Boeing: Was it dreaming when it botched 787 batteries?
For the US FAA to have accepted Boeing assertions that battery fires of the type now seen in the 787s were impossible tells us that the American regulator was variously, wrong, incompetent, compromised or seriously derelict in performing its obligations.
The proposition that leaps off the pages when reading detailed reports into the 787 battery crisis is that Boeing’s management was so totally infatuated with the Dreamliner fairy tales it was selling that it over rode basic engineering commonsense and prudence.
This morning the article that supports the idea that the cause was inferior management appears in Forbes, which is all the more damning considering the powerful readership attached to what is a conservative, business oriented publication.
It is an interview with Donald R. Sadoway who is the John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry at MIT. He queries the judgement of Boeing in its application of lithium ion batteries, pointing out what he sees as a very obvious design flaw, and suggests that the result could be that the Dreamliners are grounded until some time in 2014.
Which will be a calamity for Boeing and its customer airliners, and raises the dreadful question that with such ‘genius’ at work at the top of Boeing, what else has been stuffed up in this jet?
When Sadoway got a look at the lithium-ion battery used in the 787, he was surprised by “the seeming absence of a cooling apparatus.” As he explained, ”In a large format battery, heat can be generated faster than it dissipates to the surroundings with the result that the temperature of the battery can rise to dangerously high levels which leads to bloating and ultimately fire.”
The lithium-ion battery in a cell phone, for example, is safer because the battery is so close to the outside of the phone that heat does not build up and cause a problem.
In stark contrast, the 787′s lithium-ion battery is actually eight notebook sized batteries all packed next to each other in a closed box. This means that only the batteries on the ends have any hope of venting the heat they generate. The other six batteries just heat each other up since they can’t release their heat outside the box.
We already know that Boeing’s underpinning design principle with the lithium ion batteries was that it didn’t need to build in certain fire control or mitigation measures because the fires and over heating seen in the JAL and ANA 787s were impossible.
For the US FAA to have accepted that view by Boeing in terms of certifying this airline as safe tells us that the American regulator was variously wrong, incompetent, compromised or seriously derelict in performing its obligations.
Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.