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.

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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).

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).

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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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:

  • 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.

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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.