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Boeing 787 "Dreamliner": Aircraft production in a world record hall

All around the globe every single minute there are a thousand jets in the sky simultaneously. And aviation's future will be even faster, better and more impressive. Join us at a visit in the legendary halls of the US-aircraft manufacturer Boeing in Everett, where the production of the new long haul aircraft 787 Dreamliner is underway.

The outboard wrapping (shell) of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is completely made of carbon fiber composite material
Picture by T. Micke

By now every kid nows, that the largest passenger jet constructor in the world is no longer the aircraft giant Boeing with its legendary 747, but Airbus with its gigantic A380. – Not to be mixed up with the largest existing aircraft, the Russian Antonov 225. – Nonetheless Europe will not beat the company once built by lumberjack William Boeing: In the Northwest of the USA at the gateways of the technology metropolis Seattle stands the world's biggest building with a volume of 13.3 million cubic meters and a face of nearly 40 hectares: Everett's Boeing manufactory.

After visitors finally pass the fussy security checks which rule since the suicide assaults of New York, boundless amazement takes over: An army of Lilliputian men zips around Goliath vessels, which move with five meters per minute on the production line. A psychological trick, because when difficulties arise somewhere, a strict rule type of 2 x 15 minutes time is left for the teams, to solve the problem with the shift supervisors overviewing the process from high up above. If they fail in the time given, the whole production will be stopped, which puts real pressure on the engineers.

Even mighty 747-Jumbos which are also built here beside the 767 and the 777, when stringed together, appear to look like plaything flyers from viewpoint of the hall roof, although the tail top rises six levels high into 20 meters of height. Above all this 28 giant cranes transport up to 40 tons of load from one end of the hall to another: A superlatives' manufactory where 67 aircrafts are assembled synchronously in full capacity, with up to six million individual components for 24 hours per day in three to four months of construction time. – And the guys are just creating a little space, in order to house the production of Boeing's newest long haul aircraft 787 Dreamliner.

The steering gear of a 777 in front of the world's largest hall of Boeing in Everett
Picture by T. Micke

This new aircraft is the reason, why Boeing is coolly looking forward to the first exertions of the European super jumbo A380. Because the Americans hold the opinion that in future big business is not run by mega airports like the ones in Singapore, Hong Kong, New York, London or Frankfurt. They put their trust in the many new smaller ones, which cannot fit the heavy super jumbos with their shorter runways. According to Boeing, in future it will be possible to fly directly from St. P÷lten to Woodstock, instead of being forced to transfer twice totally stressed out, exhausted and delayed to the overcrowded so called super-hubs.

The Dreamliner, price tagged around 125 million Dollars, should help Boeing to be the number one in the sky once again as the "dream airship" of the 21st century. The 787 will be the first passenger jet made of a hull spun with very solid, super light carbon fiber. Proudly the project's spokesman Andrew Magill demonstrates us on the 787-prototype, how the black super duty mega tube rotates around a huge jackscrew, where layer after layer of the wonder substance is being applied: "Together with our subsidiary company Phantom Works we have developed a process, that makes the new composite construction method not more expensive than the previous one." This way a monocoque forms out of one piece – like the driver cabins of the Formula One race cars – which is practically baked afterwards in a special oven and should protract the new jets' service life from actually 30 to 40 years to up to 70, 80 years.

In the Boeing 787 Dreamliner passenger cabin sunrise and sunset can be simulated
Picture by The Boeing Company

An obvious advantage of the new construction method for future passengers: The outboard wrapping of the Dreamliner is much firmer than those normal aluminum bodies, so the windows can be built reasonably bigger. Also during flight, cabin humidity can be significantly increased for the passenger's benefit, because unlike aluminum the released water will not harm the carbon fiber. Andrew Magill: "During normal long-distance flights in around 10.000 meters height an abnormal atmospheric pressure is standard in the cabin, matching approximately 2400 meters height of a mountain top. This causes breathlessness and headaches for many passengers and makes it hard for them to fall asleep. Inside the ,Dreamliner' we can increase the atmospheric pressure in a way, that is comparable with a sea level of 1800 meters. Thus from a word for word viewpoint the 787 will really become a flying "dream" ship, even capable of simulating sunrise and twilight by means of the aircraft's lighting, which will help the passengers to adjust more easily to their destination's time zone."

Even the little country of Austria is significantly involved in this revolution of aircraft construction. FACC (Fischer Advanced Composite Components) a company with a domicile in Ried (Upper Austria) has been building light modules of carbon for many years as a specialist for the aviation industry. Austrian technology will actually make the turbines of the Boeing 787 more silent. And in the new giant Airbus A380 and Boeings 777 you will also find high-tech made in Austria.

A 747 during the construction in the gigantic world record manufactory hall of Boeing in Everett near Seattle
Picture by T. Micke

Composite modules like the ones used in the Dreamliner (ca. 50 percent) in such big amounts for the first time, are admittedly not so easy to recycle. Until now special companies have only been able to recycle them in appliances like bulletproof vests. But also here, experts have found ways which are still improvable in the next years, until the delivery of the first Dreamliners (after delays) in 2009. And until the first 787 has to be scrapped effectively, it should still take another 70 years...

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© A report by Tobias Micke (28-05-06) – Contact