7E7 Mostly Composite

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What does Boeing have in common with Lancair, Cirrus, Liberty and host of other light plane and homebuilt manufacturers? A belief that composites help make better airplanes. The Chicago-headquartered aerospace icon announced June 12 that its 7E7 airliner -- if it's ever built -- will be made almost entirely of resin imbedded with graphite and graphite/titanium combined. A company news release said the decision was made after months of study and presentations from aluminum companies and composite manufacturers. "Composites offer us a variety of advantages, including better durability, reduced maintenance requirements and increased potential for future developments," said Mike Bair, VP in charge of the 7E7 project. The company also took dead aim at detractors' concerns about composite components -- maintenance and longevity. Since the first airplane parts were laid up using composites, detractors have pointed out there is no way of knowing what kind of structural changes (i.e. delamination and cracking) are taking place within a "closed" part. Boeing said it's addressing that issue with "structural health monitoring" on the 7E7. The company plans to embed sensors in the 7E7 that will "detect impacts and monitor structural integrity." Boeing says the system should help airlines plan and manage maintenance and also give them a constant picture of how the various structures are holding up. The company continues to shop the country, looking for states and communities that will offer the right incentives in exchange for a multibillion-dollar factory employing up to 1,200 highly paid people. According to an Associated Press story, Washington State, where almost all of Boeing's airliner construction now takes place, is the odds-on favorite with its trained workforce and about $3.2 billion in tax breaks on the table. There are no guarantees the airplane will ever be built, however. Boeing's board will make that decision by the end of the year, based on preliminary marketing efforts that are already under way.