The Dreamliner program focused on efficiency, economics, ergonomics, and environmental factors. It aimed to produce an aircraft that could burn less fuel, keep operating costs low and provide passengers with unrivaled amenities, all while minimizing noise and air pollution.
The resulting Boeing 787 Dreamliner is considered to be the first next-generation aircraft of the millennium and has changed the trajectory of modern jetliner design. It even forced Airbus to redesign its offering, the A350XWB, to stay competitive.
The B787 is one of the most striking commercial jets in the sky and is easily recognizable by its trademark curved wings. Pilots who fly it have nothing but praise for the comfort, technology, and ergonomics it provides both inside and behind the cockpit.
However, in typical Boeing fashion, the program has its fair share of problems, such as supply-chain issues, quality control issues, countless delays, and unhappy customers. All of which can be traced back to poor management and cost-cutting decisions by Boeing.
So is it a dream come true? Or is it a nightmare waiting to happen? Here’s the Aviator Insider scoop on all things Dreamliner.
In the late 1990s, the lack of sales of the B767 made Boeing conduct studies into a possible replacement to bolster its line-up. The company had two proposals on board; the first was a Sonic Cruiser, while the second was a larger variant of the B747 to compete with the upcoming Airbus A380.
In the bygone era of aviation, speed was thought to be king, while efficiency came in second. But, Boeing wanted to achieve both in a single airframe. Its Sonic Cruiser project promised airlines an aircraft that could cruise at Mach 0.98 while using the same amount of fuel as a B767.
The landscape of aviation would once again shift away from speed and towards fuel efficiency after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, and the subsequent war in Iraq changed the global economy and fuel prices. In December 2002, Boeing officially canceled the Sonic Cruiser project and focused on producing an efficient aircraft for which the market was clamoring.
On January 29th, 2003, Boeing announced the 7E7 program and released a concept picture of the aircraft. Boeing stated that the E in 7E7 stood for “efficiency, economics, environmental performance, exceptional comfort and convenience, and e-enabled systems.” Boeing planned to utilize the technology used in the Sonic Cruiser project in the 7E7 to achieve the goals of the program.
According to market research conducted by Boeing, customers wanted an aircraft that could fly point to point, which resulted in the company focusing on a widebody twinjet, rather than a jumbo jet. The idea is to reduce airport congestion caused by smaller regional jets that have to ferry passengers from larger airports to smaller ones.
In July 2003, Boeing held a naming competition for the project. Roughly 500,000 voters from more than 160 countries chose the name Dreamliner, over the three other options. Later, Boeing would use the designation 787 for the aircraft, saying that the E in 7E7 meant “eight.”
Boeing wanted the B787 to be built mainly using composite materials to keep costs down, reduce weight and increase performance. Based on weight, more than 50 percent of the aircraft is made from composite material. The three most used materials are carbon laminate composite, fiberglass, and carbon sandwich composite.
The fuselage sections are all single pieces of composite material that are connected end to end to form the entire fuselage. Almost all the major surfaces of the aircraft are made from composites, while conventional metals are used mainly for strengthening purposes. The use of composites has also helped increase the wingspan of the aircraft, increasing its lift capabilities and improving efficiency.
The use of composites in the aircraft also significantly reduces the cost of maintenance on the aircraft because it doesn’t corrode like metal. Additionally, composite material also handles tension and stress better than conventional materials, which increases the lifespan of the aircraft.
The B787s are often pictured with wing curved wings. However, the wings of the aircraft aren’t curved; they just flex significantly. According to Boeing, the fly-by-wire system on the B787 adjusted the wing to its most efficient position in a given phase of flight, which drastically increases efficiency. The flexing wings also absorb turbulence which increases passenger comfort and makes the aircraft less susceptible to wind shear.
Boeing also designed the Dreamliner without winglets. Instead, the wingtips of the B787 have a higher angle of sweep than the rest of the wing. The company calls it raked wingtips and it serves the same function as winglets. The raked wingtips are lighter than winglets and provide a greater reduction in drag versus the winglets, 5.5 and 3.5 percent, respectively.
Boeing has also focused on reducing noise pollution with the B787. The choice of next-generation engines helped immensely, but there is a limit to how quiet an engine can be. Boeing focused on using the nacelle to reduce noise from the engine. It cut out portions from the back of the nacelle to create a chevron pattern. This simple design change proved to be effective and reduced engine noise significantly both inside and outside the cabin.
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner had the aviation community buzzing before its release. It was and still is a game changer. However, Boeing’s choices to prioritize profits and cut corners where possible nearly destroyed the program.
In April 2004, All Nippon Airways became the launch customer of the B787 by making an order for 50 aircraft. The airline ordered 30 of the smaller B787-3 variant that was never produced and 20 of the B787-8 variant. The airline was supposed to start receiving the aircraft in late 2008. By 2007, the B787 had broken the record for most orders between launch to roll-out, with 677 units.
Soon after, the delays and supply chain issues would plague the program.
- First Delay, September 2007 – Boeing announces a three-month delay to the first flight, citing supply issues with fasteners and bolts, as well as issues with the fly-by-wire control software
- Second Delay, October 2007 – An additional three-month delay to the flight test and a six-month delay to deliveries is announced. Boeing attributed the problem to supply issues from subcontractors
- Third Delay, January 2008 – Another three-month delay to the program due to a lack of progress on the issues previously mentioned
- Fourth Delay, April 2008 – Boeing announced that the first flight would be moved towards the end of the year, while deliveries would be delayed by another year, minimum
- Fifth Delay, November 2008 – Boeing machinist strike pushes the first flight to early in 2009.
- Sixth Delay, December 2008 – First flight was delayed until the second quarter of 2009.
- Seventh Delay, June 2009 – Wing box structural issue causes the flight test to be postponed indefinitely
- Eighth Delay, November 2010 – Deliveries are delayed by three issues to resolve issues found during testing.
While supply chain issues are to blame for the delays, most of the blame rests squarely on Boeing, as they refused to provide detailed specifications to build the parts to prevent the leakage of proprietary information. The limited data wasn’t sufficient for the manufacturers to make the parts well.
The cascade of delays would finally result in the aircraft entering service in 2011, three years after its estimated launch date, and cost Boeing more than $40 billion in abnormal production costs, cancellations, and lost sales.
Bought Not Built
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is one of the first projects built while the McDonnell Douglas management was at the helm of Boeing. Board members John McDonnell and Harry Stonecipher (Former CEO of McDonnell Douglas) issued what engineers at Boeing referred to as a medieval ultimatum.
Stan Sorscher, an engineer and union negotiator at Boeing, said they were asked to develop the B787 for less than 40 percent of what the B777 cost 13 years prior. In addition, each B787 had to be built for less than 60 percent of what a B777 cost to build in 2003. Engineers were later given a budget of only $7 billion to develop what was touted as Boeing’s most technologically advanced jetliner ever.
The decisions made by the board forced Boeing to abandon its practice of making everything in-house and outsourced major components to subcontractors. This had to be done because the company planned to keep build costs low by making the subcontractors absorb most of the costs. Boeing’s plan worked, and some subcontractors like Alenia, which made the tail of the 787, lost as much as €750 million in 2010, which is $959.6 million in today’s money.
As a result, more than 50 percent of the B787 Dreamliner is not built by Boeing. However, the final assembly is supposed to take place in the Boeing plants in Everett, Washington. Later down the line, the plant in Charleston, South Carolina, also produced Dreamliners.
The table below highlights the Dreamliner parts, who built them, and the country of origin.
|Forward Fuselage 1||Spirit||United States of America|
|Forward Fuselage 2||Kawasaki||Japan|
|Aft Fuselage||Vought||United States of America|
|Center Wing Box||Fuji||Japan|
|Moveable Leading Edge||Spirit||United States of America|
|Fixed Leading Edge||Spirit||United States of America|
|Moveable Trailing Edge||Boeing||Australia|
|Fixed Trailing Edge||Kawasaki||Japan|
|Engine Nacelles||Goodrich||United States of America|
|Landing Gear Wheel Well||Kawasaki||Japan|
|Landing Gear Doors||Boeing||Canada|
|Landing Gear||Messier-Dowty||United Kingdom|
|Tail Fin||Boeing||United States of America|
|Crew Escape Door||Saab||Sweden|
|Cargo Access Doors||Saab||Sweden|
|Floor Beams||TAL Manufacturing Solutions||India|
|Electrical Power Conversion System||Thales||France|
|Power Management System||Hamilton Sundstrand||United States of America|
|Generator Control Units||Hamilton Sundstrand||United States of America|
|Airconditioning Packs||Hamilton Sundstrand||United States of America|
|Engines Option One||Rolls Royce||United Kingdom|
|Engine Option Two||General Electric||United States of America|
|Build Materials (by Weight)|
|Fuselage Length||(56.70 m)||(62.80 m)||(68.30 m)|
|Fuselage Height||19 ft 4 in (5.94 m)|
|Tail Height||55 ft 6 in (16.90 m)||55 ft 10 in (17.02 m)|
|Wingspan||197 ft 3 in (60.1 m)|
|Wing Area||4,058 ft² (377 m²)|
|Width||18 ft (5.49 m)|
|Underfloor LD1||4,826 ft³ (136.7 m³)||6,090 ft³ (172.5 m³)||6,722 ft³ (191.4 m³)|
|Maximum Take-Off Weight (Max)||502,500 lbs (227,930 kg)||560,000 lbs (254,011 kg)|
|Maximum Landing Weight (Max)||380,000 lbs (172,000 kg)||425,000 lbs (193,000 kg)||445,000 lbs (202,000 kg)|
|Maximum Zero Fuel||355,000 lbs (161,000 kg)||400,000 lbs (181,000 kg)||425,000 lbs (193,000 kg)|
|Operating Empty Weight||264,500 lbs (119,950 kg)||284,000 lbs (128,850 kg)||298,700 lbs (135,500 kg)|
|Range||7,305 nm (13,530 km)||7,530 nm (13,950 km)||6,345 nm (11,750 km)|
|Cruise Mach Number||Mach 0.85|
|Maximum Operating Mach Number @ 35,000 ft (10,700 m)||Mach 0.92|
|Maximum Operating Speed (Vmo) @ 35,000 ft (10,700 m)||515 kts (593 mph, 954 kmph)|
|Maximum Fuel Capacity (Volume)||33,340 US gal (126,206 l)||36,384 US gal (126,372 l)|
|Takeoff Distance (SL, ISA, MTOW)||8,500 ft (2,600 m)||9,300 ft (2,800 m)|
|Service Ceiling||43,100 ft (13,137 m)|
|Engine Option Two Takeoff Thrust||69,000 lbf (304 kN)||78,000 lbf (347 kN)|
|Continuous Thrust||64,000 lbf (280 kN)||71,000 lbf (320 kN)||76,000 lbf (340 kN)|
|Wake Turbulence Category||H|
|Flight and Avionics||Honeywell and Rockwell-Collins|
|Engine Option One
|General Electric GEnx-1B75/P2||General Electric GEnx-1B78/P2|
|Engine Option Two (x2)||Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-A||Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-J|
|Auxiliary Power Unit||Hamilton Sunstrand APU Battery Pack|
Boeing 787 Dreamliner Orders and Deliveries
As of July 2022, Boeing has received 1,488 orders in total for the B787 Dreamliner family and has delivered 1,006 aircraft, with another 473 aircraft yet to be delivered.
The table below outlines the orders and deliveries by type.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner Configuration Options
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is available in three different cabin combinations and two different engine options.
All commercial Dreamliner models are available in two different cabin configurations, a dual-class and a single-class. The dual-class is a combination of business class and economy seats. The economy seats have a 17.2 in (43.7 cm) width at armrest level. The single-class, all-economy seating configuration is for airlines with high capacity requirements.
Luxury airlines forgo Boeing’s standard configurations and outfit the interior to their specifications. Emirates, for example, has individual suites for first-class passengers.
Each B787 has a choice of powerplant. Customers can choose either the General Electric GEnx-1B or the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000. The B787-8 uses less powerful versions of the engines in comparison to its larger brothers, while the B787-9 and B787-10 share the same variant.
Rolls Royce was the engine launch partner for the B787 and powered its first commercial flight; however, it has been outsold by the GE option two to one. This happened because there were supply chain issues, and Rolls Royce could not keep up with the demand for the engines. In addition, the first engines produced had design and durability issues.
General Electric (GE) didn’t have the same supply issues Rolls Royce did and consistently delivered units to customers, which made the GEnx-1B the most utilized version by default. However, problems in the design would later plague the engine and result in a maintenance directive that required a specialized inspection.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner Price
Like all aircraft, size matters, and the larger the aircraft, the more it costs. In June 2022, the average list price for the B787-8 is $248.3 million, while the mid-size 787-9 is a cool $292.5 million. Finally, the most significant variant, the 787-10, costs $338.4 million. The prices are given as an average because the choice of engine and configuration changes the list price of the aircraft.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner Problems
The Rolls Royce engines on the B787 had durability issues when they were first used on the aircraft. They were caused mainly because the initial engines produced had a design flaw with the high-pressure blades. The nickel alloy that the high-pressure blades were made of had a lower melting point than the temperatures inside the engine.
The intermediate blades also had an issue with the casting process caused by an unforeseen issue in the forging process that made them weaker and susceptible to cracking. Furthermore, in certain conditions, these blades would resonate, which almost guaranteed cracking in the compressor blades on rotors 1 and 2.
Rolls Royce would soon produce a fix for the issues that plagued the engines and have an opportunity to repair the issues on the engines it already made when the COVID-19 pandemic hit as the aircraft were more or less grounded. However, the Trent 1000 wasn’t the only one with issues.
The first problem that the GEnx-1B had was a failure in the mid-shaft. The method in which the heat-proof coating was applied to the metal would cause faults in certain shafts, which resulted in their failure. The failure is significant enough to shut the engine down. GE developed an ultrasound inspection to check for faults and inspected all their engines to ensure this wouldn’t happen.
In 2016 the GEnx-1B engines faced another hurdle. During flight in icing conditions, ice would enter the engine and cause the fan blades to move forward, which in turn caused the blades to rub against the casing. The damage would be substantial enough to shut down one or both engines and prevent them from restarting. GE fixed the issue by shaving one-tenth of an inch off the fan blades to prevent rubbing.
Aircraft Manufacturing and Quality Control Issues
The crew running the B787 project were under an immense amount of pressure from Boeing’s management to develop and manufacture a state-of-the-art aircraft on a shoe-string budget. This resulted in defects in parts and the aircraft being poorly built initially.
As mentioned above, the program was delayed multiple times for a variety of issues. The first quality issue that arose was the poor build quality of the wing box, which is the primary load-carrying structure of the wing. Unrepaired, its defect could have catastrophic consequences. Even after the aircraft was certified, the quality control issues persisted.
In 2013, all B787 Dreamliners were grounded by the FAA as a result of fires caused by the lithium-ion batteries the aircraft uses instead of an auxiliary power unit. The cause was attributed to the type of batteries used. Boeing would later change the batteries and increase the level of fire protection to solve the issue.
In 2019, aircraft that were delivered to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines from the Boeing plant in North Charleston had seats that weren’t installed properly and fasteners that were loose and not properly torqued. The was also an unsecured fuel line clamp left in the aircraft.
Once more, in 2019, Boeing paused deliveries of the B787 to address an issue with gaps in the panels of the aircraft, which could cause the failure of the pressure bulkhead. The company attributed the problem to the software of the laser measuring system that checked the gaps. Again in 2021, the problem appeared once more.
In September of 2020, the inner lining of the aft fuselage was found to be outside engineering tolerances. This was the final straw for the FAA; it stepped in and forced the company to delay deliveries until quality control issues have been resolved. Furthermore, there were issues with the horizontal stabilizer being installed incorrectly, putting extra strain on the equipment.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner Variants
Boeing has created three main models of the B787 Dreamliner as of July 2022. So far, the family has received a total of
The Boeing 787-8 is the first and shortest variant of the family and is the successor to the B767-300. It was introduced in October 2011 with its launch partner, All Nippon Airways (ANA). In a typical two-class configuration, it can carry 242 passengers and 359 in a single-class configuration. The fuselage itself is rated for 381 passengers based on exit limitations.
The B787-8 can fly a total of 7,355 nm (13,620 km) and has an MTOW of 502,500 lb (227,930 kg). It is powered by pair of either General Electric GEnx-1B or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines which put out 64,000 lbf (280 kN) of thrust.
The second variant of the B787 Dreamliner is the B787-9, which is a stretched version of the original. It was introduced in August 2014 with its launch partner Air New Zealand. Boeing increased the length of the fuselage by 20 ft (6.1 m); it did this by adding two five-frame plugs that were 10 ft (3.05 m), each both forward and aft of the wings.
The increased length allows the B787-9 to carry 290 passengers in a two-class configuration and 406 in a single-class configuration. The fuselage is rated for 420 passengers. However, this is a limitation and not a configuration.
Like the B787-8, this variant is also powered by either General Electric GEnx-1B or Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, but the thrust has been increased to 71,000 lbf (320 kN) to offset the heavier MTOW of 560,000 lbs (254,011 kg). Though the B787-9 is heavier and produces more thrust than the B787-8, it can fly 300 nm (555 km) more, thanks to its larger fuel tanks.
The B787-9 is also the best-selling variant of the family, with 59 percent of the orders (890 units).
The B787-10 is the largest variant of the 787 Dreamliner family so far. It’s 224 ft (68.28 m) long, which is 18 ft (5.48 m) longer than the B787-9 and 38 ft (11.88 m) longer than the B787-8. It can carry a maximum of 336 passengers in a dual-class configuration and 440 in a single-class configuration which is also the exit limit of the fuselage.
The aircraft was stretched by adding a five-frame plug (10 ft / 3.05 m) in front of the wing and a four-frame plug (8 ft / 2.44 m) behind it. The longer fuselage meant that the B787-10 was at a higher risk of having a tail strike, so Boeing utilized the semilevered landing gear it created for the B777-200LR and B777-300ER. A happy side effect of this landing gear was that it reduces the length of the takeoff run.
The longer fuselage changed the aerodynamics of the aircraft enough that the flight characteristics of the B787-10 were different from the B787-9. To maintain the level of commonality Boeing was aiming for, the changes the manufacturer could make physically were limited. Therefore, it introduced software tweaks to change the response of the flight controls. The tail was made less effective, and the wings were made stiffer by using the elevators to get around the wing flutter.
The B787-10 is available with the same two powerplant options as the previous variants the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000, which produces 78,000 lbf (346.96 kN), or the GE Aviation GEnx-1B which produces 76,100 lbf (338.50 kN)
The B787-3 was a proposed variant of the B787 Dreamliner series designed for the Japanese regional market, where it would service airports that have restricted gate space. It was designed to take over the role of the B767-200. When the aircraft was announced both All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines placed orders for it.
The B787-3 was to bring fuel efficiency to shorter routes between 2,500 to 3,050 nm (4,650 to 5,650 km) while carrying between 290 to 330 passengers at a time. Boeing estimated that it would have an MTOW of 364,000 lbs (165,100 kg). The B787-3 would’ve been a B787-8 fuselage with smaller wings with winglets instead of raked wingtips.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner Competitors
The Airbus A330neo (Neo Engine Option) competes with the B787; we will disregard the A330ceo (Current Engine Option) models as they are outdated and outmatched. The A330neo-800 competes with the B787-8, while the A330neo-900 competes with the B787-9. The A330neo does not have an equivalent to the B787-10.
Though it is an older aircraft, the A330-900 holds more passengers than the competing B787-9 because of its extra length. In a standard two-class configuration, the A330 holds 14 more passengers than the B787. Even though the B787-9 can’t carry as many passengers, it has a wider fuselage than its competitor, which allows it to haul more cargo. It can carry three more LD3 containers than A330neo, making it more profitable per flight.
When it comes to efficiency, the B787 blows the A330neo out of the water. The B787 is made primarily of composite materials, while the A330neo only contains 14 percent. The B787 is much lighter and is designed for efficiency. The newer design makes it significantly more efficient than the A330neo.
Airbus A350 XWB
If the A350 XWB is a heavyweight, then the B787 can be considered a light heavyweight. They compete with each other currently because Boeing’s 777X (the A350’s true competitor) isn’t flying yet. The best way to compare the two is to have the A350-1000, and the B787-10 go head to head.
The A350 is bigger than the B787 and can hold more passengers in a two-class configuration. The A350 can hold between 366 to 369, while the B787 can only carry 330. Passengers are also more comfortable in the A350 because of its 10 cm wider cabin.
Performance-wise, the aircraft are neck and neck. However, the A350 can fly further than the B787 because of its larger fuel tanks, but both aircraft are equally efficient because they use similar next-generation engines.
Boeing 787 Dreamliner Accidents and Incidents
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has not been in any hull loss accidents, and there have been no fatalities because of the operation of the aircraft.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
Question: When was the B787 cleared for deliveries after its most recent hiatus?
Answer: The FAA allowed Boeing to start deliveries of the B787 on August 10th of this year.
Question: How many records does the B787 hold?
Answer: The B787 currently holds two records. It holds the record for the around-the-world speed record for its weight class as well as the record for the longest flight for a jetliner in its weight class.
The B787 set the distance record during its flight eastbound from Seattle, Washington in the USA to Dhaka, Bangladesh. During the flight, the aircraft traveled a total of 10,336 nautical miles. After a two-hour fuel stop, the crew would set the speed record on the return trip to Seattle. The aircraft reached a maximum speed of 470 knots while continuing to fly eastbound. The trip took a total of 42 hours and 27 minutes.
Question: How much money has Boeing lost because of the B787?
Answer: In 2013, the Seattle Times reported that Boeing estimated a loss of roughly $32 billion on the program, including development costs. The program would only yield a profit for Boeing after it sold 1,100 aircraft. Since that estimate was made, the program has been delayed twice, which has caused the company to absorb even more costs.
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