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(Super)Sonic Cruiser Technology Process Update
FARNBOROUGH, United Kingdom,
July 24, 2002 -- At the Farnborough Air Show today, Walt Gillette, vice
president and program manager for the Boeing Sonic Cruiser, outlined the
progress being made on five technology fronts as Boeing [NYSE:BA] continues
to focus on this major product-development effort.
"We are making very good progress on the fundamentals required to create the
Sonic Cruiser," Gillette said. "These fundamentals involve the technology
needed for the airplane, the processes needed to create the airplane, and
the basic configuration exploration activities necessary to reveal the very
best shape for the airplane."
The Sonic Cruiser airplane concept was unveiled in March last year. The
airplane would have a dramatic new configuration and would be designed to
fly as fast as Mach 0.98, shortening travel times with fuel efficiency per
passenger comparable to today's best performing widebody twinjets. As part
of the normal product development process Boeing also has developed two
other alternative applications of the technology being used on the Sonic
Cruiser and is asking for airline input.
Gillette characterized the current phase of development as a
"learning" phase and said that progress is measured by how fast the team is
learning about the technologies, tools and processes that will allow it to
create an all-new class of flying machines.
Configuration Technology Progress
Advancements in computational fluid dynamics (CFD), the computer coding used
to evaluate and develop the aerodynamic flows of structure, have been
instrumental in allowing rapid learning on the Sonic Cruiser program.
Gillette noted that a second round of wind tunnel tests continues to verify
that the CFD coding is predicting performance to within 1 percent.
"That means we can do a lot of learning before we ever get to the wind
tunnel," he said. "We've looked at more than 25 wing planforms, 50 nacelle
shapes and 60 fuselage designs in the past 16 months. We could never have
done that on earlier programs."
Materials Technology Progress
The discussion concerning the primary materials for the Sonic Cruiser
continues, according to Gillette. The current design assumes that the new
airplane will be about 60 percent composite material.
Boeing has built a test fuselage section to examine both the build process
and the material properties of one of the proposed composite materials. The
20-foot long section is being used to test installation techniques,
durability and repairability.
"Competition is a wonderful thing," Gillette said. "As soon as we started
talking about this being a mostly composite airplane we began to get very
interesting proposals from the aluminum manufacturers regarding new alloys
with better properties and economics. We are looking at those proposals and
evaluating what will be best for the airplane. At this phase of development,
we aren't ready to make a decision about materials and that lets us keep an
open mind and evaluate all the possibilities to find the best answer."
Manufacturing Technology Progress
Manufacturing experts are already at work on the Sonic Cruiser program,
helping engineers understand how their very early choices can improve the
way the airplane is eventually built. Boeing has demonstrated considerable
progress in applying new manufacturing techniques and concepts to
dramatically improve the way its current models are built. Gillette said
such progress will be a foundation for ensuring the efficiency of the Sonic
Cruiser build process.
One example offered was the application of the Lean Manufacturing technique
of a moving line.
"Boeing has been able to reduce production time by half on one of its
production lines through the introduction of the moving line," Gillette
said. "The improvements are continuing. Even if we assume a very
conservative rate for the continuation of improvements, we can expect that
by the time we start building our airplane we will have significantly
improved the efficiency of our build process."
Systems Technology Progress
The focus of Sonic Cruiser systems work is primarily on better generation
and use of energy for the airplane.
The Sonic Cruiser is likely to be a "more-electric" airplane,
according to Gillette. He noted that some systems traditionally powered by
engine bleed air could be powered by electricity on the Sonic Cruiser
allowing the engines to be more efficient.
In addition, there is a strong emphasis on designing a flight deck that will
increase the pilots' situational awareness through enhanced avionics and
on-board computers. Passengers also will benefit from advanced systems with
a better cabin environment and improved in-flight entertainment options.
Environmental Technology Progress
Fuel usage, noise levels and emissions are key environmental performance
measures for any commercial airplane. The Sonic Cruiser, thanks to advanced
technologies and its revolutionary configuration, will perform well in all
Though it has a 15 to 20 percent speed advantage over conventional
airplanes, the Sonic Cruiser will use about the same amount of fuel per
passenger as today's widebody twinjet airplanes.
The noise footprint of the new airplane will be about 30 percent smaller
than the 767, which carries a similar payload. New noise regulations likely
will be in place before the Sonic Cruiser would enter service in 2008. While
these standards have yet to be set, Boeing analysis shows the Sonic Cruiser
will be even quieter than the regulations require.
The Sonic Cruiser also would utilize the best available technology to give
low emissions of oxides of nitrogen, hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide.
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