Boeing will open its 787 Dreamliner simulator to journalists Thursday and provide an update on when the delay-plagued airplane will finally enter service. This CNET reporter will be lucky enough to take a virtual ride and visit the company's Customer Experience Center in Renton, Wash., where airline buyers can view cabin mockups, design aircraft interiors, and receive maintenance and flight training.
For the 787, which Boeing first announced six years ago, the demonstration, and the recent Federal Aviation Administration approval to begin pilot training, are more milestones in the aircraft's long development. The first major airliner to be built of carbon fiber composite materials, the Dreamliner took off and landed on its first flight last December.
Delivery to the launch customer, All Nippon Airways, was set for the end this year, but that date could move to early 2011 as Boeing completes the flight and design testing necessary for FAA certification. Only then can it begin flying airline passengers.
Cheaper and farther
The 787's composite materials, along with a sharper nose and curved, upswept wings, promise greater fuel efficiency, quieter engines, and longer range. Indeed, the most powerful 787 model will be able to fly 8,500 nautical miles, which is enough to fly between Chicago and Sydney nonstop.
The Dreamliner program also represents a very specific vision for air travel. While rival Airbus built its A380 to fly 500 or more passengers between major airports in the traditional "hub and spoke" fashion, the 787 is designed for "point to transit" travel where a maximum of 290 passengers fly directly between smaller cities.
Inside the 787, passengers will see new features designed to maximize comfort on long flights. Among the amenities are higher ceilings, larger windows at eye level, electronic window shades, and LED lighting that will change during the course of the flight. What's more, the aircraft promises better air filtration, and a more humid cabin that will be pressurized at a lower altitude.
Delays and more delays
These innovations, however, have cost Boeing not only time, but orders from airlines. A machinists strike, supplier shortages, excess weight, and a problem with the joint between the wing and the fuselage have delayed the program for more than two years.
In the latest issue, which emerged just last week, Boeing said it was reinspecting work performed by supplier Alenia Aeronautica after uncovering flaws in horizontal stabilizer production. Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing's commercial plane business, also said that his company was considering taking back some production work from suppliers.
Problems aside, Boeing hasn't been shy about showing the plane off since it first emerged from the factory in June 2007. One of its five test planes visited the Farnborough airshow last month and another flew Monday to the North Pole on a demonstration flight to test navigational systems. At the time of this writing, the 787 aircraft have logged almost 1,600 hours of flying time.
Boeing lost 15 Dreamliner orders earlier this month, but it still has 847 orders on the books from 56 airlines and aircraft holding companies. Airbus, which is developing the A350 as a Dreamliner competitor, has suffered production delays as well. It has 528 orders for the A350, which is scheduled to enter service in 2013.