How Much Can Boeing 787 Wings Flex?

Made possible with the use of carbon fiber material, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s wings have an incredible amount of flexibility. This flexibility allows load changes and wind gusts to be dampened, resulting in an overall smoother, less turbulent ride for passengers. But just how much can these wings flex?

Boeing Completes Ultimate-Load Wing Test on 787K64913
A photo of a Boeing 787 undergoing its ultimate-load wing test. Photo: Boeing

Extreme testing results

It was over a decade ago, on March 28th, 2010, that Boeing completed its spectacular “ultimate-load wing-up bending test.” In this test, Speed News notes that extreme loads were applied to the airframe, replicating 150% of the most severe forces an aircraft could expect to encounter in service. WIRED notes that the test aircraft was essentially built to be “tortured on the ground and never fly.” So what was the result of this extreme test?

Subjecting the Boeing 787’s wing flexibility to near extremes, Boeing flexed the Dreamliner’s wings upward by approximately 25 feet (7.6 meters) during the test. Video of this extreme test can be seen below:

With this number being on the extreme end of the Dreamliner wing’s flexibility, we can safely say that typical flights with this type of aircraft (and essentially every other commercial jet) will experience much less flex. Even if the flex is much less, it’s an amazing sight to see, as Simple Flying photographer Vincenzo Pace can attest to – especially when these birds are banking on the Canarsie Departure.

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Made possible by composite materials

The flexibility of the 787’s wings is made possible with the use of composite materials, including CFRP, or carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP). Boeing notes that the Dreamliner’s wings are comprised of approximately 50% of this composite material. Not only are wings more flexible, leading to a smoother ride, but they are also lighter- resulting in less fuel burn and greater efficiency, as Boeing explains:

“[Composite materials] allow a lighter, simpler structure, which increases airplane efficiency, reduces fuel consumption and reduces weight-based maintenance and fees. They do not fatigue or corrode, which reduces scheduled maintenance and increases productive time.”

One of the smoothest rides

Wing flexibility is not just incredible to watch, but it’s a massive benefit for passengers as well- especially those who hate turbulence and are more prone to air sickness caused by a bumpy ride.

Analyzing various factors including wing loading, gust alleviation, and wing flex, turbulence forecasting website Turbli crowned the Boeing 787-9 as the best aircraft to handle turbulence.

In its analysis, the website notes that the aircraft features one of the largest wing loading ratios for commercial aircraft: 750 kg/m2. Wing loading is the total mass of the plane divided by the wing’s surface area. “For comparison, the wings can take twice much weight per square meter than those of an Embraer ERJ-175,” it notes.

Add to this the 787’s incredible flex (an aspect ratio close to 11) and an advanced gust alleviation system, and passengers can keep the air sickness bag neatly tucked away in the seat pocket.

Have you been on a Boeing 787? Have you noticed the incredible amount of flex of its wings? Share your experiences by leaving a comment.

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