Boeing 787 Dreamliner - ex Boeing engineer with 46 yrs experience raises major concerns about safety on Dan Rather show tonight
The battle between Airbus's gargantuan 380 and Boeing's sleek 387 Dreamliner is not only a battle of marketing philosophies. Hauling up to 800 passengers between major hubs and 200 'ish loads door to door in a sense simply segments the market. Both manufacturers will win.
Airbus in making the 380 have scaled up from their smaller (but still big metal people carriers) using much the same design / technology and providing users with a massive loadspace to allow interior design concepts to flourish - a policy not without it's problems in fitting all the wiring in for the In Flight Entertainment systems, telephone communications, internet accessibility not to mention a huge headache in coping for 800 passengers to ease their bowels.
Boeing have taken a massive and daring step. The Dreamliner is a Lego plane, with the bits made worldwide by many, many manufacturers and assembled at Everett, an accountants dream and outsourcers nightmare of logistics. This implies many problems of delivery, quality control, co-ordination all the while dealing with advanced material and manufacturing techniques that have not been attempted before.
Therefore the news that veteran newsman Dan Rather, former CBS News anchor,on his weekly investigative show on cable channel HDNet (8.00 pm ET 5.00 PT "Plastic Planes" also 11.00pm ET and 2.00 am ET)) is going to present a devastating analysis of problems with the Dreamliner by an ex Boeing employee backed by several anonymous current employees must worry the shareholders who have seen a handsome run in Boeings share price as sales have soared.
Vincent Weldon has worked for Boeing for 46 years from 1969-2006 - he has worked on structural design of the Space Shuttle Orbiter and wored on composite structures from 1973 - 2006. working with USAF and NASA. He gives his address as 2970 Initial Avenue,Enumclaw, WA 98022 (360)825-78.
Vicent wrote to The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on July 24thb 2007 (11 page pdf text in full) and outlined his concerns abaout the Dreamliner as a response to the FAA invitation for people to submit comments in rule making - advertised in the Federal register on Monday 11th 2007.-"proposed Rules"
It is evident that Vincent is not your average whistleblower - he is deeply committed to engineering excellence which he sees as a proud Boeing and American heritage, which he is proud to be part of.
He is concerned however that in this big stakes game some of those values / standards are being neglected , ignored, and bypassed .
His major concern is that whilst "composite structures have far superior fatigue and corrosion resistance" to aluminium structures whose performance is well understood, proven in use and whose performance can be predicted with accuracy - and he is concerned that the analysis of composites is complicated because of this.
Consequently he feels that proceeding with "an unproven composite ... without throughly testing a prototype"" he admits significantly shortens development but is grossly inconsistent the the companies previous policies.
At times he is evangelical about company policy.. "One of my purposes in sending this disclosure to you is to solicit your help in helping Boeing to recover its former soul"... he is not short on technical analysis.
"The kind of composite structure used for the 787 is combustible and burns furiously in a fuel led fire, liberating highly toxicsmoke and tiny inhaleable carbon slivers"
He is also concerned about lightning strikes which occur about 2 times a year in commercial jetliners - this presents no problem to aluminium framed craft but the current dispersion system consisting of a partly conductive screen bonded to the surface ply does not provide section to section transfer and because it adds a weight penalty is kept as light as possible.
A fascinating comparison with the B2 over the flammability of the fuel tanks which will have a nitrogen inerting system, but Boeing maintain that the plane will be safe if this is inoperable is he thinks unsatisfactory.
Comparisons made with the B2 (as made by Boeing) are pointless as the B-2 has only 2 passengers with ejector seats, rarely flies, and never flies through thunderstorms as commercial airliners often have to.
Another major issue is crash worthiness or survival after a crash - a requirement changed when the FAA drop / crash tested a Boeing 737 for a 30 feet per second (it was dropped from 14 feet) impact in 2000 when the 787 was well on its design path. (UPDATE 20/7/07 go here to Randy's Blog - Randy Tinseth, vice president, marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Seattle for more detail on testing - see pic above - note half barrel test)
Results from these tests of passenger survivability, fuselage dynamics, with full overhead lockers is now known. Evidently Vincent had a row with the Head of Structures in December 2005 about the comparison of the survivability of the airframe, and the g - forces on seated passngers and the known brittle structure of the 787 which "computer simulations show them to cause unsurvivable g force loadings on the passengers". (ie in excess of 20g's)
He identifies that Boeing (and the FAA) introduced revised methods of testing (without fully loaded lockers in a "half barrel structure ie. the lower half of the fuselage) and suggests a "very cozy Boeing / FAA relationship" . He mentions Jerry Costello, chairman of the House Aviation Sub-Committe who wants .." aggressive oversight of the FAA .. the number one goal of our Government is safety and security". Although if you closely observe the activities of the mining industry and its regulators you might not think that.
A compromised fuselage would allow smoke from a burning composite carbon - epoxy structure (so toxic it is not allowed in any jetliner) to enter and poison the passengers before they could escape.
Vincent lists a range of tasks that the FAA should adopt to overcome these problems but concentrates on what is called the vertical shock loading and the need to limit this to passengers to a 20g force.
This is vital he says as survivability depends on the integrity of the aircraft structure, even if a fire breaks out and points to the A 340-300 Toronto crash on August 2nd 2005 when all 309 occupants escaped in 2 minutes even though fire erupted . The Garuda Boeing 737-400 with 140 occupants burst in to falame when crash laniding at twice normal speed and two thirds of the passengers could escape.
"Overall " he says ,"it is easy to see that what has been allowed in the rush to extreme innovation is a new world of fuselage materials and construction technologies that should have been well understood through extensive testing, under oversight of the FAA, before ever being allowed to be the fuselage primnary structure material"
In an article in the Seattle Times today (where so many Boeing jobs are on the line) .."Boeing vigorously denies Weldon's assertions, saying the questions he raised internally were addressed to the satisfaction of its technical experts."
Vincent was fired in July 2006. He alleged in a whistle-blower complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that the firing was "retaliation for raising concerns throughout the last two years of his employment about the crashworthiness of the 787."
According to a summary of OSHA's findings, Boeing told investigators Weldon was fired for threatening a supervisor, specifically for stating he wanted to hang the African-American executive "on a meat hook" and that he "wouldn't mind" seeing a noose around the executive's neck.
Weldon denied to OSHA investigators that he had referred to a noose and said the "meat hook" reference had not been a threat.
Boeing's current compressed schedule calls for a six-month flight-test program and federal certification in time for delivery in May.
There is no doubt that the plane when rolled out looked magnificent. If Boeing can keep their worldwide suppliers on time, on cost, meeting the correct quality and safety standards ad do it on time it will not only be a magnificent acheivement but will also be a very profitable one.
One has to say that making a whole plane from a material so toxic when on fire that it's use is not allowed in jetliners today does sound scary.
In that trade off between safety and cost, let's hope that the FAA get it right.
Interesting article here from the Seattle Intelligencer which has one short sharp comment from a reader ..
"Actually offgassing of composites in a fire situation has never been a problem before now, but with a fire outside the fuselage the gas released would quickly suffocate. If the FAA order some kind of test to prove a fire situation then Boeing are in trouble. A thicklayer of intumescent paint or something may help but its all weight folks..."
...oh by the way the Airbus 350 (which may/may not compete head to head with the 787) still in the headscratching design phase, will NOT have a composite barrel / fuselage.
UPDATE 19th September 17.42 BST ( 12.42ET)
Someone at Boeing is very interested - judging by the traffic half the company has been reading about this today.
Also of interest Ziff brothers the secretive Investors (They once owned Personal Conputing ) have been spending some time rooting .... looking at where Mr Wheldon lives.
UPDATE 23rd Sept 2007 Usefule aricle in Wired Science with extensive and often well informed comment about the Dan Rater programe - most pro composite technology.