Boeing Frontiers
May 2003
Volume 02, Issue 01
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Commercial Airplanes


Boeing meets tough deadline for enhanced-security flight deck doors


Joe SchmidtJust 18 months after the tragic events of Sept. 11 brought U.S. air transportation to a halt, the industry has undergone a revolution in security: Passenger and baggage screening is more thorough and all U.S. airport security officers are federal employees.

And on the airplane itself, a culture shift on the flight deck—from acceding to hijackers' demands to focusing on retaining control of the aircraft—has led to an immense, industrywide effort to design and implement a revolutionary change in technology.

On April 9, all of the 7,000 commercial passenger jets that serve U.S. airports, whether of international or U.S. registry, must have installed enhanced security flight deck doors that prevent unauthorized entry into the cockpit. As the builder of some 5,500 airplanes in the U.S. fleet, Boeing faced the lion's share of the challenge.

From blueprints to ballistics

Meeting the federally mandated deadline to build new, more secure flight deck doors wasn't as easy as just starting on a new design, said Jim Veitengruber, chief engineer–flight deck.

"When the design team first started, we thought we had a pretty good handle on what we had to do to secure a door for intrusion purposes," he said. "It turns out that the criteria for how we would test were moving."

These doors needed to do more than withstand massive blunt force. They had to resist bullets and shrapnel, while simultaneously complying with federal rules on cabin decompression standards and emergency exit for pilots.

"The [Federal Aviation Administration] gave us a big challenge, saying we'd have to shoot at oblique angles and ensure that no fragment of a bullet would penetrate or go through the doors," Veitengruber said. "We shot some of our materials that we thought were intrusion-proof and found they weren't. Far from it."

Unable to readily obtain data on various metals impervious to bullets and shrapnel, Veitengruber and the Boeing team realized they were faced with an even bigger challenge than first anticipated.

Not quite 'Forensic Files'...

Did you know Boeing has a ballistics lab? One of the major developments during the design, build and certification period for enhanced security flight deck doors was the buildup and certification of several ballistics labs. When the U. S. Federal Aviation Administration certified Boeing's ballistic lab, it became one of only three labs in the United States authorized by the FAA to conduct ballistics testing. Boeing also built an intrusion lab to prove the door could withstand an impact of 300 joules—about the force of being struck by a a pro football player running at Olympic-sprinter speed.

"We had made commitments for delivery based on a guess of when a design could be done, and it ended up that we had a research project first—not just a design program," he said.

Industrywide effort

From the beginning, the efforts were industrywide to design new doors from a clean sheet of paper and get them certified and installed on 7,000 airplanes in 18 months.

Boeing joined forces with airline customers, the Federal Aviation Administration, regulatory bodies from other countries and industry partners to determine how best to enhance security and determine what standards would be necessary for a secure flight deck.

The company held meetings in the United States, South America, Europe and Asia to discuss and gather feedback on proposed implementation plans. The meetings often included Airbus to reduce the impact to those airlines that operate both types of airplanes.

As the requirements emerged, Boeing Commercial Airplanes leadership selected key engineers from a variety of disciplines to form an Enhanced Security Door Team.

The company then selected C&D Aerospace of Huntington Beach, Calif., as the Boeing-approved supplier of enhanced security doors for 737, 757, DC-9/MD-80 and DC-10/MD-11 aircraft. Boeing's Flight Deck Engineering group, with the help of the Interiors Center of Excellence in Everett, Wash., took on the designs for the 747, 767 and 777, and the company selected Aim Aerospace of Renton, Wash., to supply doors for the 717. Design and test engineers at Boeing worked closely with suppliers to assure that its designs met their requirements.

Enhanced security flight deck doorRegardless of the platform, designing the doors was not an easy task. Engineers had to start from scratch, creating designs to meet standards that had never existed before.

Major hurdles

Even after designs took shape and certification programs advanced, new hurdles emerged. As the designs began to solidify and Boeing began shipping test kits out to customers, key engineers had to leave certification programs to help customers put the doors on.

"Some of the first doors didn't go in easy," Veitengruber said. "So we had a manning problem, sending experts (people needed for later designs) to handle installations. We had to solve those problems on the run."

These design modifications sometimes could fix a problem that would apply to a slew of kits; sometimes a fix would be good for just one airplane.

As Boeing broke the design and certification logjam in the summer of 2002, there still remained the challenge of rock-solid customer delivery commitments.

"The team in charge of manufacturing the doors, which comprised the Fabrication Division, the Interiors Center of Excellence, Industrial Engineering and others, spent two weeks in a special green-room meeting trying to figure out how, through use of lean-manufacturing processes, they could squeeze time out of the schedule," said Richard Dustman, program manager for Commercial Airplane Services Technical Services & Modifications. "Eventually, we were able to accelerate the schedule by seven weeks."

By the time the April 9 deadline arrived, Boeing's Interior Center of Excellence had delivered more than 1,500 door kits to about 76 different airlines. C&D shipped about 2,700 kits for Boeing aircraft; Aim Aviation shipped about 85. All new-build Boeing airplanes now include the doors as part of their manufacture.


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