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Jun 13, 2012

It isn’t clear whether the author of this report on the problems that have blemished the last version of the Boeing 747, the -8 passenger and freight models was being droll, but the revelations it contains are very disappointing.

The article tells us, repeating gushy gushy PR speak, that the jet will continue to have flutter related issue that keeps its tail fuel tanks empty until sometime in 2014, assuming the ‘fix’ passes flight testing next year.

Frankly, for a jet to be certified with any flutter condition that has to be suppressed by overrides is a poor show, for both the FAA, which clearly bent to political imperatives, and for Boeing, that screwed up this jet.

What this story tells us is that the jet has yet to meet its brochure promises, which is another way of telling us that all those cute charts showing how it is vastly superior to the A380 for example, are fictional.

Which of course most airlines knew from their own inquiries, resulting in very poor sales for the passenger version which has just gone into service for Lufthansa.

This story underlines a really serious problem that this writer first encountered with the Airbus A340 SuperFan variable wing camber non-stop 17 hours jet in the early 90s, closely followed by the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 that would do DFW-SYD non-stop with a full payload. In both of their glossy brochure dreamings!

Oh, and I forgot, the four stop 16 hour Concorde Sydney-London mission that was either going to go directly over Siberian or Indian cities at mach 2 because those who lived under the boom path didn’t really need all that glass in the windows since they were non-Anglo peasants.

The gap between sales puffery, complete with charts, and the reality, makes fools of aerospace writers, and has caught this writer out many times too.

What this article really tells us is that the 748 has so far been less of a plane than it is presented as being, but if the fix passes muster next year, then by 2014 it will manage to equal the bull dust we were showered with by Boeing in 2006, and at regular intervals since then.

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13 thoughts on “Two more years before Boeing fixes 747-8 tail flutter!

  1. Dave

    The most interesting part for me is that the 748i doesn’t beat the 77W on seat/mile costs. Surely that makes it pretty much obsolete at launch?

  2. Rufus

    MD11 doing SYD-DFW non-stop? Ouch! At least it’s good to be reminded that spurious promises from airframers are nothing new.

  3. Ben Sandilands


    Hey. Makes it a natural for a Qantas order!

  4. Aidan Stanger

    The article tells us, repeating gushy gushy PR speak, that the jet will continue to have flutter related issue that keeps its tail fuel tanks empty until sometime in 2014, assuming the ‘fix’ passes flight testing next year.

    Does this mean Qantas has the opportunity to buy them cheap?
    Is their range without the tail tanks sufficient to reach Jo’burg fully loaded?

    Oh, and I forgot, the four stop 16 hour Concorde Sydney-London mission that was either going to go directly over Siberian or Indian cities at mach 2 because those who lived under the boom path didn’t really need all that glass in the windows since they were non-Anglo peasants.

    ‘Tis only at close range that sonic booms can shatter windows. Up in the stratosphere it wouldn’t have done any actual damage, though people on the ground may have found the noise annoying.

    And I thought Siberia was out in those dayis for political reasons?

  5. Ben Sandilands


    Early in the 90s or late in the 80s, when Australia had maybe one or two Concorde overflights along specially designated overland flight paths followed by charter flights every year there was an incident at Cobar in NSW which was just beyond the end of the permitted SS section of the Denpasar-Sydney route. The jet was being flown by AF, although the luxury tour charters did sometimes use BA. At 55,000 feet the flight inadvertently continued at or about mach 2 over Cobar, breaking windows and causing the death of a horse that panicked and broke a leg trying to jump a fence.

    The other permitted route was from Melbourne to Singapore, one of the longest routes ever flown by Concorde, which actually tracked south of Kangaroo Island and then up across the continent all SS on a path that slanted up to the Indonesian archipelago. The likely maximum exposure to the double whip crack intensity of the over-pressure at the very centre of the boom carpet was believed to be about 7 people, quite how they worked that out I’m not sure.

    There are a number of technical papers you can find if you have the time that make it very clear that a jet weighing as much as a Concorde at mach 2 at 55,000-60,000 feet can do structural damage at sea level. Even around the fringes of the 80 kilometre wide boom path there were reports of very loud potentially damaging encounters with the ground effect by ships and there were reports of the bang being noted inside subsonic jets flying under a Concorde. At around 20 times the mass of some military jets, the direct relationship between mass, velocity and supersonic overpressure is significant.

    Part of the strategy for small corporate SST designs (which constantly pop up into view and then disappear) is that they are light enough to drastically reduce the risk of boom damage, even before proposed refinements in airframes and engines that would also reduce boom generation are taken into account.

  6. TT

    Let me assure you the Concorde is a noisy jet by any measure! When I was a little kid in 1980’s I lived near Tai Tak airport in Hong Kong, about few hundred metres away from the terminal. Whenever there is a Concorde to land (I think 4-5 Air France ones I have seen, and 1-2 BA version), I can hear a very very loud noise (defintiely a lot more noiser than old B747, or even Hawker Siddney Trident that was operated by the old CAAC at the time), and it hasa lower pitch sound than many other jet aircraft at that era. The noise last for about 1 minute and that would get me enough attention for me to look at the window to try spot what aircraft is that… sure after that 1 minute I can see the Concorde flypass…

    So I can saw for sure it is Concorde is very very noisy even during landing! It is one of the jet I liked the most (except for that one minute before landing…)

    Back to B747-8 – I am concerned that it seems Boeing is suffering from not having sufficient expertises to deal with civilian aircraft design (brain drain?). I can recall back in the Sonic Cruiser days (anyone still remember that?), Boeing said if one day customers would like to see a stretched version of B747, they can just easily re-activiate the project and it would be as simple as that. Now it sounds like either Boeing has lost the human resources that design the earlier B747 (I am sure many of those pioneers would have either retire or move on to other industries), or Boeing made too many design changes on a what it meant to be a trivial project… or perhaps they have pull too many engineers from the B747-8 project and put it to B787 and ended up B747-8 suffers??

  7. Ben Sandilands


    Your concerns about loss of human resources is confirmed by public statements that Boeing has made in recent years, and this is also true at Airbus. Despite their size and power, both enterprises suffered from excessive cut backs in their investments in designers and engineers, and for the same reason, which was listening to consultants who hauled back on the very things that produced value for them, because they were advised incorrectly as to how much they could save by joint ventures or contracting work out.

    It seems that Boeing fell for the more extreme model of outsourcing design responsibility and ‘risk and profit’ sharing than Airbus, and it has conceded the errors made in the structuring of the 787 program and vowed never to do that again.

    There is a much bigger canvas than aerospace involved in such management failures. I think many of the things that we see go wrong in the delivery of projects in the public service and private enterprise have a common origin in a desire to divest power and influence from those who are come from engineering or technical backgrounds by those who come out of management schools.

    Correcting that imbalance is I think important right across our economy, not just in airlines, while not losing the benefits of non-technical disciplines.

  8. ghostwhowalksnz

    Apparently for its 787s, ANA rejected some of the fixes Boeing wanted to make on its aircraft on the line. Instead they said , no do it properly and then put it on the plane.

    That could explain why LN42 for ANA has been delivered but up to a dozen earlier aircraft are still in change modification. LN66 and LN 67 are about to be delivered to be ANA.

    Boeing has only delivered 12 of the 71 built or in final assembly.

  9. Bill Parker

    Nice to see the revival of the truth stretching about Concorde. In the early 70s I worked in Reading (a place west of LHR). BA were trying to figure out how to cause the least complaints from noisy take-offs (that’s not the way they expressed it of course) and were trying two “modes” either a gain altitude ASAP or do it some minutes later at say Reading. As TT says, that was a NOISY aircraft. During one of the tests for slow at first then fast, the aircraft sprayed the most humungous noise ( and black fumes) and anyone in the streets of Reading could not hear anything but Concorde!

    I think in the end they chose the middle path climb.

  10. johnh

    Some of us thought they cured Reading’s problem by using RW09! I was quite often under that flight path in the 1970s and 1980s. We had to stop all discussion for a couple of minutes every time one went out. One day I was in an LH727 which was next in line behind a BA Concorde for take-off on LHR’s rw09R. The racket inside our plane was deafening when the Concorde’s throttles were opened.

  11. COTOS

    Ben, you probably only wrote on what info you had at the time and no one goes back and changes those shiny brochures after the promises are broken, I don’t know about the 748 but I was around for the launch or the 787 (7E7 then) and I believed all the glossy brochure stuff too, not just the aircraft but the new technology, tools, materials and breathtaking final assy time, but most of if fizzled out and we can see the reality for the last 3 painful years now, but not before i told everyone how good and on time it would be. huh.

  12. michael r james

    I too remember a Concorde flyover in the UK (90s, can’t quite remember where except I think the flight was some special thing and we were having a bit of a picnic outside waiting for it), and yes it was not SS but still very loud.

    Mythbusters did a detailed test of this. But the jet was a much smaller military jet and it didn’t do much damage in many flybys until it was quite low and much faster. The surprise was that it blew the windows (of the little chalet they built for the test) out (not in) and the roof partly off (ie it blew upwards).

    As I understand it, there are some hopes for serious attentuation of the boom by two strategies. One is using shaped bulbous nose protrusions using the same principle as those things on large ships. And second, electronic tech similar to noise-cancellation on the wing underside I think. However I don’t know if this is at all realistic.

    The other thing is that I understand that the current world leader in RAM jet tech is at my old alma mater, UQ, who are collaborating with our buddies across the Pacific. Because of course the real solution to flying SS, both to not disturb people on the ground and to minimize energy use, is to go really high.

    I don’t think we should scoff at this kind of thing. The serious money research has simply not been done–because the success of existing passenger planes, and limited success of Concorde in niche markets, made it a low priority. But the world continues to get smaller (globalization wise) yet physically it got further apart with Asia rising to be the third pole (and possibly Brazil the rising 4th pole).

    Actually there is another way to avoid the sonic boom, even at ground level: Do it in a vacuum! Yes, don’t scoff Ben Sandilands, it’s a train. Of course I mean the vacuum-maglev which will do London-NYC in one hour:

    New York to London in an hour – by train
    By Mark Halper | June 4, 2012
    It claims that it could “provide 50 times more transportation per kWh (kilowatt hour) than electric cars or trains,” that construction would cost a tenth of high-speed rail and a quarter of freeways, and that a New York-to-Beijing trip would take 2 hours.
    “New York to L.A. in 45 minutes,”
    it states.]

  13. Pete


    Late, but perhaps showing some promise or are we too cynical from years of broken promises to accept good news now?

    “Market Watch quotes an ANA official saying the Boeing 787-8 is saving 21% in fuel over eh previous airplanes. The article didn’t ID the previous planes, but they were the Boeing 767-300ER. Note, too, that the initial 787-8s are heavy and with Rolls-Royce engines that don’t initially meet specs.”