Second 787 returned to Everett to clear debris from fuel tank
Boeing said Thursday that before its 787 Dreamliner No. 2 jet can resume flight testing it must have its fuel tanks cleaned out in Everett after "small amounts of debris" were found inside the tanks.
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Boeing's 787 Dreamliner No. 2, on the ground at Boeing Field for more than three weeks, returned to Everett on Thursday after "small amounts of debris" were found inside its fuel tanks.
Flight tests can't resume until the tanks are cleaned out.
Boeing spokesman Scott Lefeber said the cleaning is expected to be completed "pretty quickly," though he would not be more specific.
He described the debris as "particulates" left in the tank. "We've refined the manufacturing inspections to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.
Thursday's return to Everett was the second Dreamliner's only flight since the jet first flew Dec. 22.
By contrast, Dreamliner No. 1 has been flying almost every day since Christmas, and Boeing flight-test chief Dennis O'Donoghue told Bloomberg News the entire test program is going well.
"We have been so happy with the progress we've made with the 787, I'm almost giddy," he said.
"The airplane is in tremendously good condition for this stage of the program. The number of squawks has been really low. Systems software maturity is there. Nothing's breaking," he added.
O'Donoghue said mechanics had to replace an instrument panel on the first plane and a cracked windshield on the second but called those "really minor things for a test program."
The second Dreamliner's first flight was marked by several landing-gear glitches. A chase plane monitoring the flight reported a landing-gear support strut appeared not to have deployed properly during part of the flight, and the airplane landed at Boeing Field with the main landing-gear doors wide open, almost touching the runway.
Lefeber said Dreamliner No. 2's long layover was not caused by discovery of the fuel-tank debris, or by the landing-gear issues.
He said the plan had been to keep the plane grounded for this extended period, performing ground tests while new instrumentation was installed.
"This minor debris was not the cause of it being on the ground," he said. Boeing declined to comment on what specific debris was found.
Material left inside the structure of an airplane during manufacturing is a well-known hazard. Prominent signs around Boeing assembly lines remind workers to be careful not to leave behind any "FOD" — Foreign Object Debris.
One Boeing employee said Thursday that "small chips and shavings and whatnot" commonly collect in the fuel-tank filtration system of a new airplane.
Another employee said people working on Dreamliner No. 2 told him mechanics had left behind small objects in the fuel tanks, including "earplugs and plastic tube caps."
Flight International magazine, citing sources working on the program, reported on its Web site that a cheesecloth rag was among the foreign objects left.
Items like that could have been dropped during the original assembly or during the modification work done inside the tanks last fall to reinforce the area near where the wings join the fuselage body.
"It was itty-bitty pieces of junk. It didn't present a big problem. There's a good filtration system," said the second Boeing worker. "But, hey, it's not supposed to be there. We'll clean out the traps where the system is designed to catch foreign matter."
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or email@example.com
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