The delivery of the 747-8 Intercontinental – Boeing’s largest and most recognizable commercial airplane – caps a development delay of more than a year.
Boeing marked the milestone with an understated ceremony, keeping the media at arm’s length to safeguard the identity of its customer, thought by industry insiders to be the state of Qatar.
Boeing Business Jets president Steve Taylor, who was set to fly the airplane from Paine Field near Seattle, said it will spend about six months at Boeing’s Wichita facility which is the plant that modified Air Force One. From there it goes to a facility in Hamburg where it will spend two years receiving customer-specific outfitting like bedrooms, dining rooms and galleys, he said.
Taylor said the unnamed customer wants the new Intercontinental to be the “jewel of the sky.”
A recent management shift by Boeing seems to indicate the company’s intent to develop a new version of the 777, now that the future of the 737 is well-defined.
Boeing swapped the managers of the 777 and 787 programs to “better align our organization for the challenges ahead,” Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told employees Feb. 23. The announcement was made public Feb. 24.
Larry Loftis, who has led a mature 777 program, takes over as general manager of the 787 model, a program with production-rate challenges ahead.
Boeing received certificates Tuesday confirming two world records its 787 Dreamliner set in late 2011.
The 787 broke the record for the longest flight of an airplane for its weight class and set an around-the-world speed record also for its weight class.
The Dreamliner earned the first record by flying 10,336 nautical miles from Seattle to Bangladesh. The Airbus A330 previously held the distance record with a 9,126 nautical mile flight in 2002.
The crew refueled in Bangladesh then continued eastbound and returned to Seattle 42 hours and 26 minutes after their departure, which set the around-the-world record at 470 knots. No previous speed record for the around-the-world trip exists for the 787’s weight class.
“Around-the-world records are extremely challenging, and Boeing should be very proud of the successful world and national records they achieved with these flights,” said Jonathan Gaffney, the president and CEO of the National Aeronautic Association. Gaffney presented Boeing with the certificates. “We were proud to have had the opportunity to record and certify them.”
Capt. Rod Skaar, who led the crew and was one of the six pilots on the flight, received the award.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) today ordered detailed inspections on the wings of the Airbus A380 jumbo jet after cracks were found in brackets that secure the wing’s skin to the aircraft. “This condition, if not detected and corrected, could potentially affect the structural integrity of the aeroplane,” the safety watchdog warns.
EASA says two types of cracks have been found in the L-shaped brackets, called rib feet, that join the A380′s wing surface to the ribs whose profile defines the wing’s cross sectional shape. The first type of rib foot crack was found when the aircraft damaged in last November’s A380 engine-loss incident was being checked out after repairs.
But after subsequent checking of more of the fleet, engineers found a “more significant” form of cracking has developed on the rib feet of some of the aircraft. So EASA has ordered “detailed visual inspections” within the next six weeks for A380 aircraft that have flown between 1300 and 1799 takeoffs and landings – and within just four days for those with over 1800 flight cycles.
There’s a good reason safety watchdogs take no chances with even the smallest of cracks: it was cracks caused by the then unknown phenomenon of metal fatigue that caused the fatal mid-flight breakups of the De Havilland Comet, the first world’s pressurized, aluminium-skinned jetliner, in the 1950s. Tiny cracks around window portholes eventually propagated, bursting the fuselage, after a certain number of flight pressurizations and depressurizations.
While EASA has not said what might happen if A380 rib feet fail owing to cracking, if a section of wing skin were to separate from the plane the debris could potentially damage any critical structure it collides with – like the tailfin.
Australian aircraft engineers also warned Airbus to inspect the aircraft for cracks in early January.
Australian aircraft engineers have called for the global fleet of Airbus A380 super-jumbos to be inspected immediately for safety after tiny cracks were found in wing parts of some planes operated by Singapore Airlines and Qantas.
“There is no way on God’s earth that I would be waiting four years to inspect them,” Paul Cousins, the federal president of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association, told a New Zealand news organisation.
Airbus spokesman Stefan Schaffrath has issued an e-mail statement confirming that minor cracks were found on “non-critical wing-rib attachments” and that the company has developed “an inspection and repair procedure which will be done during routine, scheduled 4-year maintenance checks.”
Singapore Airlines and Qantas have also claimed the cracks pose no threat to safety and repairs have been carried out.