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Tuesday, October 16, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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21: Tardy But Technologically Ahead Of Rivals

Despite landing United Airlines as the launch customer for the new 777, The Boeing Co. finds itself in the uncharacteristic role of playing catch-up to a pair of hot-selling competing models.

The score now reads 302 to 34.

That's the combined number of firm orders for the Airbus A330 and McDonnell Douglas MD-11 vs. the number of 777s United ordered yesterday.

But a bagful of technological advances designed into the 777 may help Boeing overcome the 777's late entry into the rapidly emerging market for a fuel-efficient jet that can carry about 350 passengers over long routes.

Chris Longridge, vice president of sales for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said Boeing doesn't think it's at a disadvantage because the competitors also are selling in 1995 and beyond, when the 777 will be available. Earlier delivery slots for the MD-11 and A330 are full.

In addition to the 777 launch order, United yesterday ordered 30 747-400s, while taking out options on an additional 34 777s and 30 747-400s. If all the options are taken, the deal would be worth more than $22 billion.

The prototype 777 is scheduled to be test flown in 1994. By then, dozens of A330s and MD-11s will be operating in commercial ser

vice, presumably generating momentum for further orders.

Yet, Boeing may be able to offset that by pitching the 777s technological superiority.

``When you consider the brand-new engine and wing and some of

the other bells and whistles, the 777 will be much more efficient than the A330 or MD-11,'' said Bill Whitlow, analyst with Portland-based Gallagher Capital Corp.

Among the features on the new jet are:

-- Lighter, more-reliable flat-panel instrument displays replacing bulky, air-conditioned cathode-tube displays in the cockpits. To date, use of flat-panel displays have been limited primarily to military aircraft.

-- An innovative wing that will permit a fully loaded 777 to get quickly aloft even at airports, such as Denver, where thin, warm air can prevent jets with current-generation wings from taking off with a full load.

-- An advanced fly-by-wire system in which electronic signals, rather than cables and pulleys, are used to control the aircraft. Airbus was the first to use fly-by-wire on a commercial aircraft, the A320, and will use it on the A330.

Boeing's system will feature a new system of routing wire, which will result in significantly fewer wires and connectors. ``We should be able to show improved reliability,'' said Boeing spokesman Dick Schleh.

-- Extensive use of lightweight, super-strong composite material in structural parts. Again, Airbus was first to use composite material in aircraft structural parts, namely the vertical section of the A320's tail.

``We're seeing some `me too' stuff here,'' said Airbus spokesman David Venz. ``We figured it would happen eventually.''

Boeing may be a copycat, but it is going a step further, using composites for the vertical and horizontal tail sections, as well as for the cabin floor beams.

-- Foldable wingtips as a $4 million to $5 million option. The 777 wing is as wide as a 747, but Boeing is offering wings that fold up 20 feet from the tip, permitting the 777 to fit in gates designed for DC-10s and L-1011s.

Alan Mulally, vice president of engineering for the New Airplane Development, said the United jets may be the first to have foldable wings, heretofore used only on military aircraft. ``There's a lot of interest in them and United's technical department is studying them,'' he said.

Beyond technical advances, Boeing has taken a fresh approach in moving the 777 from the drawing board to the factory floor.

Designers have come up with a flexible array of standard features, replacing the carte blanche customizing that has plagued the startups of previous models. For instance, seating can be easily reconfigured; rows can range from five to 10 seats abreast. And galleys and lavatories can be moved just as efficiently.

For the first time on a new program, representatives from sales, production and engineering are working on teams using three-dimensional computer modeling to design parts and systems.

The old Boeing way called for designers from different disciplines to work more or less independently on two-dimensional models, which then had to be tested in mockups.

``The idea is the design can be made more produceable by having these people working on the same team at the same time,'' said Boeing spokesman Schleh. ``You can iron out discrepancies early in the game, before the design is released to the factory floor.''

Boeing originally targeted 100 orders to launch the 777, though Longridge said there was nothing scientific about the decision to go ahead with just 34 orders.

Analyst Whitlow suggested brisk sales of the A330 and MD-11, and perhaps a bit of corporate pride, may have had something to do with it.

``They want to be able to supply the entire range of products their customers want,'' he said. ``This was a gaping hole in their product family they had to fill.''

Boeing may yet hit the 100 aircraft target before the end of this year, perhaps a lot sooner. Longridge said he expected the board of directors of All Nippon Airways of Japan to discuss an order when it meets soon.

He said others considering the plane include American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, British Airways, Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.

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777 chronology

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Here are some of the events leading up to the formal launch of the 777.

-- June 14, 1989: Boeing Commercial Airplane Groups's Richard Albrecht tells reporters at the Paris Air Show that Boeing expects to certify an all-new, long-range twin-jet

widebody aircraft by mid-1995.

-- Nov. 11, 1989: Boeing Commercial Airplanes Group says it is discussing potential participation in the 767-X with Japanese aerospace companies.

-- Dec. 8, 1989: Boeing announces its board has authorized the Commercial Airplane Group to issue firm offers to airlines for the 767-X; Phil Condit is named to head the New Airplanes Division; Boeing says it hopes to launch the program by midsummer 1990.

-- Dec. 12, 1989: Pratt & Whitney announces plans for a new PW4000 engine for the proposed 767-X.

-- Jan. 16, 1990: General Electric announces its engine entry for the new plane called GE90. Rolls-Royce says its new Trent turbofan for the 767-X has exceeded expectations during its first two performanace tests.

-- April 12, 1990: Boeing announces it has signed a memorandum of understanding with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Fuji Heavy Industries that would allow the Japanese companies to share in 15 percent to 20 percent of airframe production for the 767-X, but they would not become equity partners. The company also says it is considering using folding wings on the new aircraft.

-- October 15, 1990: United orders 34 planes, becoming the launch customer for the new plane. Frank Shrontz, Boeing president, says he will formally asked the board to go ahead with the program Oct. 29.

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Boeing's new 777

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Will be the world's largest two-engine passenger liner

Length: 209 ft.

Fuselage width: 20 ft., 4 in.

Maximum take-off weight: 506,000 pounds

Passenger seating: Typical seating configurations of nine or 10 abreast would allow 360-390 passengers

New Engine: Turbufan engine will have 70,000-83,000 pound of thrust.

Wide wingspan: 197 feet, increases lift and range up to 4,800 miles.

Cargo hold: 5,740 cubic feet.

Folding wing: reduces wingspan to 156 feet. Lets 777 use same airport gates as smaller DC-10s, 767s.

Boeing 747 Length: 231 feet 10 inches.

Boeing 777 Length: 209 feet

Boeing 767 Length: 159 feet 2 inches.

SOURCES: The Boeing Co., Flight International

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Rob Kemp, Lisa Remillard / Seattle Times

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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