Boeing 787 repaired wings encounter new composite problem

Boeing maintains first flight for the much delayed Boeing 787 Dreamliner is still on for before year's end despite a new problem with composite material in the wings revealed late last night in a Wall Street Journal story.

Fix a problem and find another seems to be the name of the game with the Boeing's much-delayed 787 Dreamliner.

Yesterday, Boeing announced that it had reinforced an area of the wings in the first test aircraft from a problem the company revealed in June. A tiny overstressed area of the wing where it attaches to the fuselage needed reinforcing, Boeing executives said in June.

"Completing this work is a significant step toward first flight. We continue to be pleased with the progress of the team and remain confident the first flight of the 787 Dreamliner will occur before the end of the year," said vice president and general manager of the 787 program Scott Fancher in a press release.

However, the plane still must under both gauntlet and taxi tests before it can fly, the press release added.

First flight is still on for before the end of the year.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that in repairing the wing, bolts in the wings were found to be  delaminating surrounding composite material, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal that was posted on its web site late last night. However, the story says Boeing acknowledged the problem and claimed it is not serious enough to require a repair or delay first flight which is schedule before the end of the year.

A Boeing spokeswoman said this morning the problem has been fixed.

"As we explained to the WSJ, the issue raised in the article has been resolved. We are progressing well and are on track to fly by the end of the year," she said in an e-mail.

The following is a passage out the WSJ story that summarizes the problem and suggests the problem could affect first flight.

"Metal bolts inside the wings of one of the six test airplanes were found to have slightly damaged the surrounding material—causing so-called delamination, or cracking, the documents show....A work order written by one of the company's engineers, and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, says, "Noted conditions are structurally and functionally acceptable to Engineering for GROUND TESTING ONLY," and adds, "NO FLIGHT TEST IS ALLOWED."

One wonders if the bolts known as freeze plugs were crushed surrounding composite material which is more like plastic than the customary super-strong aluminum and titanium found in jetliners.

The 787 has been beset by technical delays and in August, Boeing announced that the first three airplanes would be written off as R&D expenses to the tune of $2.5 billion rather than sold to customers. Already two years late, the last deadline for first flight to be broken was before the end of June. Initial customers deliveries have been pushed out to late 2010.

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