The 787 concept originally began as the Sonic Cruiser, a Mach 0.98 airliner with a proposed fuel burn in line with the 767. Boeing began shifting its focus towards efficiency and away from speed as the airline industry suffered over the last decade, however, and the Dreamliner as we know it today was born. The aircraft was originally scheduled to begin service in 2008, but a complicated design resulted in several delays, with the first delivery to ANA completed this September. Despite the timing of its launch, the 787 is not Boeing's answer to the Airbus A380, a double-decker with a seating capacity between 525 and 853. Instead, the outfit focused on building an aircraft that was both fuel- and space-efficient, with enough seating to accommodate 210 to 250 passengers.
The primary design improvement over previous Boeing aircraft is the use of composite materials. In fact, 50 percent of the 787's fuselage and wing structure is made up of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic and other composites, resulting in a lighter-weight, more robust design. Aluminum, titanium, steel and other materials comprise the remaining 50 percent. With a one-piece fuselage, Boeing was able to avoid using 1,500 aluminum sheets and some 50,000 fasteners, which naturally would have added to the weight and created more potential fault points. The titanium and composite materials are also more durable than aluminum, reducing the number of hours each aircraft will be out of service for maintenance.
Because enormous components like the main fuselage were pre-assembled, Boeing modified four 747s to become "Dreamlifters," which are used to ferry major assemblies from plants around the world to the company's headquarters in Everett, Washington. The extra effort and transportation expense is worthwhile, though, considering the new materials make it possible to enhance passenger comfort as well. Because composites are resistant to corrosion, Boeing was able to boost interior humidity levels from four to 15 percent, with higher cabin pressure to boot -- fixed at 6,000 feet, compared to 8,000 on older aircraft. A new air-conditioning system improves air quality, removing ozone from the atmosphere outside the plane, while also filtering out odors and harmful elements from recirculated air. Finally, a computer-controlled active gust alleviation system helps counter the effects of turbulence.
The 787 is powered by a pair of turbofan engines -- either the General Electric GEnx or the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 -- each capable of 64,000 pounds of force. The engines employ a tooth-like cover, which cuts noise when mixing exhaust with outside air -- it's not silent, but the improvement is definitely noticeable from inside the cabin. Boeing made the engine type interchangeable at the wings, enabling Dreamliner owners to change the engine to match others in their fleets. Different engine types require different mechanic training, so this flexibility benefits airlines that tend to standardize their inventories. Speaking of maintenance, the 787 includes a computerized monitoring system that allows it to report potential issues to crews on the ground, so teams don't always need to come on-board to troubleshoot.
Naturally, the Dreamliner's cockpit is state-of-the-art. It's home to four huge primary LCDs with an industry-standard interface, including gyroscope, altitude, fuel and other status indicators. Secondary displays control the radios and other communications equipment, while heads-up displays (HUD) for both the pilot and co-pilot display orientation and elevation without the need to direct attention away from the windows. Overhead panels have been simplified as well, with only critical, yet seldom-used used controls remaining.
The cockpit also employs a variety of security and comfort features. It's quite roomy, with enough space for more than one person to move around at once. All told, there are two seats for the pilot and co-pilot, along with two extras behind those for relief pilots and other authorized personnel. A closed-circuit camera system allows the co-pilot to monitor cameras outside the entry door, along with two angles in the first class galley, while a five-digit PIN panel limits access while in-flight.