Boeing exec says 787 handled onboard fire 'extremely well'
As Boeing halted 787 test flights to determine the origins of Tuesday's in-flight fire, a Dreamliner executive called it "a serious event."
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Tuesday's in-flight fire on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner test airplane was "serious," but the airplane's systems handled the disruption of electrical power as they were designed to and the pilots never lost control, Boeing said Wednesday.
In an interview at the Everett assembly plant, 787 program Vice President Scott Fancher said it's too early to know if the incident will cause more delays to the 787 program. The plane is already almost three years late entering service.
"We consider this a serious event. We've not seen a failure like this on 787 before," he said.
Flight tests will not resume on any of the six test Dreamliners until the problem is identified and corrected, Fancher said.
"If it takes hours or days, it takes what it takes to do it right," Fancher said. "That's what our teams are focused on: doing it right."
There were 42 people aboard, including flight technicians monitoring computer work stations in the passenger cabin, when the fire was first detected at about 1,000 feet on the approach to landing in Laredo, Texas.
The electrical fire affected the systems in the cockpit, but Fancher said there was only "flickering" on the flight-deck displays before backup power restored critical control to the pilots.
"Power systems were disrupted. The airplane responded to the disruptions in the manner we would have expected and the pilots continued to complete the landing," Fancher said.
"The feedback we got from the pilots is that the airplane continued to handle extremely well," he said. "At no time did the pilots lack critical flight information necessary to safely fly the airplane."
Fancher said the plane "is designed to handle failures" and continue operating safely. "The data we have to date suggests that's in fact how the airplane reacted."
Fancher said the fire was "in a contained area" within the rear electrical-equipment bay that is below the passenger floor behind the wing.
The fire centered on a power-control panel, which Boeing said will need to be replaced. Engineers are "inspecting the power panel and surrounding area near that panel to determine if other repairs will be necessary," Boeing said in a statement.
The electrical-equipment bay contains various electrical control panels, including two main panels that control the distribution of power to the systems in the airplane. Boeing did not say which panel was destroyed in the fire.
During the emergency, a small dynamolike device called a Ram Air Turbine deployed automatically; its function is to generate power from the air flow past the jet.
Fancher said the turbine's activation does "not necessarily" mean that all other power was lost.
Data from the flight were sent to Seattle. Meanwhile, Boeing has sent engineers to Laredo to examine the airplane. Fancher said the incident is part of the dangerous and unpredictable work of flight testing.
"Flight testing is a hazardous process," he said. "You do have events occur in flight test, up to and including the loss of aircraft."
"Having this issue occur is very consistent with a flight-test program," Fancher said. "It's not a walk in the park."
After he spoke to reporters, a brief tour of the 787 assembly line showed evidence of the production problems that also are afflicting the program.
Of the four Dreamliners lined up in the four assembly stations, the one nearest the exit door, an Air India jet, was missing its horizontal tail.
Alenia of Italy is struggling to deliver the horizontal tails it supplies, and the parts it already has delivered have to be reworked.
All the planes in the assembly line were missing their passenger doors, supplied by Latécoère of France, another troubled supplier.
In a fenced-off area beside the assembly line, 16 passenger doors sat on stands as two mechanics worked on a couple. On the fence, a sign read: "Latécoère door-rework area."
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or email@example.com
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.