just days after Shanahan’s appearance at the Air Show.
An aerospace engineer tells us it is not uncommon to find such issues, although it is uncommon to find it on the ground-usually this is discovered during flight tests.
Boeing stock is off $3 on the news by 10 AM EDT at the start of the webcast.
We’ll add more to this after the Boeing webcast.
From the webcast:
Scott Carson, BCA president, Shanahan and Scott Fancher, head of the 787 program, are on the call. These will be IDd as SC, PS and SF.
- SC: We need to reinforce a limited area of the side body of the airplane. Team is satisfied for fully productive flight testing. This development is a disappointment. Limited and localized reinforcement is quite manageable.
- PS: Late last month during static testing involving bending the wings. During one test the stress issue was identified. Last week analysis concluded that flight tests should be postponed. Made very clear this is limited and composites remain correct choice.
- SF: We are already moving toward a solution. Technical experts have IDd several solutions and determining which one is best, to be followed by testing and installation, followed by flight testing program. Will determine new first flight schedule and flight test program in next several weeks. Will continue other testing, including taxi tests, in the meantime. All flight test airplanes will be kept in flight-ready condition.
- SC: Fundamental technology is sound.
From Q&A segment:
- How invasive is this fix? SF: The area in question is a series of relative small areas in side-of-body joins. Fixes can be installed in aircraft already assembled and in production. Do not see much weight added but little impact to airplane performance.
- How will this affect EIS? SC: We don’t have a new timeline. As we delay the flight test program so there will be some impact but no assessment on impact yet.
- How good are the design models? Had previous wingbox problem. PS: our models are very good, have the ability to predict structure and performance. We’ll go back and see where the model failed to predict this and fix the model. SF: We do testing for a reason and that’s because models aren’t perfect. When this occurs, you stand back to find out why and go forward. In airplane development it is very common for static testing to occur in parallel to flight testing. The timing is unfortunate. (Editor’s note: see our aerospace engineer comment above.)
- (Editor’s note: We just received an email that customers learned of this about a month ago.)
- SF: There is nothing about this issue that prevents Boeing from proceeding with continued gauntlet and taxing testing. Once the modification is identified, the aircraft will return to the hangar for modification, followed by first flight. Subsequent test planes will proceed as planned and be modified when ready.
- SF: The stress areas are one or two inches in multiple locations along the wing-to-body join. It is not uncommon for ground or flight test programs to cause the design team to take pause. If we had found this a couple of months ago, we wouldn’t have a delay. (Editor’s note: This, then, suggests this is a different if similar problem to the one we heard several months ago described above, although everything we’re hearing in the conference call is consistent with what we heard months ago.)
- Unidentified: This is an attachment point between the wing and the rest of the body.
- SF: This is not something that has to be incorporated in the autoclave process. These are parts you can hold in your hand.
- SC: We discovered this in a test condition several weeks ago. To fly the airplane would have such a limited envelope on it that it would not be productive to proceed.
- PS: This involves multiple structures from wings from Mitsubishi, and side body by Fuji and Boeing designs. It is both sides and it is symetric. SF: It is limited to the upper portion of where the wing and body join in 18 locations on each side. I really want to emphasis we are talking about a one or two square inch area in multiple locations. It does not extend out into the wings or into the body of the aircraft. The parts to fix this are about the size of your hand or smaller.
- Question about credibility. You knew about this late last month, why wait to now? SC: When we were at Paris last week we had preliminary analysis and thought we had a credible flight envelope. Further analysis narrowed the flight envelope to the extent that it would not be useful to fly. We wanted to install the fix to have a robust flight test program.
- What about the dollar outcome? Hundreds of millions or a few million? SC: It’s premature to forecast the cost. The fix itself doesn’t appear to be a big dollar item but the impact of program delay remains to be assessed. We don’t know if it will be a day-for-day delay. (Editor’s note: See Shanahan Air Show comments above.)
- Customer reaction? SC: Began process late last night. All of them respected the process. They are interested in the final delivered product.
- SC: Not anticipating suspending production. Design solutions can be retrofitted in a complete airplane. Fix can be installed during production. Will have to install and retest in static test airplane, analyze results and install in production airplanes.
- SF: Modification is relatively simple and first aircraft mod can be done on the field, it doesn’t have to go back to factory. No change in schedule but may re-sequence existing work.
- Any impact on certification process? PS: Part of our focus on staying in process is to continue certification process and we see nothing here to compromise getting the airplane certified.
- PS: Fairly well known that test aircraft are heavier than production aircraft; this is small weight gain, won’t impact production airplanes which have weight reduction program already.
Clearly delaying the first flight is the right decision. The indefinite delay raises more questions about Boeing’s credibility and creates more uncertainty for customers.
Stock is off $3.82 at the conclusion of the call.