What’s Unique about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner?


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The Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Photo Credit: Dave Sizer

The 787 Dreamliner was honored with the “Aircraft of Legend” award by the Living Legends of Aviation organisation on January 27, 2012, which debuted with an initial passenger flight in October of 2011. Boeing’s new marvel  in the sky took to the air the first time in December 2009, and has been the highlight of aviation enthusiasts throughout the world ever since. Pilots and enthusiasts alike have been amazed by the comparatively simple, yet incredibly efficient, concept of the Dreamliner; the design of which was dubbed as the “visionary design” by Boeing itself.

What appeals to the untrained eye is the streamlined flow of the complete aircraft structure. However, the important features of the plane, according to the  operators and owners of the aircraft, are the enhanced performance and efficiency of the Dreamliner.

Composite Materials in the Boeing 787

All Nippon Airways Boeing 787-8 with its mood lighting set to rainbow colors (Economy Class). Photo Credit: Luke Lai

The Boeing 787 uses a relatively high percentage (50%) composite materials (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic) in its construction. These materials have a higher strength-to-weight ratio, which adds to the airplane’s durability and reduces its weight at the same time.

Modern aircraft are traditionally built from aluminium and its alloys. However, when composite materials were recently certified as durable, they were introduced into the construction of passenger aircraft in small percentages. The Boeing 787, however, has 50% of its primary structure made from composite materials. That’s 23 tons of carbon fiber in the plane’s primary structure that enable the aircraft to support a maximum takeoff weight of 227,930 kilograms (502,500 pounds).

Increased Cabin Pressure and Humidity on the Dreamliner

As airplanes climb through the atmosphere to fly at high altitudes, atmospheric pressure decreases, and so does the density of oxygen, which we need to breathe. In order to maintain a comfortable environment in the aircraft, airplanes are pressurized to parallel the atmospheric conditions equivalent to those that exist at 8000ft (10.9psi). Typical aircraft are restricted by the type of material used in the plane’s construction, and cannot increase the cabin pressure to a value higher than 10.9psi. However, with the strength characteristics of composite materials used in the Dreamliner, the Boeing 787 can maintain a cabin altitude of 6000ft (11.8psi) which contributes positively in terms of comfort to passengers and pilots alike.

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