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Super-computer hampers 747-8 delivery

Boeing’s newest jumbo jet delayed over computer issues


June 28, 2011
by Canadian Manufacturing Daily Staff

PARIS—Delayed testing on the ultra-complex flight-management computer to be used by Boeing’s newest 747-8 has hampered delivery time for the company’s newest jumbo jet.

The 747-8 freighter, with an average price tag of US$319.3 million, is already a year and a half late in shipment to the launch customer, Luxembourg-based Cargolux Airlines International SA. The most recent schedule had targeted a ‘mid-year 2011’ delivery.

The newest version of Boeing’s biggest and most expensive plane has completed a third of its function and reliability testing.

The 747-8’s new flight management computer is still being worked on, requiring twice as many flight hours as its rival 747 Dreamliner, another Boeing jet currently undergoing testing, says programme chief Elizabeth Lund.

Boeing and its suppliers don’t get the bulk of their payments until planes are delivered.

The 747-8 initially suffered from a diversion of engineers to the even later 787 Dreamliner, originally supposed to enter service in May 2008. Since the 747-8’s maiden flight last year, the Chicago-based plane-maker has fixed several problems including flutter in the wings.

Honeywell International Inc, which designed and built the computer, is doing its last testing now and Boeing expects the computer to reach final configuration next week, Lund says.

Reaching final configuration will let Boeing count each hour of function and reliability testing towards certification by the US Federal Aviation Administration.

In the more than 100 hours flown since testing began June 1, only one of every two has counted, because of the incomplete system, Lund says.

“In the last month, we’ve made tremendous progress on the flight management computer,” she says.  “The last three or four flights we’ve had no squawks whatsoever—that’s amazing for an airplane this new.”

The computer for the freighter version of the jet will start out with all the functionality and more of the last derivative, the 747-400. An upgrade to the software package will roll out with the 747-8 Intercontinental passenger version’s delivery, due at the beginning of next year.