The recently published Boeing application for a patent over a folding wing controller anticipates an automated fold or extend system for the Boeing 777-9 and -8 due in service in the early 2020s.
In fact in its application Boeing appears to be seeking to patent both a set of mechanisms and the logic, automated and manual, that would render the X series 777s either terminal friendly (wing tips folded up) or flyable (wing tips extended). Rather than terminal unfriendly (extended wing-tip through gate lounge) or unflyable (wing tips retracted while leaving airport at zero feet and 200 knots.)
It is a bit like reading what a roomful of patent attorneys would commit to paper if trying to control the processes by which a driver might unlock a car. It goes, on, and on, and on.
Starting with the properly licensed driver approaching the correct side of the vehicle, configured for immobility, and then coordinating the folding of the space behind the knees while adjusting the head to avoid the roof.
Boeing is revisiting a system first proposed for the initial versions of the 777 in the early 90s except this one is going to be lighter, stronger, and go further than anything else. It’s almost Olympian in its language. Airbus must be terrified. As will be anyone familiar with the logic paths of Windows 95, if they have by now been released from therapy without permanent impairment/unimpairment. The similarities between that experience and this patent application are unsettling.
To be serious, however, what Boeing is doing makes immense sense. Nothing could possibly go wrong/right. Alt + Whatever. Or is that Shift Alt + KYAGB?
If you are worried about the mental condition of the writer, keep in mind I have just read the patent, every single freeking word of it. For someone who can lock up every ticket barrier at London’s Kings Cross underground by just touching his London Transport Oyster Card (I swear, it was entirely coincidental) I have some irrational concerns about a 400 passenger jet that goes ‘Hey, I’m on the taxi-way, stow the wing-tips’ while actually at 42,000 feet over the Kamchatka Peninsula. Ever though this would be as impossible as three independent FMS computers going down simultaneously half way between Melbourne and Delhi in a Dreamliner. Ridiculous thought.
Here is a sample of the patent application. One of the more exciting parts is highlighted in bold.
Architecture provided herein includes an electronic wingtip folding system that may allow for higher availability based in part on addition of redundant system components. Such components may include controllers, analog to digital converters, control lanes, control channels, and/or sensors. The system may be more adaptive to automated operation than any existing wing fold system.
The illustrative embodiments may promote more ease in modification to wingtip folding functionality. Such functionality may include modification of software code as opposed to altering mechanical hardware and kinematic interfaces. Diagnostic capability of the wingtip system may include earlier detection of vulnerable components which may reduce time of exposure to latent vulnerabilities.
The system may be less subject to dynamic mechanical feedback. The illustrative embodiments may promote greater ease in verifying functionality of the system, allowing for checks of the system for possible latent problems via automated, periodic system tests. For example, the system may verify that a moveable wingtip may be latched or locked to a fixed wingtip. The system may automatically attempt to fold the wingtip after sensing the wingtip may be in a latched and locked configuration. If the attempt is not successful in moving the wingtip system, the aircraft may be verified to be in a flightworthy condition (with regard to the wingtips). If the system is able to move the wingtip or critical parts of the system, then a crew-altering system may annunciate that the aircraft is in a non-flightworthy condition.
The illustrative embodiments may promote a reduced workload on crew. Minimal or no crew actions may be required to configure wingtips for flight or ground operations including taxiway and gate operations. Location-based alerting may also be promoted. Prior to takeoff, the system may verify that the aircraft may be in flightworthy configuration before engine thrust may be applied. After landing touchdown, the system may verify that the aircraft may be in a correct configuration for operation around the airport where reduced wingspan is required such as, without limitation, taxiway, other runway, gate, ramp, apron, and/or maintenance facility operations.
There are some diagrams (such as the one below) to help stitch up the patent rights to every action involving the system. The patent application was filed last September and published last month.