Development on Boeing’s latest iteration of the 777, the so-called 777X or 777-9, has been hit with a new problem – during a recent final structural test, an aircraft door blew off as engineers pressurized the aircraft under extreme load conditions. To make matters worse, the test was being overseen by FAA inspectors, although luckily no one was injured in the incident.
Insiders say the test is designed to put an aircraft under the very ‘worst-case scenario’ conditions – pushing it to the absolute limits so they know an aircraft could withstand anything during everyday operation. But for an aircraft to fail in such a dramatic way is said to be incredibly rare.
Boeing has owned up to the incident, saying in a statement that its engineers are “working to understand what happened.” The full statement continued:
“During ultimate load testing on the 777X static test airplane, an event occured that forced the test team to halt testing. Safety is the highest priority at Boeing. The test team followed all safety protocols and there were no reported injuries. The team is currently working to understand what happened and ensure the area is safe for work to continue.
The ultimate load test is the latest in a series of tests that Boeing has been conducting on this full-scale test airplane over the past several months.”
There are already concerns that the timeline for 777X production could be pushed back and this latest incident will likely cause even more headaches for the development team. Several months ago, Boeing admitted that it was facing delays with the massive General Electric GE9X engines which has created a “significant” risk in the first delivery to launch customer Lufthansa being pushed back.
Boeing had hoped to carry out its first test flights of the 777X by the end of the year but the engine delays mean the aerospace giant won’t be in a position to carry out those all-important tests until early next year.
The 777X development programme was first launched in 2013 and is offered in two size variants with seating for between 365 and 414 passengers. Along with its massive GE9X engines and new composite structure, the 777X has been given a huge wingspan to improve efficiency – so huge in fact that Boeing developed folding wingtips so that the plane could use airports and gates that older 777’s can use.
Along with Lufthansa, a total of seven other airlines have already ordered variants of the 777X. Those customers include Emirates and Qatar Airways, as well as British Airways, Cathay Pacific and ANA
A grand unveiling ceremony of the first-built 777X had to be seriously scaled back earlier this year following the worldwide grounding of Boeing 737MAX planes after two fatal crashes of the aircraft type. Instead of a lavish event with the worlds media and airline customers in attendance, Boeing took the decision just to invite employees to a far more muted affair.
Since being unveiled, Boeing has been putting the plane under a series of tests before its first test flight next year.