Sunday, May 23, 2004

New 7E7: Faster, higher, cleaner, quieter - better

Boeing's mid-sized Dreamliner set to debut in 2008

By Dave Carpenter and Allison Linn
The Associated Press

SEATTLE - The first new American commercial jetliner to be built in more than a decade won't be the biggest or fastest passenger plane in the sky.

A list of Boeing Co.'s passenger jet families and the year of the first flight for each: (Some products were incorporated following Boeing's acquisition of McDonnell Douglas in 1997.)
1957 - 707 (based on prototype 367-80, or Dash 80, which began production in 1952), manufactured until 1991.
1958 - DC-8, manufactured until 1972.
1963 - 727, manufactured until 1984.
1965 - DC-9, later renamed MD-80 and manufactured until 1999. A version of the airplane now manufactured as the Boeing 717.
1967 - 737.
1970 - DC-10, later modified as the MD-11, manufactured until 2000.
1969 - 747.
1981 - 767.
1982 - 757, scheduled to end production by the end of this year.
1994 - 777.
2008 (projected) - 7E7.
Nor will Boeing's 7E7 Dreamliner stun onlookers with a radically different appearance. Rival Airbus sneers at the "little airplane" as nothing special, and the basic design is another "cigar with wings" - the shape that has defined jets for decades.

But the mid-sized 7E7, being tweaked and simulated in Boeing design labs and three-dimensional computer design images, should offer plenty to wow airlines and the first paying passengers in 2008.

Boeing says the new plane will fly faster, higher, farther, cleaner, quieter and more efficiently than any other medium-sized jet, using 20 percent less fuel. GE Aircraft Engines in Evendale is one of two suppliers for the jetliner's engine.

There'll also be bigger windows, seats, lavatories and overhead bins.

Analysts say further 7E7 orders, which Boeing promises will be announced soon, could signal not only a successful new plane but a renaissance for the company.

"For the first time in a while, Boeing has seized the industry initiative," said aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group.

It's still a gamble.

By adopting a sharply opposed strategy to that of Airbus, which thinks its superjumbo A380 will be the jet of choice following its 2006 debut, Boeing risks misgauging years' worth of demand. That's what happened with two projects it dropped in the past three years - the 747X, an enlarged jumbo jet, and the super-fast Sonic Cruiser, which was seen as pricey even before the economic fallout from Sept. 11.

"That was a case where we misjudged the market a little bit," David von Trotha, Boeing's chief engineer for product development, said this month.

All signs are that the 7E7 - the 'E' stands for efficient - is headed for a better fate.

Some of the noteworthy features planned for Boeing's 11th passenger jet series:

• Fuel savings. The big appeal to cash-pinched airlines is Boeing's promise that it will allow them to cut fuel costs and fly long, point-to-point routes between cities that can't fill a bigger plane.

Boeing says the 7E7 will burn 20 percent less fuel than similar-sized planes thanks to advancements in technology.

New engines being developed for the 7E7 will be 10 percent more efficient and a supercomputer can design the plane with minimal drag, making it more streamlined.

• Cabin comfort. A visit to a mock-up starts with a trick of the eye: a ceiling designed to emulate natural light and create the illusion of more height.

And there's more room to see between seats, another change aimed at reducing the claustrophobic feel, plus slightly wider seats, bigger restrooms and overhead bins.

• Better air quality. With the 7E7, passengers will feel like they are at a maximum altitude of 6,000 feet, rather than the normal 8,000 feet. Boeing also is considering adding humidifiers to further reduce dryness.

• More composites. The 7E7 will go far beyond any previous commercial aircraft in its extensive use of composite materials.

Not only will that make it 15 percent lighter than comparable planes, trimming fuel and operating costs, but Boeing expects composites to be more durable.

• Less Noise. Boeing is isolating certain loud functions with the 7E7, such as pumps and motors, and using sound absorption technology to further reduce noise to the cabin.

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