FLYING RESEARCH LABORATORY

With 50 new technologies on board, a converted Boeing 777 is on its way around the globe as an “ecoDemonstrator”. Many of the innovations being tested are intended to go into series production at a later date, making flight operations more sustainable, safer and more comfortable.
The Boeing 777-200, registered as N772ET, already has 17 years’ service under its belt. In its former life, it was in scheduled service for Air China, but now it is fitted with high-tech components to act as an “ecoDemonstrator”, not only for the detailed testing of new technologies, in particular for environmental protection, but also to demonstrate them publicly. Development engineers from Boeing and many partner companies are involved in this project. More than a dozen research and industry partners are currently participating in the trials on the flying test facility, including several German technology companies, universities and research institutes, as well as Fraport AG.
In November 2019, the plane landed in Frankfurt for two days. “We are delighted to host the ‘ecoDemonstrator’ at Frankfurt Airport,” said Dr Pierre Dominique Prümm, Executive Board Member Aviation and Infrastructure at Fraport AG. “The technology projects presented here together with partners from industry, universities and research institutes are an example of how the industry is working together to jointly address future challenges to aviation.”

More than 1000 guests, industry representatives, pupils, students and Fraport AG employees took the opportunity to find out about the 50 projects on board the flying test facility. The research projects cover the most diverse fields in aviation, for example, a new type of digital communication system linking air traffic control, pilots, and the Airline Operations Center was already in use during the flight from Boeing’s headquarters in Seattle to Frankfurt. It improves safety by reducing frequency bottlenecks for communications, while at the same time increasing efficiency by optimizing flight routes in terms of fuel consumption and pollutant emissions.

An “Electronic Flight Bag Application” uses digital communication techniques to provide pilots with information for possible re-routing when weather conditions mean a decision has to be made.

“WE ARE GLAD TO BE HOSTING THE ECODEMONSTRATOR AT FRANKFURT AIRPORT. THE TECHNOLOGY PROJECTS PRESENTED HERE TOGETHER WITH PARTNERS FROM INDUSTRY, UNIVERSITIES AND RESEARCH INSTITUTES ARE EXAMPLES OF HOW THE INDUSTRY IS WORKING TOGETHER TO JOINTLY ADDRESS FUTURE CHALLENGES FACING AVIATION.”

DR. PIERRE DOMINIQUE PRÜMM, VORSTAND AVIATION UND INFRASTRUKTUR DER FRAPORT AG

The “ecoDemonstrator” also brought “Shape Memory Alloy” technology to Frankfurt, which is being jointly developed by Boeing and NASA. It enables vortex generators on the wings to move in relation to the temperature. The narrow, vortex-generating ribs position themselves according to the higher temperatures during take-off and landing and improve the aerodynamic behavior of the aircraft. At the colder cruising altitude temperatures, they nestle against the wing to reduce drag. A chromate-free corrosion protection for the aircraft’s aluminum structures is also being tested to reduce the risk of health hazards during production.

Furthermore, the tests also focus on increased passenger comfort. Networked cabin technologies with intelligent galley, seat and on-board toilet systems are being evaluated in the “ecoDemonstrator”. The real-time information transmitted by the systems informs the crew about any malfunctions in the fixtures and fittings or storage locations for food and beverages. Over a longer period of time, these systems can support predictive analytics solutions and thus contribute to the efficiency and reliability of flight operations. For example, they can improve the planning of catering supplies or replace cabin equipment before defects occur.

Boeing has already been relying on flying research laboratories for almost eight years. “The Boeing 777 is the youngest participant in our ‘ecoDemonstrator’ program,” says Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Product Strategy and Future Airplane Development at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “By using the 777 as a flying test facility, we can learn faster, implement innovations more quickly and determine their benefits with greater accuracy.”

So far, in addition to the current “Triple Seven”, five other aircraft – a 737-800, a 787-8 Dreamliner, a 757, an Embraer E170 and a 777 freighter – have tested well over 100 technologies. More than a third of these were implemented by Boeing or one of the program partners after the test phase. About half are still in development, while the tests of the remaining projects were discontinued following an evaluation of the flight test findings.

Among the technologies that have made it to production readiness are iPad apps that provide pilots with real-time information and enable them to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Other examples include user-defined approach information to reduce aircraft noise and a camera system on board the 777X that will help pilots avoid obstacles on the ground.

“THE BOEING 777 IS THE YOUNGEST PARTICIPANT IN OUR ECODEMONSTRATOR PROGRAM, WITH WHICH WE ARE EXAMINING HOW TECHNOLOGIES CAN MAKE FLYING SAFER, MORE EFFICIENT AND MORE COMFORTABLE. BY USING THE 777 AS A FLYING TEST BED, WE CAN LEARN FASTER, IMPLEMENT INNOVATIONS MORE QUICKLY AND DETERMINE THEIR USE WITH GREATER ACCURACY.”

MIKE SINNETT, VICE PRESIDENT OF PRODUCT STRATEGY AND FUTURE AIRPLANE DEVELOPMENT BEI BOEING COMMERCIAL AIRPLANES

After its flying visit to Frankfurt, the “ecoDemonstrator” returned to Seattle via Atlantic City. As on all flights, the twin-engine aircraft had a blend of sustainable fuel on board to reduce CO2 emissions, and at the same time demonstrate that this more environmentally friendly kerosene is ready for use.
Text by Behrend Oldenburg
Photos: Boeing, Fraport

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