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Tuesday, May 23, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Boeing mechanics to do more work on 787 at first

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Parts of Boeing's global supplier network won't be quite ready when the first 787s come together in just over two years, so Boeing mechanics in Everett will have to install some of the planes' electrical wiring and other systems, the head of the program said Monday.

But that glitch is normal on a new airplane program and won't delay the jet's planned entry into service, said Mike Bair, vice president in charge of the 787 program.

Providing an upbeat progress report to reporters, Bair said that as soon as the program gets up to speed and production is streamlined, the systems work including installation of the electrical-wire bundles will move out to the suppliers.

One milestone for that supplier network promises to provide some dramatic plane-watching in Seattle this summer. Bair said that in late July or early August, flight tests from Boeing Field will start for the first of the large superfreighters that will transport 787 parts around the world.

In the meantime, if you see an American Airlines 777 at Boeing Field, that, too, is part of the 787 program.

Boeing has leased the plane from American through the end of the year to test the "fly-by-wire" software that will direct the 787 flight-control systems.

The big jet has been fitted with dual control systems, and in flight the pilot can switch at will from the 777 to the 787 control system and back.

The 787 manufacturing plan calls for Boeing's global partners in Japan, Italy and in Charleston, S.C., to pre-install all wiring and ducting, so that seven large, all-but-completed structural sections of the jet arrive in Everett for snap-together assembly.

But Bair said it won't work quite like that immediately.

"Are the first airplanes going to get produced the way we would like?" Bair asked, then answered "No."

Everett mechanics will fill in and do various installations that ultimately won't be done there.

"As the program matures, you move that work back to where it belongs," he said.

Bair said this workflow rearrangement is not atypical, and won't affect the schedule.

He also said Boeing engineers have finalized a quarter of the detailed digital models that make up the complete 787 design. They include the design, tooling and raw-material requirements for all major structural elements such as fuselage sections, wing skins, heavy metal forgings and landing-gear parts.

"We are well on our way," Bair said.

Adam Pilarski, an analyst with industry consulting firm Avitas, has had direct experience with new airplane programs at Douglas Aircraft in California. He said that at the beginning of a program, it is standard procedure for the lead manufacturer to make sure things get done on time by taking more control, then loosening the reins later.

Major assembly work on the first 787 — destined to fly with All Nippon Airways — starts June 27 in Nagoya, Japan, when Fuji Heavy Industries will begin putting together the heavy-duty center section that will support the wings, said Bair.

The following month, a converted Boeing 747 with a bulging upper fuselage will be seen in the skies above Seattle as well as Everett's Paine Field.

That will be the first of three, possibly four, superfreighters undergoing flight tests for its mission to ferry 787 parts across the world to Everett.

Also in flight test here for the rest of this year will be the American Airlines 777 with its 787 flight-control system — the software-controlled electrical system that will move the new jet's flaps and control surfaces either automatically or in response to pilot action.

Bair said the enhanced 787 system will dampen the effect of turbulence for a more comfortable ride.

The sophistication of the flight controls also allows engineers to design a lighter airframe, he said, because the jet will respond better to a wind gust or sudden maneuver, minimizing structural stress.

In his progress report, Bair also revealed Boeing will add 6 feet to the wingspan of the 787-9, the stretch version of the new jet, to improve aerodynamic performance at slower speeds.

Pilarski praised this as a sign that, rather than keeping a standard wing — "the cheapo way to do it" — Boeing is optimizing the wing design for each different model.

"That's a very good thing," he said.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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