Damage to Boeing 787 fuselage piece at S.C. plant may delay flight tests
Boeing had pegged Dreamliner No. 4 as a turning point for its delayed 787 jet program. But now the crucial program has been set back by...
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Boeing had pegged Dreamliner No. 4 as a turning point for its delayed 787 jet program. But now the crucial program has been set back by a production problem on this fourth flight-test airplane.
A major mishap inside a Charleston, S.C., assembly plant last week structurally damaged the upper half, or crown section, of Dreamliner No. 4's center fuselage, Boeing confirmed Monday, the day the fuselage was to have been in Everett.
Although a repair was completed Monday, the section remains unfinished and Boeing has not yet rescheduled its delivery. The nose section, which is ready for delivery, is being held in Wichita until the center fuselage is ready.
Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said a revised delivery schedule should be ready in a few days and the impact on the flight-test program will be known then.
All the big pieces of Dreamliner No. 4 had been scheduled to be in Everett on Monday, each more or less complete, so that mechanics could assemble them as planned.
That hadn't been possible on the previous planes because suppliers had sent the sections so incomplete.
Last week's incident happened at the Global Aeronautica plant in Charleston, where big center fuselage pieces from Italy and Japan come together.
An Alenia Aeronautica mechanic damaged the structure while attaching fasteners to the crown of the center fuselage. The mechanic was completing work that should have been done by Alenia in Italy.
Gunter declined to provide further details either of the damage or the repair, although she said the repair was "fairly straightforward."
Jon Ostrower, of Flight International magazine's Flightblogger Web site, who first reported the mishap, cited sources in Charleston saying "incorrect fasteners were improperly installed in the wrong holes causing damage to the composite structure during the join process."
Ostrower reported that each fastener "splintered out the hole," causing the carbon-fiber threads in the composite structure to break out from the plastic resin.
Gunter said the botched job doesn't indicate a significant production problem. "This is someone who did not follow specific instructions on work that needed to be done," she said. "This is not typical or systemic in any way."
Earlier this month, Boeing proudly showed off to the media the 84-foot-long slice of the center fuselage of No. 4 under work in Charleston, with the crown attached.
Most of the work on it at that time was being done either by experienced contractors or by mechanics from the supplier partners in Italy and Japan.
Gunter said Alenia had hired some mechanics locally. Neither she nor an Alenia spokesman knew whether the mechanic who did the damage was experienced or a relatively new hire.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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