Composites Manufacturing Magazine

Boeing Begins Production of 777X Aircraft

Last week, Boeing celebrated the official kickoff of production of its 777X wide-body jet. The 777X aircraft is a large-sized twin-engine passenger aircraft currently being developed by Boeing as a successor to the existing 777, with plans for its first flight in 2019 and delivery of the first plane in 2020. Boeing’s two 777X variants, the 777-8 and 777-9, are designed to carry between 350 and 425 passengers. The new jets are expected to be 20 percent more fuel-efficient.

The ceremony brought hundreds of Boeing workers to the company’s widebody-jet manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash., where the support structures for the 777X’s CFRP composite wings are being assembled. The highlight of the ceremony was when a laser-guided robotic arm drilled a hole into the carbon fiber layer for a 105-foot-long wing spar and its stiffener and installed the first fastener. Meanwhile, in the new wing-fabrication center, an automated fiber-placement machine designed and built by Multikeo, Wash.-based Electroimpact moved along a spar mold by putting down plies of half-inch-wide carbon fiber tape to begin making a spar for the left wing of the test aircraft.

“The new 777X is going to launch into a technological era and a performance era that are not used to,” said Jason Clark, vice president of 777 and 777X operations, during the ceremony. “It’s going to set a new bar for commercial travel.”

Boeing’s Composite Wing Center will support the production of the longest wing Boeing has ever produced. The 777X features lightweight wing design based on a composite spar made of over 400 miles of carbon tape cured in a specially built autoclave. This results in a wingspan of 235 ft. Because the 777X has such a big wingspan, its wingtips have been designed to fold upward so it will fit at an airport gate.

Toray’s TORAYCA® prepreg has been selected for these main wings. Boeing will source carbon fiber prepreg composite material for the 777X’s empennage and floor beams from a new 50/50 joint venture formed last year by Solvay and Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala Development Company.

The aircraft will be powered by the GE9X – the world’s largest commercial aircraft engine. Last year, the engine completed its initial ground testing. The engine will be in the 100,000-pound thrust class and will include the world’s largest front fan (134 inches in diameter), a composite fan case and 16 fourth generation carbon fiber composite fan blades. The engine also features heat-resistant ceramic matrix composite (CMC) inner and outer liners.

As for tooling, Coast Composites LLC is set to manufacture the largest-ever wing skin molds for the Boeing 777X. Ascent will produce a set of lay-up tooling, consisting of four individual molds, to be used at the Everett facility. The tooling segments will be made with Invar, a custom steel alloy that matches the thermal expansion properties of the composite material used for the wing skin. The final wing skin tools will be more than 110 feet long, up to 21 feet wide and will weigh approximately 80,000 pounds each. In order to secure the jet’s wing skin before assembly, Boeing plans to use a 3-D printed trim-and-drill tool from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Last year, ORNL announced this tool, which is 17.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide, set a Guinness World Record for the largest solid 3-D printed item.

Since the 777X was first announced, Boeing has received 340 orders and commitments for the planes — including 20 planes that are part of a $13.8 billion Singapore Airlines deal signed last week that is expected to create 70,000 jobs.