With the second test plane well into its flight schedule, the introduction into service of the colossal Boeing 777X is inching ever closer. In development since the early 2010s, the giant widebody plane promises to push the boundaries of range, efficiency, and power. But why did Boeing decide to develop the colossal plane?
What led to the development of the 777X?
Boeing’s 777 entered service in 1995, with more than 1,600 of the model selling over the subsequent years. The long-range, widebody jetliner fast became a staple of many long haul airlines, with hub and spoke carriers such as Emirates and Qatar operating vast fleets of the type.
Despite Airbus’ attempt to compete with its own A330 product range, the greater seating capacity of the 777 and the huge range of the -200LR meant Boeing was leading in the widebody market. The subsequent development of the 787 Dreamliner threatened to shrink Airbus’ market further, so the European manufacturer went back to the drawing board.
By 2004, Airbus had firmed up the concept of the A350 XWB. Its increased efficiency, huge capacity and extensive range made it a definite step up from the 777, demanding a response from Boeing. By 2011, Boeing had its answer ready to reveal to the world.
Boeing announced the 777X with three different models on the table. The 777-9X would stretch the frame of the 777-300ER by four sections to make it more than 76m in length. The proposed 99,500 lbf engines would provide 21% lower fuel burn and a 16% reduction in its operating cost.
Alongside the -9X, Boeing proposed a smaller 777-8X, which would essentially be a stretch of the 777-200ER. The ten frame longer -8X would take this model to almost 70m in length and was targeted to compete directly with the A350-900.
The final model proposed was the 777-8LX, an ultra-long-range version of the new aircraft with a mission range of almost 10,000 nmi. It was hoped that this variant would enable new, longer flights, such as Sydney to London, without a stop. It’s almost as if Boeing saw Project Sunrise coming, even though it lost that race.
As well as extending the fuselage of the popular 777, the new 777X was proposed to have a new carbon fiber reinforced polymer wing. This composite wing would span a massive 65 – 68.6 m, but to keep it out of the code F bracket (with the A380 and 747), Boeing proposed the now-iconic folding wingtips.
The end result
Boeing’s aggressive response to the A350 XWB has culminated in the plane we’ve seen undertaking test flights today. Although there are now only two variants of the 777X on offer, the 777-8LX could make a comeback further down the line, should demand persist. The end result is largely in line with what was proposed almost 10 years ago, but now we can see just how special this huge aircraft is.
The 777-9 is the world’s largest twin jet aircraft and is, as proposed, more than 76m in length. The 99,500 lbf engines have actually ended up being 105,000 lbf, and are the most powerful jet engines in the world. The GE9X is also General Electric’s most fuel-efficient powerplant, and produces more thrust than America’s first space flight!
While the folding wingtips are the real showstoppers of the new aircraft, at least from a passenger’s perspective, the 777X offers a whole lot more to the airlines that have ordered it. Lower fuel burn, more passenger capacity and a greater range than its predecessors makes the 777X an appealing aircraft for long haul operations.
Are you excited to see the 777X enter service? Let us know what you think about it in the comments.