The Boeing 787 Dreamliner: The Future of Aviation
Anyone who has ever flown on an airplane is all too familiar with the cramped seating, small windows, lack of fresh air, noisy engines, and generally uncomfortable conditions that today’s aircraft all seem afflicted with.
While traveling by airplane is certainly a somewhat efficient means of transportation it is not always the most comfortable method of getting from point A to point B. Well, I am pleased to report that there is a new day dawning in the world of aviation and the new sheriff in town is called the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Designed to revolutionize the air travel experience, Boeing has literally bet the farm on the success of this newly designed, state of the art airliner that is just now entering service.
What Makes the 787 Different?
So what is the Dreamliner and what makes it so special? For starters, the 787 Dreamliner is the newest airliner to be entered into service by the Boeing Aircraft Company. The Dreamliner has incorporated breakthrough technologies into this airplane designed to improve the passenger experience while significantly lowering operating costs. How did they do it? The biggest change in this airplane comes in the material used to construct the fuselage. Where other airplanes use aluminum sheet metal to form the skin of the airplane, Boeing engineers developed a way to use a lightweight composite material. This allows for sections of the fuselage to be made in one-piece barrel sections, which eliminates the need for thousands of rivets used to assemble the old aluminum sheets. The one-piece barrel sections are then fitted together to form the entire fuselage. Using this composite material and eliminating the use of sheet metal and rivets has resulted in huge weight savings for the airplane.
In order to achieve the goal of a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption Boeing reached out to engine manufactures General Electric and Rolls Royce. Both companies responded with new engines; the GE GEnx and the RR Trent 1000. Both engines offer a significant reduction in fuel consumption as well as a reduction in noise. In addition, the use of composite materials has been extended into the engine design with the development of composite fan blades.
Also, for the first time on a commercial aircraft the engine bleed air systems have been eliminated. Bleed air systems redirect hot, high pressure air from the engines for use in a variety of functions including air conditioning and anti-ice systems. The removal of this system eliminates the process of cooling this hot air for use in the passenger cabin and allows the air conditioning system to be operated by electric power as opposed to pneumatic bleed air. The benefits of having a no-bleed design are greater fuel efficiency and lower maintenance cost as a bleed system is normally a high maintenance system.
The 787 is made of 50% composite materials by weight and this coupled with the new more fuel efficient engines combine to give the airplane a range of up to 8,500 miles. Consider for a moment just how far that is. A Boeing 787 Dreamliner will be able to fly non-stop from New York to Hong Kong, cruising along at Mach .85 which equates to 560 miles per hour. I find all of this simply amazing.
The Passenger Experience
All of these changes were designed to make the Dreamliner more fuel efficient and cheaper to operate and maintain. This is wonderful news if you own a Dreamliner, but how does all of this affect the passenger? Well, the attention to detail that Boeing put into the design of the airplane extends well into the interior of the plane as well. From the all new electric driven air-conditioning system to larger overhead storage bins the interior of the airplane should be much more comfortable for the passenger. With improved lighting and larger cabin windows with an auto dimming feature you will immediately notice the difference when you board a Dreamliner for the first time.
Another improvement that can’t be seen but most certainly will be felt is the cabin pressurization, which has changed to the equivalent of 6,000 feet altitude from the old standard of 8,000 feet. Couple this with an increase in the cabin humidity level to 15% from the old 4% level and travelers should no longer get that dry, raspy, scratchy throat feeling after flying. The intent of all these interior changes is too make the passenger experience much more enjoyable and to have the passenger arriving at their destination in a much better physical and mental state of mind.
Hear Boeing's Colleen Rainbolt talk about the passenger experience
All of these innovations have not been lost on Boeing’s competitors. Rival Airbus, the European airplane manufacturer, is currently rushing to get their all new composite airplane, the A350, to the market. Both the 787 and the A350 are considered long-range airplanes so it is unlikely that you will get a chance to ride on one unless you are flying intercontinental routes. However, if the concept proves successful, and the early feedback on the 787 has been very positive, then we are certainly looking at the future of commercial aviation.
After a rough stretch that saw the Dreamliner delayed by three years, the first deliveries to launch customer ANA (All Nippon Airways) took place with much fanfare in October of 2011. Since then Boeing has started the slow but steady delivery of the plane and hopes to get production eventually up to 14 aircraft per month. The backlog for the Dreamliner is impressive with about 1,400 firm orders and the introduction of the 787 Dreamliner was the most successful new airplane launch ever for Boeing. To date Boeing has delivered over 800 Dreamliner’s to a variety of customers around the world.
The Dreamliner's maiden flight
- The Dreamliner will produce 20% less emissions than similar sized airplanes.
- A 787 Dreamliner set the world record for an airplane in its weight class for the longest flight on March 13, 2012, when it flew 10,336 miles non-stop from Seattle to Dhaka, Bangladesh.
- The Dreamliner also owns the world record for the longest timed flight at 19 hours and 12 minutes. This occurred on February 9, 2012 during a test flight over the United States. The airplane flew a route that drew a “787” and a “Boeing” logo in the sky.
- The factory that will do the final assembly of the 787 is 380 feet wide and 1,000 feet long.
- The windows on the 787 are 30% larger than other airplanes. They measure 19 inches tall.
- Instead of window shades the Dreamliner will have window dimmers.
- The Dreamliner is 50% composite material by weight. What is composite material? It’s a carbon-fiber enforced polymer that is more durable and lighter than aluminum.
- The list price for a 787-8 version of the Dreamliner is $185.2 million.
- There are going to be three versions of the Dreamliner; the 787-8, 787-9 and the 787-10. The 787-9 and -10 version will have a stretched fuselage with more seating capacity.
- The seating capacity of the 787-8 is 210 to 250 passengers with a range of up to 8,200 miles.
- The seating capacity of the 787-9 is 250 to 290 passengers with a range of up to 8,500 miles.
- The seating capacity of the 787-10 is up to 330 passengers with a range of up to 7,000 miles.
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© 2012 Bill De Giulio