air safety

Feb 22, 2013

Boeing reported making 787 ‘iron dome’ boxes

  There is an interesting change of language in the Boeing camp over the 787 Dreamliner groundings according to a

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Boeing 787 battery location graphic


There is an interesting change of language in the Boeing camp over the 787 Dreamliner groundings according to a report just posted by The Seattle Times.

It’s a permanent fix for the battery problem, not an interim fix as previously signalled.

And, Boeing is already making 100 of 200 ordered battery containment boxes to allow the lithium ion batteries to safely burn up under the cockpit or rear passenger cabin in the event of any more failures like those caused the grounding of the world’s 50 strong 787 Dreamliner fleet in January.

However unreassuring this might sound to the casual fire sensitive traveller no one reading this news could fail to be impressed by the hairy chested approach Boeing is taking to determining the cause of the problem,  and devising a permanent solution to it, even before the NTSB has reported on its investigations, and the FAA has completing reviewing itself over the original certification of the batteries as safe on the assurances given by Boeing that such battery fires or failures as occurred to two 787s in January were ‘impossible.’

To assist Boeing in this speedy recovery maybe the media should stop referring to the battery burning bins as ‘iron domes’. For all we know, they may be titanium, or flame proof composites in construction, and the Israeli missile defense system appears to have first dibs on Iron Dome anyhow.

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19 thoughts on “Boeing reported making 787 ‘iron dome’ boxes

  1. paddy

    It would be funny, if it wasn’t so frightening.

  2. ghostwhowalksnz

    The successor to “iron dome’ missile defence is referred to as ‘magic wand’. Boeing seems to have all ready used that in its line of thinking

  3. discus

    So the problem was lack of containment not the fact it caught fire? They’ve lost the plot.

  4. ltfisher

    From the paper report “It’s containment and prevention”. Brilliant. I’m sure that the premium class passengers will sleep so much more soundly in their full length seats/beds knowing that the makers have got the priority order straightened out.

  5. Ronnie Moore

    Yeah, no problem. We will contain the fire (for the appropriate ETOPS rating of course, say 2 1/2 hours) and, ummm, well if we need to start the APU we could bicycle pedal I suppose, oh, darn, didn’t think of that.

    For my money, if its a Boeing 787 – I ain’t going!

  6. LongTimeObserver

    You aren’t alone in “787 avoidance”:

  7. comet

    Hey, your backyard barbeque is able to contain a fire pretty well. Why wouldn’t Boeing’s “iron dome” be able to do the same? 😉

  8. fractious

    Three crews of six volunteers — all “very talented mechanics” — will work in three daily shifts. The parts needed have not yet come in, and design changes are expected as the work proceeds, the employee said.

    For some reason I have a picture in my head of half a dozen blokes in greasy overalls rummaging around in the scrap bins down the back of the maintenance sheds, firing up the oxy cutter and MIG welder…

  9. Theoddkiwi

    Come on guys you have to put things into perspective. I am not sure what you are expecting from Boeing. If the NTSB, FAA and Boeing cannot find a definite cause for the failure and you all demand they fix it but only once they know what the definite answer is, your asking the impossible. The Facts are that two aircraft had events with their batteries. I have not seen any evidence that the two separate failures were in fact related or caused by the same thing. One battery clearly went into Thermal runaway and from the surface looks like some form of internal failure probably due to a manufacturing problem but is so damaged its cause of failure is likely never to be known 100%. The other Battery had a fault and there are indications that a separate aircraft defect (wiring) may have caused it to malfunction. Look at the two issues in isolation and its not as dramatic. To prevent a battery failure due to a manufacturing issue, you change the design and manufacturing process alter the monitoring, perhaps shorted the service life by replacing them more often and study the outcomes. This is what happens constantly in aviation. There always new modifications being done to parts and the aircraft themselves for safety, economy and general reliability on every aircraft type. Its very rare for that to cause a mass grounding at least for an extended period of time. The A330 and its Thales Pitot probes are a perfect example. 200 odd people died in one crash, no one new for sure why it crashed, they worked on theories for two years and it was revealed it had happened a number of times before, but no mass grounding. They replaced the pitots with modified parts and improved pilot training. Job done.

    Another important point that is worth noting regarding Aircraft batteries is the simple fact that the most use and stress they are put under is on the ground. They are very rarely used while the aircraft is flying. So lets put some perspective here. There are say 100 odd complete 787s that have spent a large amount of time on the ground so everyday or so the batteries are subjected to high use and recharge over and over again, they are used to initially power the aircraft and start the APU everytime the aircraft is started up. So they have many hours of reliable use under high load, loads they will virtually never see while the aircraft is in flight as the chances of flying on battery power is ridiculously small. So you cant look at the battery failures in flight in isolation from the very fact they have been used reliably on the ground more than they have been in flight.

    I hate to tell you all but this is how aviation works, its a balancing act in risk management. To eliminate all risk would make flying impossible. The FAA, NTSB and Airlines all know this. And once these jets are up and flying again it wont be long until the general public will forget all about it.
    If your going to boycott an aircraft type due to a past defect history, you wouldn’t have to dig very deep to find you will never fly again. There are no aircraft that have a perfect history. Although the 777 and A330 where pretty close up until a few years ago.

  10. Damo

    Kiwi, the problem isn’t so much that the battery went into thermal runaway, it is more that the fire it will turn into can’t be extinguished. Aircraft have 2 extinguishing systems, 1 for the cargo holds and 1 for under the engine cowling. Batteries have an overheat detection system that when it goes off would tell the pilots to turn off the affected battery.
    With a lithium battery once you have a runaway the battery can continue to increase in temperature even if it is disconnected. There is no extinguishing system, so if it gets too hot and catches fire in a carbon fibre aircraft things will get real bad real quick.

    There is more to this than just a faulty battery.

  11. kiwikurt

    Aviation is very much about Risk Mitigation but it is very, very clear that Boeing hit wide of the mark when it came to appropriate risk mitigation and more significantly the regulator as seems to be de rigueur presently has been caught with their pants down.

  12. AngMoh

    “Come on guys you have to put things into perspective. I am not sure what you are expecting from Boeing.”
    I am not expecting them to build a iron dome to contain any fire. If the cause of the fires can not be found, then the batteries should not be allowed. Same reason as many materials are not allowed because if they catch fire, they are either too flammable or produce toxic smoke. That does not say they will catch fire or are supposed to catch fire, but safety is all about risk mitigation. Here there are alternatives available: Airbus just decided to do that with the A350. I still don’t understand why Boeing is hell bent on using LiIon if it is used as a traditional backup battery.
    What I am amazed about is that Boeing is proposing solutions before the NTSB has published its findings. I can not imagine airlines accepting a solution which does not address the NSTB findings as the media are scrutinising this saga to the most minute detail. You don’t want the 787 to become the Ford Pinto of the sky (The Ford Pinto had a reputation as a death trap due to media publicity and lawsuits while the actual fatality rates for accidents involving a Pinto was not very different from other cars).
    The NSTB is about the only party in this mess which seems to focus on facts and avoid speculation. That probably comes with living a life centered about investigating charred bodies and then figure out which decisions/actions led to that.

  13. AngMoh

    Just one question in general: According to the Seattle Times article, Boeing is having the first 100 containment boxes ready by 18 March. It will take Cessna about 18 months to design and certify a new LiIon battery and containment box for the Cessna Citation Jet with proving that containment works a big factor. I don’t understand this discrepancy in timing – does anyone have an explanation for this?

  14. StickShaker

    I understand that aviation is about risk management and mitigation but I think there is going to be quite a bit of politics mixed in with this one.

    Senior FAA officials stood up alongside Boeing execs at a press conference after the first 787 battery fire and proclaimed that the 787 was perfectly safe.
    A few days later the worlds TV screens showed passengers flying down the emergency slides of another 787 after its battery also overheated.

    The FAA now have egg all over their faces and they are not going to let that happen again.
    I would be flabbergasted if the FAA approve Boeings so called “permanent-interim” fix – their reputation as a safety regulator is already under heavy scrutiny and they won’t be in any mood to do Boeing any favours.

  15. comet

    What will be the Top 10 uses of Boeing’s first one-hundred fire containment domes, if the FAA rejects them?

    -Tank lids?

    -Pizza ovens?

    -Access hole covers?

    -Unique Barbeques?

  16. Theoddkiwi

    “I would be flabbergasted if the FAA approve Boeings so called “permanent-interim” fix”

    Well its more likely than not if this New York Times article is to believed.

    It indicates the repair solution has been devised in consultation with the FAA Engineers.
    Boeing are not simply putting an stainless steel box around the current battery design with a vent hose and saying its fixed. They are redesigning the whole battery. It will be contained within a Stainless Steel box just like the current NiCad Batteries (which can also go into Thermal Runaway and catch fire), the individual cells will be better insulated should one cell begin to overheat, they are improving the self monitoring of the batteries. The have also been in consultation with the NTSB and willing to make further improvements should they discover any failure types that they them selves have not considered. The NTSB spokesman stated that Boeing were heading in the right direction.
    To say that Boeing must wait until the NTSB has finished their report as frankly fairy land talk. There are numerous previous examples of repair schemes and modifications devised and endorsed well before final reports and findings are made. In most system failure accidents and incidents the manufacturers have been at the forefront of redesign of system failures as they are the people who understand their own product far better than anyone else. Read some accident reports and you will often find int the recommendation sections that the manufacturers have already devised and implemented changes. This is the normal process and has been for a long time. Its just because of the new age of online media that the information is more freely available.

    I can assure you the airlines will accept the fix, they want the planes to fly just as much as Boeing

  17. johnc47

    Doesn’t matter which way you look at it – for or against, Regulatory issue or not. This specific fix, interim or not, really is summarised by a fantastic US saying:

    “Lipstick on a Pig” – same pig, just slightly better looking.

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