747-8 engineer nominated for top honors

Dominic Gates of The Seattle Times has this piece that describes the honor Boeing engineer Pio Fitzgerald has been nominated for at the Dubai Air Show for his design fixing the flutter problem on the Boeing 747-8 that threatened the entire program.

Fitzgerald is just 34 years old. Gates’ story provides an interesting if short bio of this talented man.

Congratulations to Fitz for the nomination. The winner will be honored by Flight Global.

17 Comments on “747-8 engineer nominated for top honors

  1. Good stuff, but not unlike Lockheed L1011-500 Active Control System, circa 1978.

  2. Seriously, he’s getting an award for engineering something that airbus have had flying for 15-20 years? Seriously..

    • But he is an american citizen, man!

      I don’t think Airbus used their computerised infrastructure to work around a flap like this.

      Load alleviation, airfoil shape, stuff like that. designed in from the start.

      Imho Boeing is one step nearer to the cascading “quick fixes” of commercial software design and it is one step further to certification of unaugmented unstable designs.
      No idea if this is a good thing (TM) or not.

  3. Seriously flapjack, the fix to the B-747-8 had nothing to do with anything Airbus has been flying for 15-20 years. IIRC, Boeing applied for a patent for the fix.

    • I don’t think that will work out to a valid and enforcable patent.

      I know of at least one application in robotics ( compensating a
      robotic arms lack of structural stiffness ) that I would judge to
      be prior art from the early 90ties. Electronic stability control for
      cars works in about the same way.
      From my vantage as an electrical engineer : it is a well known
      solution to a well known issue.
      The problem imho is that in a critical moment of flight ( loosing the
      augmentation ) you are additionally saddled with wrangling
      a “flapping bird”.

      Good reasons around why we don’t have inherently unstable designs
      that need active control in airline service.

    • Indeed, applying for a patent is cheap, looks good at year end and does not warrant anything in the long run.

      The aim is just to protect its market and at worst to poison competition.

  4. Nice story. It looks like NASA’s Langey Research Center has been working in this area for some time. The first production implementation of a flutter suppression system using just software and existing control mechanisms seems to be on the F18 Hornet plane. I am sure each plane has a different set of challenges though.

  5. I remember sitting in an A330 watching the ailerons doing their little dance keeping the flight smooth in about 2001 thinking neat trick! Its essentially a feedback stability loop, the same thing as the 747-8 fix and the same thing unstable millitary aircraft have been doing for years too, the only difference here is that the 747-8s wings were flapping. Boeing are claim jumping and patent trolling.

  6. And back slapping for solving a problem that they shouldn’t have had in the first place. They are trying to turn an engineering disaster into a PR triumph.

    • You’ve got to be good at “something” 😉

      Actually being good at PR is a lot cheaper than
      a hard engineering effort.

  7. The B-747-8 has a new wing when compared to the earlier versions of the B-747. It is also longer. The flutter problem was only at or near approach speeds and at a specific flap setting. The flutter was caused by either the main landing gear follow up doors, or the body landing gear follow doors, I forgot which doors were the problem. IIRC, the fix was adjustments to the flap hardware settings as well as software and some other fixes. IIRC the flutter was discovered early into the flight testing of the B-747-8F, and was not found in computer flight simulations or in wind tunnel testing. The fix was accepted by both the EASA and the FAA, and the B-747-8F was eventually certified.

    I cannot comment of the A-330 flutter issue, or how Airbus addressed it. I am not up to speed on it. Nor do I see any connection between the A-330 flutter issue and the B-747-8 flutter issue.

  8. And what’s wrong with a bit of PR when it comes to aircraft building? Everyone needs it sometimes. 🙂
    Congratulations to Pio and his team on a good job. That’s what engineering is all about. You cannot predict everything but when required you can step in and provide a solution to the problem and help your company to certify and deliver the plane. Amazingly I studied with him in my university years and his record speaks for itself. Good luck to him.

    Aileron is a very powerful instrument when it comes to the flight control. As a side note Airbus changed Flight Control Law of the aileron to uncouple an outter wing and fwd fuselage modes by applying the same solution to a problem they saw on the A346. Ahhh, the joys of digital FBW 🙂
    As I said… you cannot predict everything.

    flapjack :
    I remember sitting in an A330 watching the ailerons doing their little dance keeping the flight smooth in about 2001 thinking neat trick!

    Back in those years they were keeping the wing loads low(er), not improving comfort. A recent evolution of the control law resulted in CIT (Comfort In Turbulence).
    http://www.oaviao.com/pesquisa_codigo_empresas/manuais_voo/performance_airbus/FBW.html

    Airbus has an amazing bunch of aircraft in the LR family.

    • Nothing against a bit of PR and work done well.
      Nonetheless is strongly reminded me about some particulars in the GDR : “Held der Arbeit”
      “Planübererfüllung” and other newsbites from that Socialist System.

      The link is an interesting read.

  9. I do not believe we should mix up gust alleviation with flutter control.
    What Lockheed and Airbus did was to control the impact of gust impacts, and they did it particularly well, especially Lockheed who did it before the days of very high speed computers and the inherent benefits thereof.

    The Boeing answer to flutter, which certainly should not have been an issue in the first place, represents a relatively cheap solution. but possibly with issues which could surface over time.

    The ailerons and actuators are certainly going to have a much higher work load than originally envisaged, with attendant wear rates.

    The other issue IMHO is that for flutter control, surely some initial flutter must occur to initiate the control?

    What could be the long term influence of this is open to conjecture, but I am not sure that flutter forms part of the fatigue equation?

  10. The guy is obviously a bright rising star. I see no reason to dump on his achievement (not just because we both went to the same university). He fixed a serious problem, and he did it well and with style. The award is obviously not just for the fix, but for the whole software solution, which preserved the handling characteristics of the 747-400. So congrats to him. It’s people like him who keep making flying safer. Considering the time I spend in planes, that means a lot to me.

    • Hey, look he clearly got the job done and pulled peoples ar$es out of the fire, he should be commended for this but an international award for it smacks of PR.

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