Inside Boeing's massive new factory to build the composite wings for the new 777X, machines and people are busy at work.
In one part of what's called the "clearn room," a machine made by Mukilteo-based Electroimpact lays up fiber composite tape for the upper a right wing skin for one of the jets giant wings. The machine can rapidly lay up 20 tape strips of this composite one layer at a time. It's a lot like plywood, but a lot more complex. The skin will be assembled with other parts to create the first wing in what's called the practice box, to make sure the right wing assembles correctly and within specfications.
In another machine, a giant tool to make a wing spar is in position to help form the first part to go into the static test airplane. Perry Moore, who leads the Composite Wing Center (CWC), says work should begin within days.
The static test aircraft will be made up of the wings fuselage and other large structural parts. The plane won't fly but will be put inside of a large metal structure, which will employ hoists to pull the wings up until the structure fails. By doing so, Boeing can prove both to itself and the Federal Aviation Administration that the strength of the wing and the fuselage is what engineers intended.
The building, which represents a billion dollar investment by Boeing into its Puget Sound base, was commissioned just a year ago. Over the last 13 months, it has been turned into a functioning factory, complete with machines, to get the 777X program up and running. Next door is Boeing's main Everett factory where the first 777X will be assembled next year. The first flight is slated for 2019 and first delivery to airlines in 2020.
Benefitting from lessons learned on the composite 787, which was delivered three years behind schedule, the 777X is moving faster. In meetings with aerospace reporters last week, program chief Eric Lindblad said Boeing could end up delivering the first 777X jets early to customers.
A lot is happening on the 777X simultaneously. By the fourth quarter of 2017, the first engines will be tested in flight aboard a specially modified Boeing 747. Final adjustments to the planes' configuration should be finished this year. Special laboratories are now testing the planes electronic systems on the ground.