The Untold Story of the Boeing 787

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  1. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    From Forbes:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/eamonnf...story-of-the-boeing-787-finally-hits-the-fan/

    From the New York Times:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/26/b...-raises-questions.html?ref=jamesbstewart&_r=0

    Both of these articles have been quoted, We have not discussed directly the role of the 70% non-US content of the B787, nor the export of Boeing technology for wing boxes and construction. The authors of these articles seem to suggest that the Boeing management of the time and the G W Bush administration gave away the crown jewels of Boeing, ignored regulatory oversight and bet the B787 on an outsourced approach. There are a few otehr articles that make the regulatory oversight accusations more directly.

    Frankly, I know there are major issues here, but i do not know how material those are in the current set of problems. Without question Boeing has proven thus far unable to properly manage a far-flung design and sourcing model, based on the three years of delays. The Airbus A380 experience suggests that Boeing is not alone in those issues.

    Is this a failure of an overly complex development model for an incredibly complex machine?
    Is this particular to Boeing?
    Are aircraft inherently different than other massively complex endeavors, bridges, tunnels etc?
     
  2. gleff
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    gleff Co-founder

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    These are great questions, and I don't pretend to know the answers. Modern aircraft are AMAZING. They're far more complex than I will pretend to understand. But I am skeptical of explanations that pin the blame on outsourcing or regulators.

    It's hard for me to imagine that Boeing's key problem here is an inability to work with contractors outside the United States, that only if work had been done inside the United States outcomes would have been different.

    Or that Boeing was somehow 'cutting corners' and that regulators could have known better about how to successfully engineer the 787.

    We also don't yet know how ultimately critical the failures are for the project. They've identified problems and they seem like fairly significant problems although most of the revolutionary systems seem to work perfectly well and as advertised. I have to expect they'll figure out solutions to the problems, whether those problems prove fatal then depends on the project's reputation and whether they can recover rather than real underlying issues. At least based on current information, though I'm certainly not an engineer and lack close-in detailed knowledge of the project.

    These are monumentally complicated projects and technologically more complex than most anything else there is. And humans are imperfect. Second guessing -- especially until we have full information -- seems unwise and counterproductive. Who could have done better? And Boeing may do better still. I hope.

    I have my own pet theories but they're no more supportable at this point than broad claims about regulators..
     
  3. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    I have a handful of idea also. Anybody, technically qualified or not, who reads such books as 747, Airbus A380, An America Saga- Juan Trippe and his Pan Am Empire, Jet Age or a dozen others should understand that the world of commercial aviation is a very challenging place. Simple answers seem not to exist.

    As for regulators; it seems to me that it should not be a political question favoring one approach or another, although it often is. Joe Sutter, who ran the B747 program and had leading roles in the B737, B727 and B707 recalled that he and his team wrote the FAA rules for certifying jetliners. He said that was a bad idea, the regulators ought not to write the rules, but the FAA had no person who knew anything at all about jets. That one worked out, partly because of the integrity of Sutter and Boeing at the time, partly because the technology came directly from military programs for the B47 and B52, among others, as did pressurization and the swept wing. Thus, the US government did supervise much of the process, just not the FAA. Even the fuselagfe cross section of the 707 and the 737, including the MAX derived from the 1940's B47.

    Now with Li-ion and massive electrical/electronic functions there again was nobody in the FAA who'd ever known of these topics in technical detail. So, they deferred to Boeing. This time, though, there was not the extensive military experience to test the processes because the military are not procuring those technologies, at least in a manner applicable to Boeing. Lest we forget it most of this applies also to Airbus and, to a lesser extent the new offerings of Canadair and Embraer.

    I do certainly not know enough to cast specific singular blame on anyone, nor do I think it would be productive to do so. It will be instructive for all of us when the root causes have been identified so these problems need not to be repeated.

    There is a reason who aviation technical progress is sometimes less rapid than we might risk. That is that the cost of errors is often greater than the opportunity cost of lack of the latest technology. We do know that FBW has been proven safe on millions of flight hours. The human factors, from complacency to lack of understanding complex failure modes, seem to be the largest issues. That we are not dealing with a much more serious crisis right now may be because those two pilots in Japan were nervous and did not try to keep flying when they noticed an odd smell and warning lights. Thanks to everyone that this was not an aircraft on the outer reaches of ETOPS limits.

    This will be fixed, we know that. My questions here are mostly oriented to thinking about how to reduce these incidents without sapping innovation. That will not be easy.
     
  4. zphelj

    zphelj Gold Member

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    I'd like to suggest a lot of focus is being lost in the news media frenzy. As far as I can tell the 787 has had a small number of relatively minor incidents that are considered fairly typical for any new aircraft, and one serious issue regarding the potential for a battery fire.
     
  5. mrredskin
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    mrredskin Gold Member

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    Bloomberg Business had two different bits on the 787 struggles in it's most recent issue. They rolled that into the struggle America has had with innovation due to such slow, progressive steps towards completion of projects. I agree 100%. Too many code, rules, regulations, sue-happy individuals, and countless other firewalls that halt progress
     
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  6. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    Although the 787 case so far has no evidence at all that regulatory impediments were in any way a factor in impeding Boeing. I read the Bloomberg articles too. There is some truth to the assertion that excessive risk aversion on regulators part might impede innovation. However, as Bloomberg's pieces suggest, the major culprit is more likely to be the stock market expectations for unimpeded earnings growth. Volatility is always a negative to the market, and innovation is by nature not perfectly predictable. Believe me, I am not trying to defend excess regulation or frivolous lawsuits.
     
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  7. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    HaveMilesWillTravel Gold Member

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    I hear that a lot, and it may be true. I also often see questions on how to sue the airline/hotel or complain to the DoT or EU or ... if something goes wrong.
     
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  8. webdes03

    webdes03 Gold Member

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    Both the 787 and A380 are marvels of engineering, each with their own unique challenges. I think both are prime examples of gross program mismanagement on a global scale, and by that I am referring to the competitive nature of the market and the operating models Airbus adopted for the A380 and Boeing for the 787. The last batch of clean sheet airliners weren't nearly as outsourced as these are, but at the end of the day, the adoption of new technology often makes it impractical to perform a higher percentage of that work on premise. We're also seeing higher driving factors to outsource manufacturing as part of the sales pitch. If company X in country Y manufacturers Z percent, then it's easier to market the aircraft to those governments and potential customers in those countries.

    At the end of the day, both Boeing and Airbus are trying to grow with the times, but haven't necessarily placed the correct amount of focus on managing those relationships and providing the right amount of oversight. Let's not forget that Airbus A380 blunder of designing parts of the fuselage with different software, only to find that wiring bundles and ECS components didn't line up when they went to mate the fuselage sections. Mistakes like that, and some of the quality control issues Boeing is now dealing with, are completely inexcusable from a business management perspective if you're going to operate your business using this model.
     
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  9. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    Well said. They both, and others also, now must master the challenges of integrating far-flung and diverse suppliers if industry is to be successful in the 21st century.
     
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  10. anabolism
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    anabolism Gold Member

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    I think this may depend on how narrowly one defines FBW. My (quite limited) understanding of several Airbus crashes is that Airbus' design choices in FBW had significant impact. Boeing and Airbus made very different design choices regarding their respective FBW systems. Boeing tries to make FBW mimic FBH as far as the pilots are concerned (i.e., have the same interface and feel) while Airbus has embraced the computer UI model.

    One thing the history of aviation has amply demonstrated is that the complete system, machines and people and their interfaces, is critical (a lesson that medicine is embracing far too slowly).
     
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  11. anabolism
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    anabolism Gold Member

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    I think blaming the decline of manufacturing and an industrial base on rules and regulations is an easy answer and a cop-out. The Forbes article linked in the O.P. gets closer to the mark, I think.

    A few years back I read a fascinating article that traced the problem to the unleashing of the finance industry that started in the '70s and culminated in the Great Recession. Before, banking was a boring industry; bankers paid 4% on deposits, charged 6% on loans, and knocked off work at 3 to go golfing. The really smart people went into science and industry, creating technological and process improvements that kept the country on top. Once banking was freed of restraint, there was no limit to the returns it could earn, and the pay and bonus they could pay to keep ahead of everyone else. The super smart people went into banking, creating fiendishly complex conceptual products such as derivatives. This starved other industries of the talent they needed to stay ahead of the rest of the world.
     
  12. anabolism
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    anabolism Gold Member

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    A very thought-provoking post, thank you, and thanks for the links.

    I'm not sure how much linkage there is between Boeing giving away their core technology and the current problems, though (one seems short term and the other long term). But the distributed, decentralized, outsourced approach to the 787 certainly seems like it has been the source of many of the problems, and could be at the root of the current major one.
     
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  13. In another life I used to be in project management for large refining and mining turnkey projects. We sourced stuff from every corner of the world based ona set of specs and drawings and hoped it would all come together at usually a very remote site in the middle east or some place in Asia. There were always issues and things didn't always fit perfectly or work according to plan and it often took a year or more to work out bugs and production bottlenecks on these projects.
    I see similar issues with Boeing in growing their outsourcing model. They will have learned and grown from this as they move further into production of the 787's. Lucky thing is their project is repetitive and they can fix issues as production matures.
     
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  14. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    There are extensive cases to support your point. I just looked up ones involving everything from B737, B747, B757, B767, B777 to A300, A310, A330, A380 (not for this post but part of a research project I am doing). From a statistical point of view all these aircraft are exceedingly successful very safe aircraft. Excluding known major design disasters such as Dehavilland Comet 1 and DC-10 before fixing luggage door, almost all new aircraft designs have had potentially catastrophic design problems that did not cause loss of life. The B747 engine surge problem almost caused a grounding (747, Joe Sutter, chief engineer on 747 project) and created major heartburn. The recent wing issues of the A380 were similar. The Rolls Royce engines on Trent 900 on the A380 was another case, where the design integrity of the aircraft overcame an uncontrolled failure.

    Without becoming too boring about this it seems to me the safety preoccupation in system redundancy and protection against failures is a very good thing. Joe Sutter describes a B747 case in which a near crash destroyed three of four hydraulic systems, but the aircraft landed safely on the fourth one.

    The recent Airbus preoccupation with primary flying skills, specifically for the A350 training, came directly from the horrible crash of the A330 which was perfectly avoidable had the pilots been properly trained, even with the pitot failures.
    Boeing proved the value of seemingly excessive safety preoccupation with the B747, forty-five years ago, and the rest of the industry has benefitted.

    While it is not a perfect world by any means, it is a very good thing that airlines and/or regulators and/or manufacturers are learning not to allow potentially fatal flaws to be part of a flying aircraft. Errors do happen. Second-guessing too. That is inevitable.

    The B787 will be better once this is done. The B77x and the A350 will benefit from this experience. So will the other aircraft coming.

    My slightly cynical question: How do the 1960's era B737 and B747 manage to be really successful in 2015 and beyond. Laden with elderly hydro-mechanical control systems and structural design, they certainly cannot be optimal. Boeing, resisting both of the projects, 748 and 737MAX, is well aware of taht, but loyal customers insisted.

    That means, IMHO, the 777 derivatives, 787 derivatives and the 737 replacement are all very high priorities for Boeing. I strongly suspect nobody in Chicago or Renton disagrees.
     
  15. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    Without entering the design philosophy question directly, I'll only state that both of those have proven highly reliable and safe. Both suffer from a tendency to complacency on the pilots part because they are so safe. Both suffer from excessive reliance on fully automatic systems. Airbus new insistence on basic piloting skills in A350 training is a good beginning. Boeing needs it too.Everyone does.

    Lest anybody try too hard to argue Boeing vs Airbus I hasten to point out that regardless of which alternative (Boeing: replicate imitation control movements under automated control, theoretically allow the pilots to exceed safe aircraft movement limits; Airbus: leave the joystick alone, don't allow pilot actions to exceed structural limits) is employed pilots of these aircraft do not ever have direct control of aerodynamic surfaces, not in A320, B777 or any other newer design. The philosophies may have some philosophical differences but these, like Mark Twain said of his death, "...have been greatly exaggerated".
     
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  16. mrredskin
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    mrredskin Gold Member

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    As someone that works in a setting with an insane amount of codes, rules, and regulations, I disagree. It most definitely works against progress we once had.
     
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  17. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    While excessive regulation, especially excessively detailed regulation, is certainly bad (value laden intentionally), lack of regulation in areas of public safety is also bad.

    The old days of the CAA were absurd, with specified tariffs globally and ridiculous rules (anybody recall the infamous SAS case about what constituted a 'meal' and therefore must be paid for, versus a 'snack' that could be free? That one ended out with an open faced sandwich with one corner of bread uncovered, which then would be a snack). Ultra specific rules mandating some technologies and prohibiting others are also ridiculous.

    Still I embrace pilot, mechanic and aircraft certification with duty limits and documentation requirements plus parts histories. The system could and should be far better than it is, but as it is it is far better than none.

    The problem, IMHO (very H), can only be resolved with lots of hard work in good faith, if taht is possible, and not through legislation which cannot judge anything at all from a technical perspective, including work rules and certification standards. Thus I abhor Congressional hearings on the B787. Anybody who's ever been involved designing anything complex is well aware there are myriad places to point fingers in any such project, if that is your desire. Doing so will not help anybody, but it certainly will get publicity.

    The B787 issues are about to get seriously insane, if they're not already there.
     
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  18. mrredskin
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    mrredskin Gold Member

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    that's the biggest issue. once govt gets involved in regulating, the costs skyrocket. they can't manage their own property, let alone telling corporations what to do.
     
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  19. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    Would you prefer no government regulation of aircraft manufacturing, licensing of pilots, controllers, airports, airlines and mechanics? Would you rather have pure private sector management of the airspace system and airports? If so, how would it work?

    I am not fond of government, but I do not understand how there is another workable solution. Rather like democracy itself, I think it is, "the worst possible solution other than all the others".
     
  20. mrredskin
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    mrredskin Gold Member

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    no, a certain degree of govt oversight is necessary, but look at what happens when things get out of control; we get s*** like the TSA. too much govt has proven to be expensive and convoluted.
     
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  21. jbcarioca
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    jbcarioca Gold Member

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    Clearly we agree. I wonder if anybody is qualified and capable to lead us out of this mess. I am speaking of the TSA and FAA rather than anything broader. That seem quite difficult enough as it is.
     
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  22. anabolism
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    anabolism Gold Member

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    In general, yes, but again this comes back to how narrowly one places blame. Airbus is very quick to blame "pilot error" in situations where the system, especially the UI, played a significant role. Examples that I've heard of include the air show crash where the pilot reportedly confused angle of descent with rate of descent; a good UI would make it quite difficult to mix these up (related examples from medicine spring to mind where dosages were catastrophically wrong).

    I'm not trying to say Airbus chose the wrong path, or that their systems are unsafe. But I do think UI is an area that deserves more attention.
     
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  23. anabolism
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    Indeed. Too-detailed regulation clearly hinders progress, but lack of regulation and oversight leads to excesses that are as bad or worse.
     
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  24. anabolism
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    Another example from a tragic crash is when the two control inputs are in opposing modes (one trying to raise the angle of attack, the other to lower it). Airbus averages them, which sounds to me like a computer-science answer that doesn't make sense in the real world. Since the inputs contradict each other, they both can't be right. Possible approaches that might be better than quietly averaging them would include raising an alarm or enunciator and/or choosing one as overriding the other.
     
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  25. HaveMilesWillTravel
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    Might want to add that to the conspiracy theories section here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_296

    (unrelated: after reading this crash report, I won't ever mock the explanation of how the seatbelts work again)
     
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