November 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 7 
Commercial Airplanes

Firm, toned and taut

Firm, toned and taut

787 Dreamliner in good shape to face challenges of detailed design


Boeing reached firm configuration of the 787 Dreamliner on Sept. 15, marking the end of the airplane's joint development phase.

"Firm configuration means the airplane's structural, propulsion and systems architectures are firm. They are not changing," said Mike Bair, vice president and general manager of the 787 program. "This allows us and our partners to proceed with detailed design—down to the smallest parts and final composite ply layouts—with great confidence."

Among the aspects set by firm configuration:

  • The external lines shown in imagery since April of this year are the final geometry for the 787 Dreamliner. This includes the sweep and size of the wings, and the exact size of the fuselage, tail, engines and other major components of the airframe.
  • Space has been reserved for specific systems and the wiring, tubing or other connections required.
  • Positioning of electrical equipment is complete.

For the team members who dedicated years to achieving this milestone, completion is a combination of relief, celebration and letting go. "Many of us have been focused on this task and have put off personal activities like vacations to keep moving forward with the airplane," said Larry Dong, one of the 787 configuration engineers.

The team that's worked on the 787 includes representatives from myriad disciplines. And in a first for Boeing, the team included international partners much earlier in the process. That created some challenges because of language and culture—but it also brought opportunities because of the diversity of the team, the different cultural ways of solving technical challenges, and a whole new set of potential technologies and design solutions.

"It is truly amazing that we can meet all the needs that these disciplines represent and have an airplane that truly delights our airline customers and makes a profit for Boeing and our partners," said Ed Petkus, leader of the 787 Airplane Development team, who co-led the effort to reach the firm-configuration milestone.

Petkus and Dong admitted that during the process, there were times they wondered if the team would be able to make all of the decisions and solve all of the challenges required for completing the milestone. But Petkus noted that the team "seemed to thrive on the challenges." Case in point: One engineer, Seiya Sakurai, became frustrated that management did not see the value of one of his ideas. So he built a working model of the concept and left it on Petkus' desk. "He made me a believer—and many of his teammates as well," Petkus said. "This is just one example that has been repeated over and over on this program."

To help mark its members' accomplishments, the 787 team gathered in the atrium of the 40-87 building in Everett, Wash., for a brief celebration. Bair addressed the team, thanking members for their efforts and encouraging them to bring the same tireless spirit to the challenges in the detailed design phase of the program. After a few minutes of cheering and applause, the team was back at work. "With detailed design, the team will focus on small details, which require even more decisions and will present new challenges," Petkus said. "That's why we come to work every day. If it were easy, anybody could do it."


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