In a pleasant surprise, it seems Boeing might bring forward the Boeing 777X’s first flight. General Electric, the builder of the Boeing 777X’s engines, has delivered a new GE9X engine ready to be installed on the airframe.
What are the details?
Boeing was trucking along nicely with the Boeing 777X program earlier this year. They had completed the electronic tests, had finished painting the fuselage and conducted taxi tests.
However, when they were gearing up to do their first flight tests they ran into a problem with the engines. Specifically, they discovered durability problems in the high-pressure compressor. This would mean that the engine would break down in flight and not be up to scratch for what Boeing needed the powerplant to do.
“The GE9X engines are the compliance engines that will be returned for the high-pressure compressor hardware enhancements that GE revealed at the Paris Air Show. GE Aviation remains aligned with Boeing on this effort as we work toward first flight”. – GE Aviation to Flight Global.
The engine is massive, weighing in at 16,300 kg (36,000 lb) and with a 13-foot diameter, it is no easy object to replace. In fact, it is so wide that the fuselage of the Boeing 737 actually fits inside the engine. Boeing and GE had to hire an Antonov AN-124 to move the engines back to the GE Ohio facility. Because it was a Russian aircraft operating in US airspace, it required special permission from the US department of defense.
This news made Boeing report that it was unlikely to fly the Boeing 777X until at least 2020.
“The 777X program is progressing well through pre-flight testing. While the company is still targeting late 2020 for first delivery of the 777X, there is a significant risk to this schedule given engine challenges, which are delaying first flight until early 2020.” – Boeing Statement at 2nd Quarter earnings call
What is the situation now?
According to Aviation Week, the replacement engine has been delivered with the fix in place to Boeing in Washington.
This means that Boeing has everything it needs to conduct the first flight test. Whilst it previously said it would likely not fly the aircraft until 2020, the surprise return of the repaired engine to the factory with three months to go is a positive development.
The engine still needs to undergo all the same tests as the last edition, such as electronics, taxiway tests, and durability. Hopefully, it will pass all of them with flying colors.
If Boeing is able to return to its original schedule (or close to it), then it is possible that the launch customer Lufthansa will have its 777-9 only a few months behind its original delivery date.
Plus, this will solve the delays to the Boeing 777X deliveries that have seen Emirates believe their 777X won’t fly until 2021 and Qatar considering to reconfigure their order as well.
What do you think? Will Boeing fly the 777X before the end of the year?