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By Bernard Choi
For Bill Wilson and many Boeing engineers, designing the all-new 787 Dreamliner was a groundbreaking achievement.
"We didn't have a reference airplane to base it on," Wilson said. "Everything started from scratch."
But there wasn't much time to celebrate. Even before the first 787 took its inaugural flight, Wilson and the others were already working on the next member of the Dreamliner family, the larger 787-9.
Even though it's based on the original 787-8, stretching the airplane by 20 feet (6 meters) required a major engineering effort.
Wilson points to the redesigned landing gear as an example of how one small change leads to big changes in other areas.
"The landing gear as it sweeps up into the landing gear bay needed more room," said Wilson. "We had to change the height of the pressure deck. We had to move some beams just to get that extra room."
"The 787-8 and -9 are far more fuel-efficient and have much lower operating costs than either the A330 or the new A350 family."
Jim Haas, 787 Marketing director
This week, after years of design work and collaboration with airlines and Boeing's suppliers, the 787 program finalized configuration on the 787-9:
"What this milestone really is for our customers is a validation of the progress we're making," said Jim Haas, Boeing's marketing director for the 787. "We've been working with these customers for 6 years on what the family should look like."
With a suite of new technologies such as advanced engines, both 787 models will use 20 percent less fuel than comparable airplanes.
Over the next 20 years, Boeing projects a demand for 3,310 airplanes in the 787-sized market.
"The 787-8 and -9 are far more fuel efficient and have much lower operating costs than either the A330 or the new A350 family Airbus is working on, said Haas. "So we think we're well positioned to compete for a large share of that market space."
With firm configuration on the -9 now complete, Bill Wilson and other engineers at Boeing and its suppliers will begin detailed design of parts, assemblies and other systems. The first 787-9 is scheduled to be delivered in late 2013.
"It's the big picture we have to look at to make sure the airplane comes together properly," said Wilson. "It's fun to be here to work on this."