Boeing 787 vs De Haviland Comet – Will History Repeat?

I know I’ve said it before, but this latest news from Jon Ostrower (aka FlightBlogger) about the recent Boeing 787 delay being due to a design flaw in the tail really makes me wonder if the 787 isn’t doomed to become the De Haviland Comet of our time.

According to Jon’s report, the problem was discovered in December and is related to the unpressurised tail section of the aircraft. Apparently:

… the shear ties, those of which are made of aluminum, can pull away from the skin of the fuselage, potentially compromising the structural integrity of the aircraft.

The emphasis is mine to highlight that this is no small issue.

So what went wrong that could allow this problem to occur? According to Jon’s report:

… after the initial design failed to take into account thermal fatigue loading of the parts.

That’s a pretty serious design omission, don’t you think?

The 787 represents the same sort of technological leap in design & construction that the Comet represented in its day. Sadly, the design of the Comet was discovered to have catastrophic failures in whole new areas that hadn’t been encountered before (metal fatigue, the effects of repeated pressurisation cycles, etc).

The 787 project has been delayed repeatedly due to problems being encountered with its design and construction techniques. How many other problem areas will this aircraft encounter during testing? Will there be any others that escape testing but appear during operational use?

These are the risks that a company takes when it leaps so far ahead in technology. While Boeing is doing as much as they can to test & verify the aircraft, one cannot help but wonder if, like the Comet, the 787 will teach us about something entirely new that will be discovered at great cost.

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