Boeing faces a public and revealing test of the carbon-composite technology used in the 787 Dreamliner following a fire that broke out aboard one of its planes at Londons Heathrow airport.
Even as British investigators say that the Ethiopian Airlines lithium-ion batteries likely did not cause Fridays fire,the visible scorching on the top rear of the fuselage puts a major innovation the lightweight,carbon-plastic composite construction under a spotlight with a fresh set of questions around the plane.
While composites have been used in aerospace for decades,the 787 is the first commercial jetliner built mainly from carbon-plastic materials,whose weight savings,combined with new engines,are supposed to slash fuel costs 20 per cent and operating costs by 10 per cent compared with traditional aluminum alloy.
In designing the Dreamliner,Boeing engineers also added a weight-saving electrical system that was sorely tested when its lithium-ion batteries overheated in January.
The two systems are supposed to put Boeing at least a decade ahead of rivals. Now they are both being tested again at a time when the company is building up factory production to fill the order book. Boeing declined to comment.