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Mon, Nov 24, 2008

Professor Says Dreamliner 'Worth The Wait' Even With Delays

Cites Problematic Supplier-Based Model As Example Of 'Teamwork'

When ANN wrote tongue-in-cheek on April 1st about Boeing's decision to axe the troubled 787 Dreamliner (in favor of the 767-500 "Miserliner") we didn't realize how close to the quick we'd cut. Back then, the "only" issues facing the 787 were a shortage of fasteners, and Boeing's need to essentially rebuild the cobbled-together shell of the first plane that made its debut in July 2007.

Oh, how times were simpler then. Shortly after April Fools Day, Boeing announced a very real third delay to the 787 program, pushing off the plane's first flight until later this year. Alas, even that forecast proved optimistic... as new delays tied to the recent IAM strike and discovery of as many as 8,000 misapplied fasteners per aircraft have stymied the program even further.

Now, Boeing says the 787 won't fly until sometime next year... and few in the industry are holding their breath that forecast will be met. So it's clear Boeing could use some good PR about its composite-bodied airliner... and a University of Dayton professor will ties to the Dreamliner recently provided some, emphatically stating the plane will be worth the wait despite the confluence of troubles with the program.

"It's a great airplane. For a customer who flies a lot, the Dreamliner will be fantastic," said Raul Ordonez, a University of Dayton associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. "It will be a treat to fly in it."

Ordonez, an expert in flight control systems, spent eight weeks this summer in the Boeing Welliver fellowship program. Boeing selects about 10 people a year for the program.

Embedded in Boeing's 787 flight control group, Ordonez climbed inside the first 787 prototype and took a spin in the Dreamliner flight simulator. He used analysis methods he teaches at UD to help predict the behavior of the 787 under extreme flight conditions. He said he cannot discuss specifics, though, due to proprietary reasons. He also delivered lectures on control methods to Boeing's flight control engineers.

Ordonez says the way pilots interact with the Dreamliner will be much improved. "Passengers don't think about the control systems of a plane," he said. "But improvements in those areas are important to help the pilot have an easier time flying the plane; therefore, it will be safer."

The 787 will be designed for nonstop, international flights that avoid the traditional hub system. Flights will be longer... but more comfortable. The Dreamliner's composite body will feature larger windows and better air pressure and humidity in the cabin.

Back in the classroom at UD, Ordonez said he plans to bring back the culture of teamwork Boeing has employed on the 787. "Very large groups of people, who seem to only be loosely coordinated, are nevertheless able to design and make complex products that are extremely reliable," Ordonez said.

Indeed, that model may prove useful in Ordonez' classroom... at least until the IAM unionizes the honor roll, that is... or the engineering majors across the campus provide his class with the wrong specs on how to join composite sections to titanium... or, when his students begin outsourcing their assignments...

FMI: www.boeing.com, www.udayton.edu/

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