Sunday, July 31, 2011

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner at #OSH11

Friday 29th July saw the first public appearance of the prototype 787 Dreamliner (ZA001) at Oshkosh. Boeing's newest airliner was first glimpsed circling in a holding pattern to the west of the airfield, before running in for a flyby. The aircraft made for an incredibly elegant sight; her wings gently bowed in a dihedral. The wings taper and curve into a swept-up tip, rather than using the vertical winglets seen in recent years.

As she passed overhead, the massive size of the engines became apparent, as well as the fact they made almost no noise. This aircraft is whisper-quiet.

She made a graceful right turn into the downwind for landing, with the flexed wing shape becoming obvious as she turned away from the crowd. Upon landing, the wings return to a straight line as the weight is taken by the undercarriage.

This is the first 787 Boeing produced, and as such is a test aircraft; one of seven in the Boeing fleet. This 787 is an Experimental aircraft, just like every homebuilt aircraft at Oshkosh. All the Boeing staff on board are EAA members and were very enthusiastic about attending the show.

I was lucky enough to attend the media tour as part of the MyTransponder group, and therefore was able to get on board ahead of the monster crowd that had gathered to look inside. It was estimated that three thousand people were clustered around the airplane.

The first thing that had caught my attention was the cone dangling from the tail. It streams out behind the aircraft at speed, like a mini drogue chute. Upon boarding the aircraft at the tail end door, we were greeted by the sight of a reel of cable. This cable allows the cone to extend 150 feet behind the aircraft. It contains a pressure sensor, which allows engineers to detect the static air pressure outside with great accuracy.

The interior is lined on both sides by many black barrels. These contain water and are linked together. They provide ballast in lieu of passengers, and the water can be shunted around the aircraft to provide differing centers of gravity. They can also use the water as a heat dump, when things get too warm; when testing in hot climates, for example. The whole system becomes one big heat exchanger.

There are many racks of computers, connected to the massive array of sensors around the aircraft. The interior is in a very unfinished state, allowing access to the many segments of wiring and cabling around the fuselage. You need to watch your step in here.

The media tour was running a little behind schedule, so we had only moments to look in the cockpit, but it was very obvious that this is an aircraft of the modern age, with not a steam dial to be seen anywhere. Large electronic displays are the order of the day, with the whole panel looking very clean and packed with information.

We had one more chance to see the Dreamliner fly; she was only staying for the day and left at the end of the air show. As the airspeed and wing loading increased, those long wings took on their curved flying shape and the Dreamliner lifted off. She gave us a wing wave as she ascended into the bright Wisconsin sky, and took her leave of Oshkosh.

Finally, here is another timelapse video of the crowds around the Dreamliner as it sits on Conoco Philips Plaza at Oshkosh.

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