Volume 04, Issue 6
All decked out
Similarities between 777, 787 help airlines, passengers and Boeing
BY LORI GUNTER
The challenge before the team designing the flight deck for the all-new Boeing 787 Dreamliner seemed formidable: Introduce new technologies to help pilots, but maintain significant operational commonality with the popular Boeing 777. Of course, whatever they came up with also had to meet stringent weight and cost targets.
After five years of work—beginning with the Sonic Cruiser proposal that preceded the 787—the team unveiled its new design to customers and pilots in late August. After six hours of briefings on the 787, its features and technologies, the gathering got to participate in the first public viewing of the new design.
The room erupted first with "ooos" and "ahhs" and then applause.
"We were expecting people to be pretty excited about the 787 flight deck," said Mike Konicke, chief engineer of the 787 flight deck. "We had worked with so many pilots and industry experts during the design effort, we knew we were creating something special. Still, it was a little surprising it was so overwhelming and dramatic. The reaction is a testament to the team's ability to take input and turn it into design features."
Pilots rely on displays to provide critical information they can quickly understand and react to if needed. The 787 features the industry's largest display screens, with five monitors that measure 15 inches on the diagonal. They provide more than twice the display space as the 777, giving pilots more information in easier-to-read formats, 787 program representatives said. And because the displays are a standard size found on laptop computers, instead of custom sizes as has been the case in the past, costs are reduced.
In addition, the 787 comes standard with dual head-up displays and dual electronic flight bags—features that traditionally have been optional. A head-up display is a clear screen mounted at eye level. It displays flight information so that pilots can look outside the cockpit and still view the information they need. Meanwhile, the electronic flight bag is the digital equivalent of the pilot's flight bag. It contains up-to-date information including maps, charts, manuals and other data. In addition, the electronic flight bag allows takeoff-performance calculations to be made in real time.
Konicke said it's more cost-effective to equip each airplane with two head-up displays and the electronic flight bag as standard equipment than it is to make them optional and let airlines choose to have them or not.
"By spreading the cost of that work across all airplanes instead of just the ones who select it, we are helping to minimize costs," Konicke said. "It's kind of counter intuitive at first but when you look at the numbers it works out in everyone's favor." In addition, making these features standard increases the airplane's functionality.
"The 787 is really well equipped," said Mike Carriker, chief pilot for the 787 program. "Our objective was to give 787 pilots the best tools to do their jobs. In most cases, there will be no worries or special needs, but the airplane is equipped for those rare circumstances when a pilot will need a little extra help to ensure the safety of the passengers and crew."
To achieve operational commonality with the Boeing 777, the 787 Dreamliner team had to make sure the new airplane "felt" like a 777. Commonality is the similarity between airplanes, which helps operators by reducing variability, simplifying operations and improving airplane reliability—which ultimately decreases costs and increases revenues. (For more on the commonality between the 777 and the 787, see the September 2005 Boeing Frontiers.)
In the flight deck, commonality is created simply by where displays, switches and controls are located. One of the most notable decisions was to retain the traditional wheel-and-column mechanism. Although the team studied other control mechanisms including a side stick, Carriker said the team's analysis found that the wheel-and-column arrangement "provides the feedback and awareness pilots need to make and execute decisions during critical periods." He added that on the 787, the wheel-and-column controllers
In addition, the requirement to enable mixed-fleet flying—where one pool of pilots can be created to fly more than one kind of airplane—further strengthened the need to stay with the wheel-and-column arrangement.
"We continue to believe the wheel-and-column provides the best solution to enhance the safety of flight," Carriker said.
There's more to it than just the flight deck physical layout, however. Advanced systems are the real key to ensuring that the feel of the airplanes is the same, program representatives said. The airplanes were designed nearly 15 years apart, and "it would be short-sighted to not take advantage of new technologies," said Mike Sinnett, chief engineer for 787 Systems. "However, with advanced systems, we can make those differences nearly invisible to the flight crew. We have digitally recreated the feel and functionality of the 777 but we use more efficient and modern approaches."
Sinnett added that the Systems team also has added new functionality, such as gust suppression to help create a smoother ride, "without changing the way the pilot interfaces with the airplane." This careful approach, he said, "allows us to achieve breakthrough improvements in efficiency, with minimal impact on flight deck procedures, reducing crew training costs in transitioning from other models of the Boeing fleet."
The advantage of commonality is particularly evident in the reduced training needed for current 777 pilots to be qualified as 787 pilots. It will take only five days of training, as compared to the 21 days needed for a pilot with no experience in a Boeing flight deck. Pilots of 757s and 767s will need only eight days of training. Today's 737 pilots will need 11 days of training for the 787. Pilots of other Boeing airplanes—717, 727 and 747—will need 13 days of training.
"The less time a pilot spends in training, the more time he or she is available for revenue-generating flights," Carriker said. "Reducing training is just one more way that we are helping our customers be more efficient with their 787s."
It's one thing for Boeing to talk about the exceptional design of its new 787 Dreamliner flight deck, but when the pilots of the world talk, you know they mean it.
"The Dreamliner flight deck provides pilots with easy access to unprecedented amounts of information, and air transportation is safer than ever as a result," said Capt. Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA). "The new Boeing 787 reflects lessons learned from aircraft design throughout history to everyone's benefit."
"Pilots have asked for this type of flight-deck innovation for years, and thanks to Boeing we now have it in the Dreamliner," said ALPA Executive Air Safety Chairman Captain Terry McVenes.
Boeing has a long history of working with pilots to develop flight decks that meet their needs. In fact, when Boeing received the prestigious Collier Trophy for its design of the 777, members of ALPA stood alongside the design team leaders to be recognized for their role.
"We cannot leave any good idea unspoken; we must consider all input," Konicke said. "The knowledge of our customers, the pilots, our partners—it's all so much more meaningful when it is combined with what we know. We did an unprecedented amount of listening, discussing and sharing to develop this flight deck."
Support from the general public at the chat room on the popular aviation Web site airliners.net rang loud and clear within minutes of the photo being posted by Boeing on the company's Web site. The comments on airliners.net included: "Absolutely stunning." "Outstanding!" "This is amazing." "It sure does beat everything I've ever seen." "Congratulations Boeing, a job well done."
"People are right," Carriker said. "It's great to see the team get the recognition it deserves."
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