Boeing Once Offered The Original 777 With Folding Wing Tips

One of the coolest aspects of the Boeing 777X next to its massive GE9x engines is its folding wingtips. The aircraft’s wingspan is so massive that Boeing had to factor in a hinge point in order to fit the aircraft in at airport gates. But this engineering choice is not recent, with plans of folding wings originally created for the Boeing 777 classic series.

Boeing 777-
The Boeing 777-300 as an initial artist rendering. Photo: Getty Images

What are the details?

The Boeing 777X will soon be one of the most advanced commercial aircraft flying in the world today and will replace Boeing’s 747 as the flagship aircraft of the sky. A major talking point about its futuristic engineering is the folding wingtips on the 777X, designed to allow the aircraft to use an airport’s normal gates and ramps (a problem that caused some grief with the A380, involving airports redesigning airport gates).

777X
The iconic 777X wingtips. Photo: Simple Flying

But Boeing actually had the foresight to see this gate ramp issue way back when, with the Boeing 777 classic series (-200 and -300 versions).

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The original Boeing 777 was offered with folding wingtips, which would have extended the wingspan of the aircraft by another six meters (21 feet) on each side of the aircraft. The Boeing 777 series does not actually need winglets on the ends of the wings, as it already has a raked back design that offers fuel savings during a long cruise flight.

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Boeing 777
The raked-back wingtips of the Boeing 777. Photo: Sergey Kustov via Wikipedia

But despite this added span, which would have reduced fuel burn, no airline ever took up the option.

Why did not airlines take up the option?

There are two major reasons why the folding wingtips of the Boeing 777 were not taken up by airlines. The two major disadvantages are:

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  • The complexity of the machinery. The wingtips were an over-engineered solution to a problem and not only raised the cost of the aircraft (they were an added extra) but also had the potential to break and ground the aircraft.
  • The wingtips also provided no other advantage apart from gate access and reduced fuel burn. When it came to fuel storage, the fuel could not be stored in the tips, and the hinge mechanism itself was heavy and added to the weight of the aircraft.

Additionally, airlines found a way around it with the gates, working with airports to arrive at the gates used by the Boeing 747 and not requiring any major changes.

In fact, it is rumored that once the initial orders rolled in for the Boeing 777 without the wingtips addon, Boeing tweaked the design and was able to increase the fuel tank storage into the area where the hinge would be.

Boeing 777
Once airlines stopped considering the option, Boeing was able to redesign the fuel tanks of the Boeing 777 and create the extended range options. Photo: Getty Images

How does the new design differ?

Ironically, the new wingtips on the Boeing 777X are actually far less complex and smaller (3.3 meters or 11 feet) than the ones offered with the original Boeing 777.

The new wingtips have three advantages over the older design:

  • The hinge point and end of the wing will not house controls, with the controlling mechanism based in the core of the aircraft
  • As the wingtip is far smaller, it will not be as complex nor require so much power to move.
  • Advances in engineering and system design since the original 777 will reduce the weight penalty that the older model had.

What do you think of the older proposal? Do you think airlines should have taken up Boeing on the wingtip option? Let us know in the comments.

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High Mile Club

It was a moot point at the time, And most likely would have affected the sale of the aircraft if they weren’t optional. Not that the aircraft’s needed them back then; Since the 747 was still in production, it would have been easy to check gate sizes for the 777. I bet they found there were plenty more gates you can stick a 777 on than a 747.

mohave

The weight penalty and added cost of the wing fold mechanism may not be that much and is more than offset by the aerodynamic advantage of a long wingspan composite wings. The 777 engine puts out 115 pounds thrust. 777X 105 pounds. The composite wing and longer wingspan reduce CO2 emissions. With wing folded, the span is 212 ft, the same as 777.

Tyler

Only the 300ER has raked wingtips…. The original 200, and 300 models (inc ER and LR variants) have a standard wing design with no rake or tip.

High Mile Club

The 200LR has raked tips. That’s a key difference to tell between the ER and LR; and the fact the LR uses only the GE90-115.

Robert

Folding wingtip… Or another point of failure… I hope is not like MCAS…

Larry

Whole thing seems like a bad idea to add to a passenger plane. Another potential mechanical point of failure.

Stewart Joseph

Folding wings seem to be the only option for now.To me it is better than asking airports to redesign their gates to accommodate the newer version of Boeng.

Lynnwood Rotary Airfair

There was a prototype for the original 777 folding wing stored near the Museum of Flight restoration facility at Paine Field, in Everett, WA. It sat outside throughout the 90’s. I don’t know what became of the prototype in later years, but the idea did make it from paper to hardware. I don’t believe the design ever flew, but it was more than just a proposed option. The article states that the original design had a 21ft. folding section on each wing. The prototype I saw in Everett was not nearly that large. In fact, it was much closer in… Read more »

Gary Hughes

In the end I guess it’s each of the airlines choice but if there is a significant fuel savings and it sounds like there is why would they not take advantage of it. Fuel costs are one of the major expenses for an airline the less fuel the plane uses that would be a very good marketing point