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Spirit celebrates milestone: 100th Boeing 787-8 composite fuselage section

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, at 10:08 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, at 10:08 p.m.

Spirit AeroSystems celebrated completion of its 100th Boeing 787-8 composite fuselage section at an employee event on Tuesday.

The fuselage section will be delivered to Boeing’s final assembly plant in Charleston, S.C., early next year.

Spirit builds the 787’s forward fuselage and pylon sections in Wichita and the wing leading edge in Tulsa.

The company has increased production from 3.5 fuselage sections per month to the current rate of five per month, and it aims to produce 10 each month by late next year.

“Unit 100 is a significant milestone for this program that a few years back many thought could not be done,” M.L. Anderson, Spirit 787 program director for the fuselage segment, told employees at the event. “Spirit employees did it.”

The 787 twin-aisle plane is a critical long-term program for Spirit, Anderson said.

“Generations of Wichitans and Kansans will be working on this program for years to come, thanks to the foundation you laid for them,” he said.

Spirit employees found a way to work through the challenges to deliver results to Boeing, Anderson said.

“The 787 could not fly without Spirit,” he said.

One of the challenges was working with composite materials.

“This is the world’s largest single piece barrel made from composites,” Anderson said. “Our history is metal airplanes.”

By weight, composite materials make up 50 percent of the primary structure, including the fuselage and the wing.

“Nothing we’ve done in the past has come close to that,” Anderson said.

Besides composites, the 787 incorporates a suite of new technologies and a revolutionary design, Boeing said.

And advances in the design and build process have created a number of efficiencies.

For example, manufacturing the fuselage in one-piece sections has eliminated 1,500 aluminum sheets and 40,000 to 50,000 fasteners per section, the company said.

The forward fuselage also leaves Wichita with its flight deck installed.

“This (fuselage) when it leaves here is fully functional,” Anderson said.

The flight deck is arranged for delivery and all wiring, systems and landing gear are installed.

Spirit performs the “power-on” testing of the unit and full functional testing of the landing gear.

The company is working to double production of the forward fuselage by the end of next year to meet Boeing’s schedule.

To that end, it’s making capital investments, adding shifts and training employees.

It also is expanding the south hangar on the east side of Oliver to take on additional sections.

The composite forward fuselage barrel is wound inside Spirit’s composite fuselage facility. The shell is then transferred to Spirit’s south hangar where the flight deck and passenger floors are installed and systems run.

The barrels are delivered to Boeing inside Boeing’s Dreamlifter, a specially modified 747 designed to take on the sections built by Boeing suppliers.

Boeing launched the 787 program in April 2004.

The plane made its first flight on Dec. 15, 2009, followed by certification in August 2011. The first 787 was delivered to Air Nippon Airways on Sept. 25, 2011.

The 787-8 Dreamliner can carry from 210 to 250 passengers and travel 7,650 to 8,200 nautical miles.

A longer version, the 787-9, will carry 250 to 290 passengers on longer routes of 8,000 to 8,500 nautical miles.

Production of the first 787-9 forward fuselage section is under way at Spirit, Anderson said.

Boeing’s first 787-9 delivery to a customer is scheduled for early 2014.

In all, 40 Boeing 787s are in service with the airlines.

Boeing has 805 unfilled orders from 58 customers for the airplane.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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