Boeing says the 787-fuselage drop test was a success

The results of a recent test on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner fuselage section that was dropped from a height of about 15 feet have validated the computer modelling Boeing used to gauge how its futuristic carbon-fibre composites will hold up on impact, the company announced on Thursday, 6 September.

Since the test results broadly matched the parameters Boeing's engineers had predicted on the basis of a computer analysis, it will not need to perform more physical tests on actual pieces of the plane, a Boeing representative said. Rather, the company can model various crash scenarios using computer simulation modelling.

The test was conducted late last month. Boeing dropped a 10 foot-long fuselage section at its Apache helicopter manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona. The test simulates the vertical impact of an emergency landing on mostly flat terrain, not a full crash. But the company hasn't released detailed test results, as it considers the information proprietary and confidential.

The 787 Dreamliner is the world's first large commercial jetliner to be made mostly from carbon fibre-reinforced plastics. These advanced composites are lighter and sturdier than the aluminium alloys normally used to make aircraft fuselages, but also more brittle and less shock absorbent.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had ordered Boeing to prove the all-composite 787 fuselages are as crashworthy as any normal aircraft with an aluminium fuselage. Last week's test was the final in a series of three. Two others, one performed late last year and the other a few months ago, also confirmed Boeing's computational analysis, the company said.

Boeing rolled out its first 787 in early July, but is still working to get the plane ready for its maiden flight. It had hoped to begin flight tests in late August or early September, but announced on Wednesday that the first 787 won't fly until mid-November or mid-December, owing to delays in assembling the first plane and integrating flight-control software. (See: Now Boeing faces possible delays in its B787 Dreamliner programme)

Boeing officials still maintain that the 787 will be delivered to its first customer, Japan's All Nippon Airways, next May. But they now have little or no room for error, because the flight-test program will have to be completed in about six months. It took nearly 11 months to certify the 777, Boeing's last new plane.