Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Who's Dream Exactly?

Boeing has been making the headlines recently with the maiden flight of it's new plane, the 787 Dreamliner.  In following the stories I'm still a bit unclear on why people are so interested in this aircraft; is it really going to be a great plane, or are we just amused by any development cycle that is so fraught with delays (search Wikipedia for "Duke Nukem Forever" if you'd like to see another case of public fascination with a doomed project.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the harrowing saga of the Dreamliner, here's the synopsis.  The plane just had it's maiden flight on December 15, 2009.  That flight was scheduled for September of 2007.  Yup, that's a seven at the end of that year.  Ooops.  While an often-stated delay did come in the form of a machinist's strike, that lasted less than two months, which seems insufficient to delay a project by two years.  From the reading I've done here it seems like the problem was a combination of difficulties obtain materials for the plane, and an excess of work being outsourced.  At one point Boeing was forced to buy some of the companies that they were outsourcing to just to exert enough control over the supply chain.

So we have in our midst now a plane that had, to say the least, a strained birth.  However, it's here now, so why should we be excited?  The two biggest talking points that I've read so far are that this is the company's most fuel-efficient airliner, and uses more composite materials than any other airliner currently in production.  The composite material in question is a carbon fiber reinforced plastic that will make up 80% of the aircraft by volume.  This make the aircraft lighter, while maintaining the necessary strength, hence the vaunted fuel efficiency.

This brings me to my next point.  The aircraft is, by all reports, going to be quite fuel-efficient.  Do I give a damn?  I've heard a lot about the fuel-efficiency, but I haven't heard (nor do I really expect to) about the enormous cost savings that will be passed on to the traveller.  Nothing about it being any quicker either.  Thus missing the two greatest improvements to airline travel that I want: Cheaper and Faster.

Ah, but now I feel the need to follow in the footsteps of the Great Jeremy Clarkson, and after putting down this poor airliner for past four paragraphs, here's what I like about our poor maligned plane.  That carbon fiber plastic body that I glossed over earlier isn't just lighter and as strong as traditional materials; it's lighter and stronger.  That means that it can handle a greater internal pressure.  Most commercial airliners pressurize the cabin to be approximately equivalent to being outdoors at 2,400m above sea level, but the Dreamliner will be able to handle a pressure which will give the feeling of being at a mere 1,800m altitude.  Add in the fact that the composite materials won't corrode like their metal counterparts and you can now safely increase cabin humidity.  The increase in pressure and humidity should result in a cabin that feels much more natural than your typical aircraft.

Something that I thought may be fun is that they've increased the size of the windows and raised them to a more natural eye level.  As someone who loves watching the take off and landing I'm actually a bit excited about this feature.

Apparently they've also been playing around with a variety of technologies, including placing sound absorbing materials in the engine air inlets, to reduce the total noise, which should be nice for passenger comfort as well.

So there you have it, a new plane that fails to address my big concerns of speed, cost, seat comfort, banning children and fat people, and improved cuisine.  However, it still sounds like a step in the right direction.  Now for the internet's most dangerous question: what do you think?


Jabbles said...

I have not done much research on the plane, but I did get to see it last summer at the Boeing plant, it looks great in Boeing livery. As far as the cost I imagine we won't see any saving for a while, it's like buying a new car simply for the fuel savings, sure you save on gas but now you have a car payment. The speed issue well we must bring back Mr Clarkson, he has mentioned more than once that new thing cars and planes are slower that they once were. Also drag is proportional to the velocity squared times the air density, so you go faster you use much more fuel.

Aunt J. said...

Sorry, I'm a day late entering my comments. What's the point in designing new planes when tourism is down? If they insist on creating an advanced design I want a seat that reclines so you can sleep horizontally rather than vertically, less aircraft noise, more leg room, etc. etc. I guess that's why I wasn't asked to be on the design team!
On another issue, drive safe and have a great Christmas.

Jabbles said...

They should give up on seats entirely, just make the floor really comfy, like one big mattress.