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Boeing’s 787 Faces Critical Wing Test Today

March 28th, 2010 Michael McDonough

**Update 3/29: Boeing calls initial results of new wing stress test ‘positive’**

Before any new aircraft design is put into service it’s required to pass a wing stress test, which stretches the wing to 150% of the most extreme stresses it will face while in service.  Reasonable enough.  However, what I didn’t realize is that about one year ago, during the same test, the 787 wing had a catastrophic failure at only 100%, causing significant delays in the program.  Unlike past aircraft, the 787 is the first aircraft constructed using composite materials, versus traditional aluminum, arguably making these tests a bit more significant.  The good news is scientist believe they’ve solved the weakness, and their word will be tested today.  But, another failed test could mean more significant delays for the program, and bad news for Boeing.

To my surprise the fact the 787 failed this test a year ago wasn’t nearly the most concerning fact I came across in my research.  Apparently the Airbus A380 also failed this test.  However, unlike the 787, which is being retested, scientists assured authorities they knew what caused the problem, and would be able to fix it without another test.  The plane maker’s comments was apparently enough to convince authorities and from what I can tell the A380 went into service without ever passing the test. I am not an engineer, nor a plane expert, but working in the financial world I know enough not always trust people who perceive themselves as experts in any given field (look at the latest financial crisis).  I am not saying the A380 is an unsafe airplane, but I would have definitely felt a lot more comfortable flying in it in bad turbulence knowing it had passed the test.  Had they tested the world’s first commercial jet liner, the de Havilland Comet, a bit more back in in the late 40’s maybe they might have realized the catastrophic effect of square windows and pressurization.

An older 787 wing test (while not connected to the plane):

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  1. djjuice
    March 28th, 2010 at 10:28 | #1

    The wing was meant to fail. The video shows it failed at a stress level over 150% overall passing the test

  2. Rainier
    March 28th, 2010 at 17:45 | #2

    A little correction: the previous issue was not part of the same test, but it would have led to failure if it had been. The A380 did indeed fail this test, and while I think I would have liked to see them perform an actual test again, the margin of safety still well exceeds anything a plane will ever experience in normal flight.

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