Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A tour of the Dreamliner


I was invited on a guest tour of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, parked at Reagan National Airport as part of a multiple-stop promotional tour. They didn't have to ask me twice. 

This particular 787, the third to come off the assembly line, was built for certification testing and demonstration. (Deliveries were delayed by several years, but began last year; I think Japan's All Nippon Airways is the only airline currently using it in commercial service. Another 800-some orders are booked.)

It's by no means the biggest airliner, but impressive from the outside -- possibly because those of us in the tour group entered by walking outdoors on a fenced-in path to airstairs, rather than going through the usual jetbridge. As a result we had a full view rather than the tiny glimpse you get entering an airplane cabin from the jetbridge.

I paused to look, much closer than a passenger normally can view it, at the left engine. Again, not the world's largest, but quite the monster. A Rolls-Royce Trent 1000, 70,000 pounds thrust and 20 percent more fuel-efficient than the 767's engines. The nacelle (the engine's outer covering) ends in a pleasingly scalloped edge, which is said to reduce noise.

Normally I am irritatingly immune to being dazzled by technical marvels, but the sight did penetrate my defenses. The engine, and its twin on the right wing, can carry a giant aircraft and 250 people from (for example) Washington to Honolulu nonstop. A secular miracle.


Our tour group was led through the length of the plane's interior. We were not, understandably, allowed to enter the cockpit but could peek into it. It was a typical modern "glass" cockpit with the usual computer monitor displays, but I was interested to see a pink "window" between the captain's seat and the airplane windshield. (I'm sure one is available to the first officer when the FO is the pilot flying a segment.) This is a "head-up display," which conveys the critical flight information to the pilot in a see-through view, allowing an instrument scan without having to look down and away from the outside.

Another display I hadn't seen before: one screen had a "moving map" of the airport, the position of the ship shown on a diagram of the taxiways and runways. When the airplane is moving through the airport before takeoff or after landing, the map changes like a GPS monitor (which I guess it is) to show its location.

We were allowed into the crew rest quarters, something I'd never visited. On long-haul trips, a relief crew accompanies the original crew and flight crewmembers can use the space for sleep or rest. It is not luxurious. You couldn't stand up in it. Not for those with an allergy to confined spaces. (There's another, for cabin crewmembers, aft of the passenger cabin.)


You've probably read about the trippy lighting effects in the cabin. The overhead lights are LEDs in multiple colors, capable of producing individually or in combination various "mood" effects. This is a welcome development: more atmospheric and softer than the harsh white glare of traditional airliner cabins.

The windows are terrific. They're quite a bit larger than on other planes, which offers a better view and I imagine reduces the feeling of confinement during flight. The electronic "window shades" are operated by pushing a button. You can select between clear and "closed" as the window modulates through gradations of green -- it can go dark but is never entirely opaque. About one minute is needed to go from one extreme of translucence to the other. Maybe it's no big deal once the novelty wears off, but the plus-size windows are definitely an asset.

The demo 787 had sample seats in the business class cabin (no first class) and the economy class cabin. In-flight entertainment systems are constantly getting fancier, but don't expect more room if you fly economy in the Dreamliner. The same economics will apply. Seating configurations (determined by the airline, not Boeing) will be designed to put as many bodies as possible in the space allotted. Wider aisles? Don't be ridiculous.

I've never flown in business class on a long-haul flight. I spent a few moments in a Dreamliner business class seat, or maybe chair is a better word, savoring the experience. I may not have it again.


1 comment:

YIH said...

Despite the trouble Boeing had developing it, seems to be impressive. And 20% better fuel efficiency is nothing to sneeze at.
BTW, today is the 75th anniversary of SPAM (no, the sorta, kinda, something like meat product).
The other kind such as the lighting fixture company comment came much later.
Remember when people associated SPAM with food? Me neither.