A twin-engine widebody jetliner produced by Boeing since 2007, typically carrying between 242 and 440 passengers. Notable for being the first Boeing jetliner to utilize composites for a large portion of its structure.
The Boeing 787, or Dreamliner, is a long-range widebody twinjet airliner produced by boeing since 2007. It is Boeing’s newest airliner (serving as a replacement for the boeing-767, the company’s first twin-engine widebody), and also their first built primarily from composite-materials rather than the traditional aluminium alloys.
Boeing started casting around for a successor to the 767 in the late 1990s, initially settling on the “Sonic Cruiser”, which would have carried the same number of passengers as the 767, using the same amount of fuel, but at a 15%-higher speed (approximately mach 0.98). However, rising fuel costs in the early 2000s, coupled with the post-September-2001 downturn in the airline industry, left the Sonic Cruiser in want of a market, and Boeing cancelled the project in December 2002, deciding to instead produce an airliner that would travel the same speed as everyone else’s, but do so more efficiently. This was named the 7E7 (soon to become the familiar 787), and a public naming competition officially dubbed it the Dreamliner in July 2003.
The new airliner, unlike Boeing’s previous offerings, was to be made mostly from large, cylindrical sections of carbon-fiber-reinforced-polymer (CFRP), a composite material that is essentially a mesh of carbon fibers embedded in very strong glue. CFRP is lighter for a given strength than most metal components would be, which saves weight (although it turns out that the 787 is actually heavier than the 767, due to its greater size); however, metal components are still used where their other advantages outweigh (so to speak) their greater weight (for instance, the engines are mainly titanium, due to its extreme strength and temperature resistance, while the leading edges of the wing and tail are still primarily made from aluminium alloys). These cylindrical sections would, instead of arriving empty and then being decked out with their bells and whistles at the final assembly location, be almost fully outfitted by subcontractors in various parts of the globe, and only then shipped for final assembly (Boeing had been subcontracting out various tasks ever since the 767, but never to this degree); to help move large, nearly-complete fuselage sections and wings around, Boeing tore apart a boeing-747 and rebuilt it into the boeing-dreamlifter, later doing the same with three more 747s. Other advances included new, more efficient engines, a lighter lithium-ion battery system (this will become important later on), and various aerodynamic optimisations throughout the aircraft.
As a consequence of all this new ground being broken, the 787’s development costs grew extremely large (exceeding those of the boeing-777 by a full order of magnitude, even accounting for inflation), and the programme was badly delayed compared to initial projections; originally scheduled to take to the air in August 2007, the 787’s maiden flight ultimately did not occur until December 2009, and its flight-testing programme, originally scheduled for an optimistic 8½ months, ended up taking eighteen. Certification was finally granted in August 2011, and the first 787 was delivered to All Nippon Airways on 25 September of that year, entering revenue service on 26 October 2011, three years behind schedule.
Although the 787 duly met, or, more often, exceeded, performance expectations, it was also plagued with various technical difficulties throughout its first year and a half in service. First came problems with its apu, when it was found to be prone to overheating and deforming when shut down; next came a spate of engine failures on 787s with General Electric GEnx engines. January 2013 brought issues with fuel leakage, but this was overshadowed by a much worse problem: the aircraft’s lithium-ion batteries (remember those?) started spontaneously catching fire, sometimes during flight, and the 787 was grounded worldwide for three months until the cause of the fires (internal short-circuiting) was found and corrected. Since its early teething troubles, fortunately enough, the 787 has become better-behaved, with no other issues of a similar magnitude.
There are three commercial versions of the 787:
- The 787-8, the first model to fly and the first to enter service, is the smallest 787, with a typical seating capacity of 242 passengers (although it can squeeze in up to 359 if the passengers are packed in like sardines). It has a range of 13,620 km (7,355 nmi) when carrying 242 passengers and luggage. 360 have been delivered through the end of 2018, with 84 unfilled orders.
- The larger 787-9 first flew in September 2013, and entered revenue service with Air New Zealand on 9 August 2014. Its 6.1-meter-(20-foot)-longer fuselage lets it carry 290 passengers in a typical seating configuration, or up to 406 in sardine mode. It is also the longest-range 787, capable of flying up to 14,140 km (7,635 nmi) nonstop with a typical passenger load, and the best-selling, with 406 delivered as of the end of 2018 and 384 more in the pipeline.
- The 787-10 is the largest 787, able to sardine in up to 440 passengers if need be, although 330 is a more typical load. The price it pays for this increase in capacity (achieved by stretching the already-stretched 787-9, this time by 5.5 meters [18 feet]) is a decrease in range, down to 11,910 km (6,430 nmi) one-way. The 787-10 made its first flight at the end of March 2017, and carried its first paying passengers in April 2018 with Singapore Airlines. 15 have been delivered so far, and Boeing has orders for 154 more.
- The 787-3, a short-range (5,650-km [3,050-nmi]) variant designed especially for the Japanese market, was cancelled in December 2010, with its 43 orders (from Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways) being converted to orders for 787-8s. In order to fit into airport gates designed for smaller aircraft, it would have had shorter wings than the 787-8, and used winglets rather than the raked-back wingtips found on all other 787s. Not needing to fly especially long distances, it would still have been able to carry 290 to 330 passengers in a typical seating arrangement (slightly more than the 787-9), although less efficiently than the longer-winged 787s.
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