Pontifications: “Troubled” 787 is a thing of the past

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Hamilton ATR

By Scott Hamilton

Aug. 29, 2016, © Leeham Co.: Faulty engines dominated commercial aviation news last week.

First was ANA’s Boeing 787s were hit by issues with its Rolls-Royce engines. Corrosion was found on key engine parts. ANA cancelled flights to inspect and repair the engines.

Unfortunately, some media characterized the matter as the “latest” to hit the “troubled” 787. The London Telegraph is one example.

This characterization, of course, refers to the history of the 787 with its design and production challenges and later by the grounding from the lithium-ion battery fires.

The design and production issues are old news by now. These were long-running and badly hurt the company financially and with its reputation. But today the production is going smoothly, albeit with occasional complaints we hear about quality control. The latter, however, is no different than the QC complaints we hear about Airbus production on the A350 and even the A320ceo.

The battery issues are behind Boeing, too.

That ANA’s 787s have some engine issues is simply part of aviation. GEnx engines on the 787 also have had technical issues, as have the virtually identical engine on the 747-8. GE90 engines have had problems on the 777.

The 787 has a solid record of in-service performance today. The engine issues have nothing to do with what dogged the program previously. The characterization and link by some media was unfair.

Southwest’s incident

Southwest Airlines uncontained engine failure last week. No injuries resulted. Wall Street Journal photo via Google images.

Southwest Airlines uncontained engine failure last week. No injuries resulted. Wall Street Journal photo via Google images.

Southwest’s uncontained engine failure last week was an event that had clear safety implications. Any uncontained failure does.

In this case, parts of the front of the CFM56 penetrated the fuselage, resulting in a depressurization. Noone was injured. Parts from the engine also damaged the wing.

The event is very rare for this engine type. The CFM56 is one of the most reliable, if not the most reliable engine in commercial aviation. The engines routinely last 25,000 hours before removal from the wing is required for heavy maintenance.

Rare events

It’s also very rare, period. And when it happens, the results are sometimes spectacular.

British Airways Boeing 777 on fire in Las Vegas after an uncontained engine failure. Photo via Google images.

British Airways Boeing 777 on fire in Las Vegas after an uncontained engine failure. Photo via Google images.

The British Airways Boeing 777 uncontained failure at Las Vegas happened on the ground. The plane caught fire, passengers evacuated but other than the usual evac injuries, none of the passengers were hurt by the engine failure itself.

Qantas Airways flight 32, an Airbus A380, had just taken off from Singapore when one of its four Rolls-Royce engines blew up. Parts penetrated the wing, but not the cabin. The flying skills of the pilot prevented the failure from becoming a loss of the aircraft.


38 Comments on “Pontifications: “Troubled” 787 is a thing of the past

  1. To me the SWA 737 engine appears to have its engine nacelle from the front lip up to bulkhead just before the fan ripped off. The only thing with that much energy would be all or part of the front fan but its largely intact in the photos.

  2. To me it would seem to make sense to line the cabin area most likely to be penetrated by an uncontained failure with Kevlar.I suppose the airlines would scream bloody murder about the weight penalty for such an unlikely event.
    Probably the most famous (infamous) uncontained engine failure was the DC-10 United #232 that crash landed in Sioux City.

  3. Engine reliability is much, much better today than before. Reading between the lines, RR got the durability and reliability of the HPT right but the IPT wrong. Equally, RR knew about it for they will be ready with a new IPT at the beginning of next year.

    GE also had issues with corrosion on GenX shafts causing them to revert to the previous material

    • GE issue was odd in that they changed the material as part of industrialization and it was a bust. I believe it was a coating.

      Good news was it did not take more than a very short engine run time. It would have been far less a good thing in the air, it just shed the rear turbine on the ground on a high speed taxi as I recall.

      Certainly one of the all time bad material calls,.

      Also put a lie to the test process, they keep changing the engine after its been certified. What can go wrong?

  4. A close look at the foto tells us that it is the nacelle fan cowl section that failed. This is not an uncontained engine rotor failure (UERF).

  5. Doesn’t look like an uncontained engine failure to me on the SWA flight. Looks like an unqualified success of the CFM engine to keep on trucking after a nacelle failure.

    • Rumours on the Web now suggest engine lost a fan blade.Officially it’s called an uncontained failure, I don’t think they would say that without good reason . I, like most amateurs probably, find it hard to see how the damage can be forward of the fan, most interesting. The picture shows how surprisingly chunky the cowling is.

  6. There must be a journalism template book that they are obliged to consult before writing anything about aviation. It must be obvious that simply looking up the previous unrelated history on Wikipedia doesn’t make any sense, but they do it every time. Even more ridiculous is when a plane crashes any where near a built up area,the pilot must of died heroically trying to avoid a school or hospital. Despite medals being awarded for this, it has probably never happened. Pilots usually crash because they either don’t know what they are doing or have lost the ability to control the plane.

    • Too true. Pilots often crash into things trying to save their lives (freeway landing) when they then kill innocent people on the ground.

  7. It appears that the nose cowl was ripped from the engine. Perhaps it was not attached properly and the aerodynamic forces broke it loose; or maybe it was simply a composite material failure. This piece (nose cowl) is not part of the engine as such. It is a fixed accessory that guides the flow of air to the engine fan, which appears to be still intact.

    Normally in what we call an uncontained engine failure it is a rotating part that fails, like a fan blade/disk, a compressor blade/disk or a turbine blade/disk. The failure becomes catastrophic when it causes a chain reaction and the rotational speed of the engine sends shrapnel in all directions and pierce the engine armour: that is when it becomes an uncontained failure. Modern engines are designed to contain such failures, especially fan blade failures (the deadliest ones); but in some cases high-velocity parts can still exit the engine and enter the cabin on a tangential trajectory.

    Apparently when this nose cowl failed pieces of it punctured the fuselage, which caused a rapid decompression of the cabin. But the likelihood that a piece would have entered the cabin and seriously injure a passenger was slim, because of the nature of the debris and the fact that they would come from a non-rotating part.

  8. A380 Uncontained Engine Failure:

    I offer an alternative to the A380.

    Rather than brilliant piloting it looked to me that the pilots attempted to deal with all the alarms that showed up rather than assess the core issue and land the aircraft immediately.

    One critical item that is overlooked is they tried to keep the auto pilot engaged when it kept rejecting and disconnecting.

    I have yet to see an assessment of what that does to the control laws.

    You have massive damage, an uncontrolled engine running and you trust an auto pilot to fly the aircraft?

    Finally at 1500 ft on it last disconnect they left it off and landed by hand.

    With all that damage and unknown, the computers could have done anything form a dive to a barrel roll.

    If there was one lesson from the Swiss Air MD11 crash (fire) if there is fire or damage, put it down, if you have to ditch do it.

    And yes I saw one of those when I was a kid. DC-6 off Biorka Island, if you had a run away engine they were told to put it down.

    In that case it was an almost unheard of mill pond calm day and all survived.

      • Sit News: “Both jets were DC-7s belonging to what was then Northwest Orient Airlines. The DC-7C was one of the last four-engine propeller jets.”

        The DC-7 can hardly be called a jet. It’s not even a turboprop!

        • thysi/Normand:

          Sorry, bad memory on the plane numbers, yes DC-7 (could be 6 as that article is seriously flawed as noted by Norman)

          1. If Annete CG Station had helicopers I did not know about it.

          2. Annette is some 140 miles SE of Sitka.

          3. There was no helicopter, I was standing on the beach that day (facing Sitka the ditching took place to the right of the mouth of Symonds the bay the housing was on)
          I believe the only Helicopters in AK at that time were maybe a Bell or two and the contingent at Ft. Rich.

          4. Injury was a woman with a crushed foot when the CG forced the passenger off the Fedair (FAA seiner type support vessel out of Sitka) that reached the crash first and got all off.

          5. Seas were calm, incredibly so.

          6. Wow, would not recognize it if I had not been there (my dad assisted Biorka Island CG personal in bringing in the life raft to the bay to remove them as a hazard and false report by others)

          7. I believe it was one engine and a run away. DC-7 lost on the way to Hawaii, recommendation when it disappeared was to ditch if engine ran away.

          8. Not mentioned was the loss of an attaché carrying some kind of secret documents. Courier had it strapped to his wrist leaving McCord, not on arrival at Sitka.

          9. CG personal at Birorka Loran Station came boiling over the hill about 8pm the evening of the crash armed to the teeth searching the beached life rafts and a search was done of shorelines of Biorka nd all surrounding Islands for weeks afterwards.

  9. It is quite common for 2nd stg HPT blades to get sulphatic corrosion attacks mainly from ingested salt in ingested sand or ocean sea mist. For some reason the temp is right there. The Spey engine for the Nimrod and the CF6-6 that became the LM2500 got all the necessary treatments as well as the PW4000’s after some incidents. Sometimes the manufacturer only do the Pt-Al diffusion coating on the first stage blades and hope other cheaper treatments will be enough for later stages hollow turbine blades.

    • Should not happen in this day and age.

      Still its an engine problem not a 787 problem.

      It will be interesting to see how engines move forward, P&W has had their problems with the GTF (though the mounting style was more an Airbus approached that P&W did not catch as the C did not use it)

      GE has had their share

      So what happens with the latest new ones?

    • Yes does indicate the centre line refueling was Ok and wing refueling issues needed a fix.
      As for the helicopters, it doesnt seem that has been tested yet, but I presume it can slow down – that was one of the features of the new drogues, having variable drag to work for fast or slow.
      The overall speed of the 767 wouldnt be greater than planes of a much earlier era. As a rule the more highly swept the wing the higher the cruising speed, which was always the 747s advantage over the slower big twins which followed.

    • did you actually read the article?

      this was incorporated in the design from 2014 and was on the first WARP test flight in 2015. they explicitly state the delay is due to FAA paperwork, not this patent.

      refueling a helicopter is not part of the KC-46’s role (and never has been). they use KC-130s for that. the hoses and drogues on the KC-46 are for Navy and Allied aircraft without boom receptacles.

      approach speed on a 767 is about 145 knots, most helicopters max out well below that.

        • yes, you can use hose and drogue with helicopters, but there is no requirement for the KC-46 to support helicopter refueling. fixed wing yes(threshold), V-22’s yes(objective), helicopters no.

          direct from the KC-X requirements document:
 The aircraft shall be capable of aerial refueling all current USAF tanker compatible fixed wing receiver aircraft using current USAF procedures with no modification to existing receiver aerial refueling equipment and no degradation to the receiver aircraft refueling capability, including after-body effects for wide-body aircraft and fuel temperature, and in accordance with international standards (e.g., Standard Agreement (STANAG) 3971 and STANAG 3447), and taking into account established technical guidance (e.g., MIL-A-87166, JSSG 2009) (THRESHOLD, KPP #1).
 The aircraft should be capable of aerial refueling all current USAF tanker compatible tilt rotor receiver aircraft using above criteria (OBJECTIVE, KPP #1).

          • It flat says that it is a helicopter refuel requirement.

            You are simply wrong.

          • Bilbo:

            These capability gains are vital to the tanker mission in support of Global Reach and Global Power providing the U.S. military the ability to extend the range of aircraft to respond wherever it’s called to duty. This tanker will be able to refuel any fixed wing aircraft or helicopter in the DoD fleet, while being able to take on fuel itself,” said Col. Christopher Coombs, KC-46 System Program Manager.

  10. The case of the B787 is the fact that Boeing elected to use the moniker “Dreamliner”. It is like parents naming their child “Georgous” or “Clever”. You set the poor child up for being bullied.

    I flew a few legs in a B787 and I did notice the more humid air inside and it was very welcome. But, that was it. There was nothing else to commend it from a passenger view. I can say that the Qatar flights I used were abominations due to the tiny seats and no legroom.
    By comparison, the same airline’s A330’s were luxurious by comparison. (I do not blame Boeing, it is the airline’s fault).

    So I have to ask – why the hype? Simply calling it the 787 would eliminate any expectation and so it would not disappoint.

  11. Back to the rechargeable batteries: does Boeing still puts them inside a boom box with a vent to the outside or are the batteries are now “safe” without the case?

    • We must assume that they still put them inside a box because the airplane has been re-certified this way. Otherwise Boeing would have to certify the system again and we would certainly hear about it. And I have no reason to believe that this was a temporary measure. Now that we know what this type of battery can do if something goes wrong, we must take special measures to ensure safe ETOP flights. And since this type of battery is also available as an option on the A350 I would be curious to find out what kind of safety measures has been taken by Airbus to prevent a thermal runaway, or to control it if it occurs.

      • No assumption, they absolutely totally ireeovi8al are in a case with vents.

        However, if you actually follow the battery investigation, one of the items of extreme shame (can you say Takata?) to Japan is the filthy conditions that the batteries were being made in. Said batteries require a clean room environment.

        So much for the much touted Japanese quality control without someone forcing them to do it right.

        90% of the batteries were allowed, for that type of battery 60% success rate is normal.

        They also were hand beating into shape part of the battery metal parts inside.

        Said beating had erratic at best quality and was totally inconsistent outcome.

        The case is needed as there are no guarantees for that type of battery, but the quality control was an abomination and was what caused them for flame up.

    • The engine companies never gloat, its tempting fate. That said the Quantas failure was caused by a piece of work that a 2nd rate third world plumber would be ashamed of

      • I agree, but some are touting RR as the next coming of engines and I was doing a bit of naner nanner.

        Both make good products, both have problems (as does P&W) and you hope they work them out.

        That CF6 blisk blowup on the Sioux City DC-10 should never have happened.

        Trying to blow a wing off an A380 should not happen.

  12. ANA is now talking 100 engines to be replaced.

    That is 50 aircraft and very serious.

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