The carbon fiber composite material that has transformed aerospace, resulting in fuel-efficient airplanes such as the 787 Dreamliner, wasn’t developed overnight. Research and testing began more than 40 years ago with small composite components on the Boeing 727.
Jeanne Yu would like to help that research and development process move much more quickly.
“Our goal is to get more environmentally progressive technologies on airplanes faster; that is the real environmental strategy. What do we need to do to get there?” asked Yu, director of environmental performance in Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
One answer can be found in the ecoDemonstrator, a program that takes flight in 2012. Using a Boeing Next-Generation 737, the ecoDemonstrator aims to accelerate technology through testing of several advanced technologies designed to improve aircraft efficiency, reduce noise and cut emissions.
Yu said the lengthy development process for carbon fiber composite material highlights the role of a research accelerator like the ecoDemonstrator. “Composite testing began on the 727 in the 1970s. Carbon fiber components played an increasingly bigger role over time on the 747, 767 and 777 before taking a big leap on the 787 Dreamliner.”
“A new technology’s application has to grow and expand based on our confidence and ability to learn and produce it more effectively,” Yu said. “That’s where the ecoDemonstrator comes in.”
“The test platform enables product developers to gain experience with the technology and how it integrates with the airplane,” Yu said. The program’s deadlines and flight schedules also help focus their efforts. “In essence it’s really about stretching people’s imagination into the practicality of application.”
The ecoDemonstrator program will test new environmentally progressive technologies on a different airplane platform each year, a schedule which adds other benefits. “We develop a whole new airplane only once every 10 years. That’s a long time in between airplanes, Yu said. “The ecoDemonstrator will help the product development team keep our learning ability fresh every year.”