Boeing resumes 787 testing (but not, it appears, continuous airborne tests)

Boeing issued the following press release on Christmas Eve Eve. A careful reading of the press release makes it apparent that actual continuous airborne flight testing is not yet ready to resume. This is a one-off flight test.

Here is the press release:

Boeing Resumes 787 Flight Testing

— Interim solution verified through extensive testing

— Schedule assessment expected to conclude in January

EVERETT, Wash., Dec. 23, 2010 – Boeing [NYSE: BA] will resume flight test activities on the 787 Dreamliner later today. The company has installed an interim version of updated power distribution system software and conducted a rigorous set of reviews to confirm the flight readiness of ZA004, the first of the six flight test airplanes that will return to flight.

“Initially, we will resume a series of Boeing tests that remain to be completed in the flight test program. That testing will be followed later by a resumption of certification testing,” said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of the 787 program. Today’s testing will include an intentional deployment of the Ram Air Turbine (RAT), which is a small turbine that is deployed when back-up power is required.

Boeing and Hamilton Sundstrand completed testing of the interim software updates earlier this week. Verification of the system included laboratory testing of standalone components, integration testing with other systems, flight simulator testing and ground-based testing on a flight test airplane.

In the last several weeks, the company continued ground testing as part of the certification program. Additional ground testing will be done by the company on the production version of the airplane to further verify performance of the changes being made.

“As we return to flight test and determine the pace of that activity, we remain focused on developing a new program schedule,” Fancher added. “We expect to complete our assessment of the program schedule in January.”

Flight testing of the 787 was suspended last month following an in-flight electrical incident on a test flight in Laredo, Texas.

10 Comments on “Boeing resumes 787 testing (but not, it appears, continuous airborne tests)

  1. If I understand this correctly, the FAA has not yet accepted the power management system as sufficiently robust for flight. The system was originally signed off before first flight, but its integrity was called into question by the incident at Laredo. This test flight is part of Boeing’s attempts to convince the FAA that the power management system is reliable.

  2. A closer reading of this press release and an article by Jon Ostrower in Flight Global indicates that Boeing will have to completely recreate the power management system.

    Boeing are, it seems, in discussion/dispute with the FAA about whether the final power management system will have to certified before flight tests resume. The article above quotes Boeing: “there are lots of possibilities in front of us regarding conversations on certification testing.” Boeing want to resume certification testing using a modified version of the current system while creating the new version in parallel. The FAA are holding out for the power management system being sorted first, as it should have been before first flight. Boeing are attempting to force the issue.

    • The P100 fire unraveled the certification process quite a bit.
      Would be interesting to know how they got the initial cert
      from the FAA.
      Just on a (then) good name and waving some simulation printouts?

      To my eye the instances of the FAA being too tightly linked to
      home industry interests queue up rather fast in recent years.
      waived Koito seats, Burning Boeing Windshield Heaters, Dreamliner in general,
      .. .

      • Uwe, I don’t think necessarily the FAA are too close to Boeing. At the software testing level, the FAA will be relying on Boeing doing what it said it had done. ie this test checks for a defined behavior under a defined set of circumstances. The testing looks to have failed at a basic level. Did they define the tests incorrectly or did they omit to carry them out? Clearly in the new system they will have to design in the testing in a more rigorous way.

        But you’re right. There will be a real trust issue between Boeing and the FAA now. Boeing are telling the FAA that having got it wrong in the first place we can take a short cut on getting the power management system certified before test flights. Why should the FAA believe them?

    • “A closer reading of this press release and an article by Jon Ostrower in Flight Global indicates that Boeing will have to completely recreate the power management system.”

      Seems to me you are inferring from something which might not exist. I would like you to point out where it even remotely states “completely recreate”….please do tell..

      • From the FB article: “Formal resumption of testing for certification credit, however, remains unclear and Boeing says there are “lots of possibilities in front of us regarding conversations on certification testing” as the restart of testing gets underway.”

        let me translate:
        Boeing: We would like to continue testing…
        FAA: No, we are sorry, but we would like to see a new and complete paper trail before reentering certification ( or even endangering our personel )
        Boeing: But we really want to ..
        FAA: NO
        Boeing: But we wanna! ::stamping foot, defiant sniffeling::
        FAA: NO, NO, goddam get lost!

      • Jacobin, Boeing’s carefully worded press release propagates a particular PR angle; it doesn’t aim to inform. You have to infer the facts yourself. The keyword here is interim. This means the current version of the power distribution system software is (a) not good enough and (b) will be replaced. An interim system could hypothetically be certified if for example the performance wasn’t good enough but otherwise met the certification standards. But this can’t be the case as the system was shown to have failed the safety procedures. Boeing doesn’t imply anywhere that they plan to certify the interim solution. Note where they use the word “verify” and where they use “certify”.

        Software QA only tests what you are looking for, especially on safety critical software. The current software came through the previous certification round effectively untested, demonstrated by the backup systems not kicking in at Laredo. You build in compliance through the design, the coding and testing procedures. I don’t see how Boeing can avoid redesigning and reimplementing the whole thing. This time the FAA will be watching them like a hawk.

        Airbus had to completely redesign the engine control software for the A400M, because it was only compliant with military standards, not civil ones. The 787 power management system isn’t compliant with anything.

      • Nevertheless, I may have to revise my opinion that the FAA were holding out for getting the power management system sorted out before restarting certification testing on other aspects of the planes. Perhaps I was thinking the FAA should do this.

        Anyway, Uresh Sheth reckons certification testing will likely start early next month.

      • FF ( and Jacobin777), the most interesting tidbit is this one:

        ”Boeing says there are “lots of possibilities in front of us regarding conversations on certification testing””

        Keyword is: conversations !!

        Try to envision a scenario that allows to have the press release as “most optimistic expression” of said scenario.

        I may see this unduly negative but it looks like all parts of the certification pertaining to electric distribution and failover collapsed to zero volume. The FAA hasn’t even accepted any planning on how the reinflate this, going probably for a “start fresh at zero” path while Boeing is balking to go there (ref: “conversations”) .

  3. FF :
    Uwe, I don’t think necessarily the FAA are too close to Boeing.

    Hmpf!

    At the software testing level, the FAA will be relying on Boeing doing what it said it had done. ie this test checks for a defined behavior under a defined set of circumstances. The testing looks to have failed at a basic level.

    Boeing has major problems in understanding their (newfangled)tech. They are triggering this kind of trap all over the place. Too many unknown unknowns so to speak.
    Under that assumption my verdict is that they lack grokking depth to be able to devise testing regimes that have sufficient _coverage_ to actually produce meaningfull results.

    Did they define the tests incorrectly or did they omit to carry them out? Clearly in the new system they will have to design in the testing in a more rigorous way.

    As mentioned above that would have deep systems understanding as a prerequisite.
    Which is just not there. Quite obvious: A complete set of toys these kids never got their hands on before, everything is brand new inclusive of a landslide of unexpected interactions and dependencies. This is the major reason why you introduce innovations step by step and the first step usually an introduction in
    a nonsavety relevant position, thus if it goes boom you lost some flashy gimmick but not the whole plane.

    But you’re right. There will be a real trust issue between Boeing and the FAA now. Boeing are telling the FAA that having got it wrong in the first place we can take a short cut on getting the power management system certified before test flights. Why should the FAA believe them?

    The much more interesting question is how could the FAA every proceed into a position where they do not have the competence and/or interest to valuate the
    vendor qualification. Looks like the FAA stumbled into the same trap. Territory they have never put a foot in and no own experience. This is pretty gaga imho.
    frightening actually.

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