787 test planes to retain temp fasteners

All six Boeing 787s slated to be test airplanes in the certification program will retain an undisclosed number of temporary fasteners, we’ve learned.

Temporary fasteners became a cause célèbre, it will be remembered, when Airplane #1 used for the July 8, 2007, roll-out to an international media extravaganza was revealed to have thousands of temporary fasteners as a result of a shortage of the proper fasteners. This required non-standard ones be used to assemble the display airplane.

Since then, fasteners have been a continuing source of frustration for Boeing. Shortages, followed by incorrect installation at the Global Aeronautica industrial partner and then the revelation that thousands of them were designed incorrectly and have to be removed and replaced, adding further delays to the program.

Boeing is under intense pressure to get the 787 program moving. It’s announced a second quarter first flight and a first quarter 2010 first delivery. Internally, the first flight is reported to be April 20 (source: Air Transport World), though it may be a few days later on the internal schedule. The company has a timeline of eight months for the flight testing, which would take it to the end of the year in time for a 1Q10 first delivery. Aerospace analysts are largely in agreement that the flight testing will take a year (Airbus plans on a 15 month testing period for its A350).

Although Boeing wants a first flight toward the end of April, its labor unions and many inside Boeing, as well as others, are skeptical this will happen, saying “everything” has to “go right” for this to occur.

Replacing fasteners is taking longer than expected and involve more than originally thought. One executive familiar with the situation tells us that there were twice as many incorrectly designed fasteners as thought at one of the industrial partners that had to be replaced.

As for those remaining in the test airplanes, Boeing told us:

“The small number of fasteners that won’t be replaced are 1: not easy to reach AND (not OR) 2: don’t represent a safety of flight issue. They have the ability to withstand the loads and number of cycles expected during the flight test program. They must be repaired before long-term operations begin so they will be replaced during the refurbishment program after flight test.”

Boeing declined to quantify what percentage of fasteners is involved or where they are in the airplane. In confirming that all six test airplanes are involved, Boeing also said that the number of fasteners declines from Airplane 1 through Airplane 6.

“The majority of all discrepant fastener installations on 787s will be repaired prior to the flight test program,” Boeing told us. “A limited number of fastener installations will not repaired prior to flight test but will be repaired during the post-flight test refurbishment program. Analysis has been performed to validate the safety of the airplane for the flight test program.These assessments have been made in accordance with all Boeing and FAA requirements and procedures.”

How important is this? It depends on who you talk to.

Boeing’s engineer union, SPEEA, thinks all the fasteners should be replaced before test flights begin. Two aviation engineers we spoke to have split opinions; neither is employed by Boeing, Airbus or any of their suppliers.

One believes this is no big deal in a test program, on the assumption that engineering validation has been completed and the Federal Aviation Administration signs off. A test pilot we talked to agrees, on the same assumptions.

The second engineer we spoke with has a different view.

“I think would be very stupid of Boeing as it is not just a test aircraft, but is part of the certification aircraft series and would be non-conforming if using temporary fasteners besides any unknown flight test risks. The FAA should or could put a stop to it, by refusing to use it as flight test certification aircraft until conformity requirements are meet.”

8 Comments on “787 test planes to retain temp fasteners

  1. Thanks for some additional news on the 787 which has disappeared from the radar screen lately. Perhaps Wednesday’s quarterly report will update but I doubt it. BA is being very cautious.

    Can anyone weigh in on the issue of test flying with some of the old fasteners. Are there additional risks or disadvantages? Any thoughts on this matter id appreciated

  2. I’m retired from Boeing over a decade ago- but spent way to many years in the Operations/Manufacturing area. from what I’ve seen of the special fasteners, I would expect that the greatest risk/problem will come when they are replaced with the ‘ right’ fastener – since most will require not only an oversized hole, but significant disassembly of structure. Thus rebuilding an airplane to ‘ original specs’ is not trivial and is VERY expensive in time.

    Normally after flight test, a lot of specialized wiring is removed ( usually bright orange in color ) and specialized instrumentation is removed, but usually with minimal structure.

    I had heard months ago that a site in texas was being equipped to do major fastener rework- replacement

    McNearney and clones should be shown the door- either because of incompetence or making significant and material false and misleading statements starting with the rollout.

  3. I would be reluctant to second-guess Boeing on any safety issue related to the non-conforming fasteners.
    What is puzzling here is that each fastener will have to be analysed and one would think that would take as much or more time than wholesale replacement.
    Of course, we don’t know what conditions exist.
    Are the fasteners the wrong strength/spec/finish?
    Or are they the wrong grip?
    Replacing fasteners, even under ideal conditions, is no bargain as the bore hole usually gets messed up on fastener removal and requires an unknown amount of oversizing to remove damage, thus creating a need for an oversize fastener. If I didn’t have to I wouldn’t do it.

  4. When they have only just received sub assemblies for #5 and # 6 has not even been mentioned as far as assembly is concerned, I find it strange that they plan building these with incorrect fasteners.
    In my view it makes this statement appear to be at best a half truth

  5. Articles presented for “official tests” arre required to conform to the proposed type design. I also agree with Fred — removing/replacing fasteners can do substantial damage. The resulting oversized holes do not conform to the print and their future R&R for repairs could cause any excess edge margins to disappear! Scrap one fuselage!
    How many “byes” is the FAA going to grant?
    Now, if the FAA and Boeing want to to do something real good for the environment I propose that all Flight Testing be accomplished in a Flight Simulator. Tey can use the 767 ETOPS and Emergency Evacuation data and Microsoft could produce 1,000 787 Flight Simulator Cds that could be used for the function and Reliability tests at Bellevue High School! NOTE FATIGUE TESTS could be performed in a virtual mode on a Lap Top!

    Good Luck guys, get it in the air – inspite of Hell And High Water.


  6. So they screwed up the 787, tooling and facrtory,its still a mess, cracked stub and all. The 747-8 is in shaky ground and they keep screwing up 777 wing panels. They want to off load what next. McDonnell Douglas has done a nice job on Boeing. Oops forgot is was the strike that caused this mess. They employees will bail them out again for our own sake.

  7. An outsider cannot judge if these fasteners need to be replaced for flight test. But Boeing does admit that they must be replaced before delivery.
    I don’t see how such difficult to access areas will be any easier to access after the flight test program. There is a danger of missing some of them after such a long time.
    It will also most certainly take longer to replace such fasteners after the flight test program but Boeing needs/wants to get these aircraft flying sooner. If they can push back the replacement of these fasteners until after the flight test program, they will do so without hesitation.

    The customers receiving the flight test aircraft will merely have to wait an extra long period for these planes.

  8. Pingback: FAA responds to 787 fastener issue « Leeham News and Comment

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