Air Transport World

Seeing is believing.(LARGE TRANSPORTS)(Boeing 787 Dreamliner)

THROUGHOUT THE AGE OF FLIGHT, seeing always has been believing. The sight of Orville Wright performing the final test flights for US Army acceptance of the Wright Flyer led Donald Douglas to the drawing board and immortality. Bill Boeing became hooked after a chance trip in a floatplane at an Independence Day celebration on lake Washington in 1914. Airline executives are no different, as was demonstrated in August 1955 when a host of them were dumbstruck watching Tex Johnston put the Dash 80 707 prototype through a series of lazy barrel rolls over Lake Washington. Within months, the floodgates opened on the biggest buying frenzy the industry had seen to that date.

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Forty-nine years later, a barrel of a different kind sent airlines to Boeing's door. In December 2004 it unveiled the first full-scale 787 fuselage section made from composite material, providing a graphic demonstration of the manufacturing methods that are being employed for the Dreamliner.

At that time, Boeing had sold just 60 787s to four customers over nine months and was being mocked for having predicted--erroneously, as it turned out--that it would book 200 orders by Christmas. However, within days of its demonstration pending commitments became orders, and 12 months later another 22 airlines and leasing companies had put pen to paper for 321 aircraft.

Throughout the history of commercial aviation, a handful of aircraft--the DC-3, Viscount, 707, 747, A300--have truly earned the title of game-changer. Now the 787 joins that list, combining new technology, materials and systems into a package that offers extraordinary flexibility and versatility, a step change in engine technology and thus fuel consumption, and new levels of passenger comfort. Quite simply, the 787 has redefined what the 21st century airliner will be. Thus it is hardly surprising that it is the fastest-selling in history with nearly 600 orders booked up to May 15, a year away from first delivery.

Douglas Pedigree Most consider the 787's genesis as the baseline aircraft for the Sonic Cruiser studies, but ATW can reveal that Boeing began examining a 767 replacement in 1997 and initially looked to its new merger partner McDonnell Douglas for a solution. That solution was dubbed the MD-20 and married an MD-11 wing to a slightly wider 767 fuselage, the stillborn MDXX cockpit and systems and 65/72K-class engines. The aircraft was to come in three models, the -200, -300 and -400 seating 200, 240 and 280 passengers. The fuselage was designed to a 2-3-2 cross-section, but 8 in. wider than the 767.

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The company also dusted off the MD-11 Twin studies and seriously looked at that aircraft because of what engineers described as a "highly efficient" wing. The studies found that the MD-11 Twin would be more economical to operate than the then-proposed 777-100. But while the option looked promising and required a modest investment, it was not game-changing. In 2000 Boeing announced it was working on what it termed Project 20XX or Project Glacier and in early 2001 news was leaking out of a "sensational surprise."

On March 29, 2001, the manufacturer revealed to an astonished aerospace world that it was looking at a high-speed Mach 0. …

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