Boeing took a global social media audience to its production plant in Everett, Washington July 24 for an update on construction of the first 777X aircraft as the US manufacturer transforms its legacy 777 line to the new generation models set to begin entry-into-service in 2020.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes regional director, product marketing Jeff Haber hosts the broadcasts highlighting the ongoing progress of 777X production; in the latest edition, the fifth in the series, Haber took Facebook and Twitter viewers to the low-rate initial production (LRIP) facility for the first 777X family aircraft, a 777-9.

The two aircraft under construction at present include a static model expressly purposed for systems installation and subsequent testing, and a fatigue model, which will eventually become the actual first-flight aircraft, designated WH001. Haber said the first few 777Xs will be built on the LRIP line before the new models are integrated into the main production line.

“Before we disrupt our current 777 production we’re going to send everything down this one line so we can work out all the teething of the parts, plans, and tools that we have spent the last few years pulling together, making sure we have that worked out before we integrate,” 777X operations business manager Kylie Porter said.

“[The] static airplane is part of our development process; we do a static and a fatigue,” Boeing VP-777/777X operations Jason Clark said. “When we have a new fuselage structure and a new wing structure [composite wing, aluminum fuselage] we have to go through a full set of static tests to verify all the type design of the aircraft … it doesn’t fly. It is meant to go into a building or a lab space where it is sent through multiple cycles to prove out the design of the aircraft and ensure and verify that it’s meeting all of the specifications. This is the standard procedure.”

Clark said one of the major differences being implemented in the construction of the 777X is that the static airplane is the very first build.

“Typically, we’ll build the first flight test aircraft as the first unit, to do the integration of the systems in real time,” Clark said. “We’re using a new test model using laboratories and other methods that we used on the original [777] to really test out the systems in a lab space, de-bug it and ensure that we’ve got a much better platform. By putting static first, that gives good schedule to the systems development team to go do that work, so that when we go build the first flight test airplane, as the second airplane, it’s got a more mature systems integration on board.”

Haber emphasized the first 777X aircraft “is being built this year, it’s going to fly next year, and will be delivered to our first customer in 2020.” Dubai-based Emirates Airline is scheduled to be the first operator of the 777X line, when it receives its first of 34 on-order 777-9 aircraft. Other 777X customers to-date include Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA), Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, Germany’s Lufthansa Group, Doha-based Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines.

Boeing said it has taken orders and commitments for 340 777X aircraft since the program’s launch at the Dubai Air Show in 2013.

The 777-9 will be the first 777X produced, seating 400-425 passengers and capable of flying 7,600 nautical miles (nm). The 777-8 will follow; the aircraft will seat 350-375 passengers, flying a range of 8,700 nm. The 777X’s carbon fiber composite wing, for which Boeing built its own $1 billion composite wing manufacturing center in Everett, spans 235 ft. (71m) in flight. The wing features distinctive folding tips, each 11-ft. long. When extended inflight, the expansive wing helps the aircraft to maximize fuel efficiency, Boeing said; when folded on-ground, the reduced span allows the aircraft to fit into existing 777 gates at airports worldwide.

The twin-engine 777s will utilize GE Aviation’s GE9X turbofan engines exclusively. Flight testing for the GE9X, delayed a couple months earlier this year, began in March and is slated to last through most of 2018. Engine certification is expected in early 2019, in time for Boeing to begin its flight tests for the first 777-9.

Mark Nensel