2007/07/11

The 787 - Beautiful! Revolutionary! Troubling?

Boeing rolled this baby out on Sunday 7/8/07, the company's first new jet in 12 years, and it now seems obvious why this plane has over 600 confirmed orders before it's even taken to the skies. It's gorgeous!


This my friends is 'the Airbus killer'. A plane that shows that Boeing understands the needs of their market far better than their European competitor. "Why?" you may ask. Well read on...

Beautiful! - This plane is like the cover of an old sci-fi periodical announcing "The Future!". The sloped nose; flush windows; wings swept up and back like a majestic bird. We haven't seen a airliner this magnificent since the de Havilland Comet. And unlike the 747 and A380--both of which make you wonder how they even get off the ground--the Dreamliner actually looks like it belongs in the air.

Revolutionary! - This is the jet that literally dozens of airlines have been waiting for--medium capacity but able to fly the world's longest air routes. Through the use of carbon composites in the fuselage, this jet will use 20% less fuel and has revolutionary new Rolls-Royce engines that are more efficient and quieter. But most importantly, this jet incorporates a revolutionary stabilization system that should significantly reduce the effects of turbulence...

Troubling? - ...and therein is the problem. Though you may not be aware of it, every Airbus jet since the A300 and Boeing's 777 and 787 are "fly-by-wire" aircraft. In other words there is no physical connection between the pilot and the control surfaces. Computers do the work of translating pilot inputs into things like pitch and yaw. Now this isn't really something to worry about. Fly-by-wire is well-understood and well-tested technology, but...add stabilization to that mix--almost certainly handled by different computer programs designed to sense changes in and compensate for wind-speed, air pressure, etc...--and it seems you're adding a complex set of variables to an already complex calculation. And, though I'm sure that Boeing's engineers have a really good idea of what they're doing, I'm also a software engineer who has a pretty good idea of how difficult such calculations are to perform, especially when the pilot input and the stabilization directives conflict.

Turbulence sucks, and the older I get the more nervous it makes me, but I think that in this instance I'd be willing to just deal with it. Especially when I'm flying in something as pretty as the Dreamliner.

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