Aug 17, 2007

B777 Reaching the Limits?

Within a few decades jet transport aircraft have evolved and refined. Early models like the B707 explored new dimensions of speed and altitude and despite some severe setbacks, they went on to spark a new era in world travel.

But now all the major frontiers of conventional/subsonic jet transport development have been conquered and there remains only the continual refinement as new designs apply better computer technology and aerodynamic understanding to build a more efficient version.

The Triple Seven represented Boeings big gamble at building the replacement to its own world-traversing 747. Projections told them that to stay competitive with new Airbus' that used lighter and more fuel efficient structures in their jumbos than could be re-engineered into the older 747 airframe, Boeing would have to go back to the drawing board for a successor.

Designing a new airplane is always risky business. Boeing had gambled the future of the company on the B747 - and won. Could they do it again? The financial investment required to prove another jumbo jet would once again stretch the company to its limit. Any major design shortcoming could bring the company down if the model failed. Yet, being too conservative in the design, not taking enough advantage of the current technology to make a more efficient airplane, would produce a certain failure as the new plane would not be able to compete in the marketplace.

This video of a crucial wing test, represents how carefully and successfully Boeing engineers did their work. Had the test-wing broken before the design limit, it could also have broken Boeing. But the wing proved its strength and when it finally failed it failed according to predictions, once again affirming the quality of the engineering. The best surprise is no surprise.

The successful B777 project kept Boeing competitive for another generation. With no new technologies on the horizon to again produce quantum leaps in travel efficiencies such as provided by jet engines, the way forward will continue to be one of squeezing and tweaking and refining the current vehicles to ensure nothing is wasted.


Luke said...

All the major frontiers? What about supersonic and hypersonic flight? Suborbital and single-stage-to-orbit flight? Or even more mundane changes like ATC-less traffic or blended wings?

Aluwings said...

Hi Luke,

I've added the words "conventional/subsonic" to that paragraph. I think these concepts would represent possible breakthroughs in the same way jet engines did. But the experience with the Concorde and the current rise in fuel prices seems to have blocked that route for now.

Unless a new fuel source comes along to make fossil-based fuel costs a non-issue. Who know, maybe cold fusion is just over the horizon?

ward said...

There's also that nice video about the maximum rejected takeoff test: