Twenty-First Century Jet – The Making and Marketing of the Boeing 777

On 20/04/2012, in Bookshelf, by steve

By Karl Sabbagh
Publisher: SCRIBNER
ISBN: 0-684-80721-1

You may be wondering why I am recommending a book first published in 1996… The Boeing 777 is now known the world over as an efficient, safe and rather loveable aircraft that is in high demand by airlines.

Karl Sabbagh’’s book is a masterpiece and he tells the story of the 777 gestation in a clear and entertaining manner. While Boeing had put the future of the company on the line when they decided to build the 747, the decision to build the 777 and the effort expended was no less epic.

The original designers of the 777 are doubtless watching with a warm feeling in their hearts as Boeing is preparing to tweak the triple-seven to make it even more competitive with Airbus’ upcoming A350. From what is known about Boeing’s plans, it is clear that the 777 is an excellent design and a great platform on to which you can graft new technologies that will keep it a competitor to be reckoned with for many years to come.

In other words, we will be hearing a lot about the 777 in the coming years.

If you have not yet read Sabbagh’s book, this is an excellent time to get up to date on the story of the 777 and so be in a better position to understand and appreciate Boeing’s work to keep the twenty-first century jet right at the cutting edge in the coming decades.


Landing Gear Problems – Seen from the Cockpit

On 03/11/2011, in Life around runways, by phil

“It’s too much to say I am a national hero, I am absolutely sure that any one of our pilots could have landed the plane and the result would have been the same because we train for situations like this on simulators”, So said Captain Wrona after the wheels-up landing of the LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 767 at Warsaw. And he is absolutely right. No pilot I have ever known has wanted to be a hero; he or she just wants a quiet life and to do a good professional job, as do our ATC colleagues.

As a counter view to the previous article giving the view from the Control Tower, I would like to say a few words about how this incident would have been seen from the cockpit.

I have never operated ETOPS aircraft and so will not comment on the wisdom or otherwise of continuing across the Atlantic with one of the hydraulic systems out of action. I operated Boeing 747s where we had the luxury of having 4 engines and 4 hydraulic systems. But what I would like to comment on is how one handles a wheels-up landing and some of the decisions that would have had to be made by the flight crew.

The first thing is that no-one would have expected the alternate gear lowering system to fail. This consists of a simple electrical system which releases the uplocks so that gravity and aerodynamic loads will effect a free fall of all the undercarriage legs. The failure of this system would only have become apparent during the initial approach when the crew were ready to lower the gear. At this point there would probably have been sufficient fuel on board for somewhere between 1 and 2 hours flying time. Thus there was time to assess the situation, to consult the airline’s maintenance department, try a number of other methods of lowering the gear, to burn off fuel so as to reduce the landing weight and minimise the residual fuel in the tanks, and to prepare for an emergency landing and subsequent evacuation.

No-one wants to have to deal with an emergency of any sort, but these things are a fact of life and are trained for on the simulator. Most (all) aircraft manufacturers recommend, in these situations, landing with all available gears extended.

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A personal reflection on the AF447 accident

On 01/07/2011, in Safety is no accident, by phil

I write from the perspective of a long retired pilot who only flew on old fashioned round dial types (Britannias, VC10s, 707s and 747s). This does not mean that I decry the modern Airbus and Boeing systems – far from it, I think the Airbus philosophy has made a great contribution to air safety.

The views that follow are drawn from my own personal experience, from reading the BEA’s (Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses) reports and from sifting through various aviation websites. This article is an attempt to discuss in layman’s language what may have happened on AF447 over the South Atlantic in 2009, to explain some of the complications involved, and to pose a number of questions. Those of you with long memories will remember the DH Comet accidents in the 1950s and how the lessons learned improved the structural integrity of all subsequent civil aircraft. When the full story of the AF447 is finally revealed, I hope this accident may act as a catalyst for changes to the way regulators, airlines and pilots conduct training on advanced highly automated aircraft.

The aviation industry has a very good safety record. We learn from every accident and incident. Therefore, if procedures and training are improved as an outcome of this tragic accident and safety is further improved as a result, those 228 people will not have died in vain.

At this point it is right to emphasise that speculation in the absence of facts is of little use. However, in the light of the reports below, certain conclusions can be drawn. But even more important they raise questions that it is hoped will soon be answered.

The BEA has issued three interim reports. The first, issued soon after the accident, discusses the pitot tubes and gives the information on how they function and how they are connected to the flight system.

The second, issued 30 Nov 2009, describes how pitot tubes are certified and the previous experiences of icing on pitot tubes manufactured by Thales and Goodrich.

The third (an update issued 27 May 2011) gives some information from the FDR and CVR regarding the last moments of the flight.

The crew were all qualified and experienced on type. The captain had a total of 10,988 flying hours, with 1,474 on type. The senior co-pilot had the necessary licence endorsements to act as a replacement for the captain during his rest period, and had a total of 6,547 flying hours, with 4,479 on type. The more junior co-pilot had a total of 2,936 flying hours, with 809 on type.

Weather Considerations

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Interesting people, unusual flight plans…

On 11/03/2011, in Interesting people, by steve

David Allen – Raised in an aviation family in an aviation town

Dave was Chief Engineer, Crew Information Systems at Boeing

What were you dreaming of becoming when you were a kid?

I was raised in an aviation family in an aviation town. I was born and raised for 16 years in Wichita, Kansas. My father was an Industrial Engineer for Boeing, one uncle was a factory manager for Boeing in Philadelphia (previously a P-40 pilot during WWII), another uncle was a Boeing purchasing agent, and another uncle was a B-25 mechanic during WWI. So, I was raised listening to how airplanes were built at the dinner table. I remember going to the Wichita airport when I was around 10 to see my dad off on a trip to Seattle. I got to meet Bill Allen in the airport. So I have always been around aviation whilst growing up. We moved to Seattle for 10 months while my father worked on the TFX program (became the F-111, which Boeing lost). In 1968, we moved to Seattle where he became Director of Industrial Engineering for the new 737.

I digress some here. As I was growing up, my mother always brought up a complaint about one trip my father took right after my little sister was born. He was sent to Seattle for one week. That turned into two weeks, and slowing turned into 6 weeks. I listened to this many times over the years. A couple of years ago, after my mother brought it up again, my Dad asked me if I knew what he did during that time. He was sent up to do an analysis of the Renton plant to figure out how they would build the 737. After a week, he told the VP that there was not enough factory floor space to build the 737. That caused a great panic and he brought some other folks from Wichita. They figured out how to build the fuselage in Wichita and send it by train to Renton. They developed the complete plan and gained approval in that six weeks. Pretty amazing.

However, like most kids, I had no real career plans other than going to college.

If it was not aviation, what moved you to become part of the aviation family?

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Watch your water drains!

On 16/12/2010, in SKYbrary News, by steve

Many years ago while working in Paris I bought a Peugeot 305… Do not laugh, I said it was many years ago and what looks to-day like a hopelessly boxy vehicle was a nice new model from the Lion back then. My Dad was worried about the 305’s Latin origins… in his eyes only German workmanship was worth your hard earned cash. I had no such reservations about French cars and in any case, with the diplomatic discount and all, the price was irresistible.

After several thousand miles of faithful service, I noticed in the middle of a really nasty thunderstorm that there was water dripping inside the car into the foot-well of the front passenger. Water coming from below is bad news, it indicates that your chassis is corroded but water dripping from higher up is even worse… that water can find its way into the car’s electrics and then anything can happen. I took the car to a friendly local garage and upon hearing my story, the mechanic on hand produced a foot long, hard wire of some kind and opened the bonnet. He then stuck the wire into a hole partially hidden by the plastic trim and moved it up and down vigorously. He then closed the bonnet and assured me that there would be no more water… he also gave me the wire and suggested that I clean the hole regularly. Apparently the 305’s water-drains were prone to blockage and all you needed to prevent trouble was the little piece of wire which I was the proud owner of now. I remember thinking on the way back to the ICAO office how lucky it was that aircraft were being built better… this could never happen on a 747. I was wrong!

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The TITAN project – one year down the road

On 06/12/2010, in TITAN, by steve

I have always wondered whether passengers notice the organized chaos that characterizes aircraft at the gate, getting ready for its next trip. Whether it is a 737 operated by a low-cost carrier getting turned around in as little as 20 minutes or a 747 heading to the other side of the world and readied for departure in less than 90 minutes, the picture is much the same: a lot of machines, a lot of people, a lot of activities which magically all terminate all of a sudden as if on command and the aircraft is ready to go!

This is the turnaround process, one of the most critical phases of a flight. Yes, strange as it may sound, an aircraft on the ground being serviced for its next flight faces many organizational and technical hurdles, the handling of which introduces a degree of unpredictability seldom if ever encountered in actual flight.

Mess up the turnaround process and an immediate delay ensues which can throw the whole schedule of that particular airframe out of whack for the rest of the day. The nightmare of all airlines.

Of course what we see around the aircraft is only part of the show. Inside the terminal scores or hundreds of passengers will be streaming towards their gate and some will stop to shop, some to eat, others just to gape… in any case, their on time arrival at the gate is anything but certain. Another potential source of departure delay…

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Inside a jet engine

On 24/11/2010, in Safety is no accident, by phil

If, like me, you are wondering what goes on inside a jet engine the site below from Rolls Royce might help. As a pilot I merely used the thing, in my case four Rolls Royce RB211-524s on a Boeing 747-200 and very good they were too.

I also had a flight engineer who helped by ensuring that I didn’t do anything too stupid! Nowadays though, with FMS and FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) the computers do it all. One no longer has to set the power manually, while making small adjustments to ensuring that neither the N1, N2, N3 nor EGT limits were exceeded.

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WorldFlight: driving virtual airspace to the max

On 02/11/2010, in Simulator world, by hoppie

On a sunny, crisp Sunday morning in Melbourne, Australia in the late 1990s, Matt Sheil raised the gear of his light twin and called Departure. With little traffic, he received clearance direct Sydney, his home town. Matt pointed the nose to the North-East, engaged the autopilot, and looked where he had put his newspaper.

Ten seconds later, he dropped the paper and stared at the GPS. What the hell was he doing? Sitting here in his own airplane, reading the newspaper, having himself transported home like cattle… why did he actually own an airplane and did not just book a seat on an airliner? The next morning, he sold off the aircraft, and decided that he would take ten years to build a credible, semi-professional simulator, to get the fun part of flying back into his life.

By the year 2000, the simulator actually was flyable and Matt decided to organise a small event to get some operation going. The aircraft simulated was a Boeing 747-400, so an around-the-world series of flights seemed the right way to go. A skeleton crew was assembled, and on November 5, 2000, Worldflight took to the skies, raising money for the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service.

John Davis, sim owner, and myself, software engineer, flying the Coventry 747-400

Over the years, Worldflight has grown to an annual event with a large share of followers. By now, up to nine full-size flight decks join the group, augmented by dozens of desktop simulators flown by people all over the world. All aircraft are linked into a virtual airspace provided by one of the virtual ATC networks, VATSIM. They can see each other out of the window, register all on TCAS when so equipped, and create a buzz of traffic that is quite a handful for the controllers.

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New engines for old favorites?

On 21/10/2010, in The aircraft we fly, by steve

There used to be a time when the big aircraft makers were churning out new types with astounding regularity. In the wide-body arena, there was a choice between the Tri-Star from Lockheed, the DC-10 from McDonnell Douglas and of course the 747 from Boeing. Narrow-bodies also came in a nice variety from the DC-9 through the MD-80 and the 727 to the 737. But let’s not forget that in those days a few legacy, long-range narrow-bodies were still plying the skies, just think of the DC-8 and the Boeing 707. Airbus joined the fray at the top end with the A300 which was a short-to-medium range wide-body and the first twin-engine wide-body as such. That was in 1971…

One thing was sure. Each new type brought something revolutionary, some novelty for which the airlines wanted to buy them. Safety and efficiency increased, noise decreased, passenger comfort improved…

In the meantime, the world went through a number of oil crises, stock market crashes, deregulation, 9/11 and the birth of low cost carriers and the market for narrow-body, short-to-medium range aircraft altered radically. The result? Only two types, the Boeing 737 and the Airbus 320 family survived and these days if you travel chances are you will find yourself in one of those, no matter where you are in the world.

Not that those types have not evolved over the years. In particular, the Boeing 737 had several versions with the biggest improvements coming with the New Generation (NG) series. But the 320 also improved if in less visible ways.

In spite of the improvements, the basic design of both the 737 and the 320 family has stayed much the same to this day.

When the 737 started sprouting winglets, bringing fuel efficiency improvements in the low single digits, the discussion was already going on: should the manufacturers design new aircraft to replace the existing types or should they think about re-engining the existing ones?

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Volcanic Ash, an awesome danger

On 21/04/2010, in Environment - Without hot air, by phil

Despite the great beauty of many things found in nature, some also present a great danger to mankinds’ activities. The unprecedented closure of so much of Europe’s airspace highlights the problems caused by volcanic ash. This is not just an issue for airlines and the travelling public, but also affects the whole economy and all those industries that rely on air transport.

I am now retired, but with many friends knowing that I worked in aviation, I have been asked over and over again what the fuss is all about. So, I have trawled a number of aviation and science websites and have put together the following layman’s guide. Back in 1982, when I was the Flight Training Manager of the British Airways 747 Fleet, one of our Boeing 747-236 aircraft flew into a volcanic ash cloud over Indonesia. The incident occurred at night, the crew couldn’t see the ash cloud either visually or on the radar, and the forecast had given virtually no information. At that time the aviation industry knew relatively little about the effects of volcanic ash on jet engines. The crew did a magnificent job after all 4 engines stopped and managed to get back on the ground at Jakarta. Wikepedia has a good account of what happened here.

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