Boeing 777X Programme Forging Ahead

The Boeing 777X has been designed to bridge the gap between the Boeing 767 and the 747, the largest passenger jets

Issue: 2 / 2020By B.K. PandeyPhoto(s): By Boeing

The Boeing 777X from Boeing Commercial Aeroplanes is the latest in the family of the twinengine, long range, wide-body jet airliners produced by the global aerospace major. Developed in consultation with eight major airlines, with the first meeting in January 1990, the programme to develop this new platform was formally launched on October 14, 1990 with the initial order from United Airlines. Today, the order book for the Boeing 777X stands at 330.

The model of the Boeing 777X was unveiled for the first time at the Dubai Air Show in 2013 with two variants namely the 777-8 and the 777-9 with seating capacity at 384 and 426 respectively. The Boeing 777X has been designed to bridge the gap between the Boeing 767 and the 747, the largest passenger jets as also to replace older DC-10 or L-1011 airliners. The Boeing 777X features new GE9X engines, wings made of composite material with folding wingtips, cabin of much larger size and with significantly higher seating capacity. The 777-8 has a range of 16,170 km while that of the 777-9 is over 13,500 km.

Today, Boeing is ranked as the world’s largest aerospace company by revenue despite the fact that its lead over the European aerospace major Airbus has reduced a little primarily on account of a number of problems such as the crisis that hit the Boeing 737 MAX 8, reduction in global demand for the Boeing 787 and some issues with the KC-46A that are yet to be resolved. Development of its latest product, the Boeing 777X has also had its share of problems which is not unexpected when a company undertakes the development of a new platform with significantly enhanced capabilities. As expected, the problems encountered in the development of the 777X has resulted in some delay in the certification of the airliner. However, despite the setbacks, Boeing is determined to ensure delivery of 777X by 2021.

The 777X is powered by the GE9X engine, the largest turbine aero-engine ever built. However, the engine has faced some problems in the development stage that has contributed to some delay in certification of the airliner. GE, the original equipment manufacturer of the engine, is determined to address the challenges with the power plant to obviate any further delay in the certification of the aircraft.

Even while efforts were on to prevent further delay in the inaugural test flight of the aircraft, the project encountered another failure that came as a temporary setback to the programme. During a ground test that required over-pressurising the cabin to test the strength of the aircraft skin panels, the cargo door separated from the aircraft. This was an extremely unusual occurrence and was indicative of a flaw in the design that also has serious implications for flight safety. However, the problem was analysed and set right without further delay.

In September last year, Boeing experienced another unexpected setback to the 777X programme. During the process of ground testing, the new 777X airframe was put through a pressurisation test to validate the structural strength of the fuselage. Just as the test approached its target stress level, there was a sudden depressurisation as the fuselage of the aircraft was found to have been damaged. The problem was identified and resolved. As per Boeing, the problem was not such that it would add to delay in the programme already caused by the issues connected with the development of the GE9X engine that was to power the airliner. Boeing continued to maintain that the 777X would still undertake its maiden flight in early 2020 and the first aircraft will be delivered to an airline without fail in 2021.

Despite the impediments encountered in the process of development of the 777X, a phenomena that is frequently experienced in aircraft development programmes, backed by vast experience and high levels of competence, the global aerospace major Boeing and GE have managed to successfully tide over all the impediments. Consequently, Boeing had planned the maiden flight of the aircraft on January 23 this year, but the test flight could not be undertaken on that day on account of bad weather and was hence rescheduled for January 24. Unfortunately, the test flight had to be cancelled owing once again to bad weather.

Finally, the first test flight of the Boeing 777X was successfully undertaken on January 25. The aircraft took off from Paine Field in Everett for the test flight and landed at Boeing’s airfield in Seattle after a flight of nearly four hours paving the way for delivery to customers in 2021 as committed by Boeing.