Smoke forces Boeing 787 test flight landing

By Dow Jones Newswires-Wall Street Journal
Posted Nov. 9, 2010 at 9:31 p.m.

A Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner on Tuesday made an emergency landing in Laredo, Texas, after the crew reported smoke in the cabin during a test flight, according to the company and the Federal Aviation Administration.

The No. 2 plane of Boeing’s six-member test fleet was on a planned flight and routine approach to the Texas border city when a fire broke out in the rear of the cabin at about 2:50 p.m. local time.

The crew of between 30 and 40 Boeing flight-test employees on the plane used the jet’s emergency slides to evacuate, officials said. Emergency crews on the ground responded and extinguished the remainder of flames inside the aircraft, and no injuries were reported.

A spokeswoman for Chicago-based Boeing said the company is “continuing to gather data at this point” regarding the incident. An FAA spokesman in Texas said the agency will also be looking at the incident.

According to a person familiar with the matter, as the jet was flying at 1,000 feet during the approach to Laredo, the Dreamliner’s crew reported a fire, possibly in the plane’s rear electronics bay.

Subsequently, the 787’s emergency auxiliary power unit, known as a ram air turbine, deployed as a result of at least a partial power failure.

Some of the plane’s automated systems, including the auto-throttle and cockpit flight displays and electronics-assisted flight controls, were affected, this person said.

The pilots also canceled their instrument flight plan and proceeded to land under visual flight rules, possibly because some the flight instruments were knocked out.

A Boeing spokeswoman declined immediate comment regarding those issues.

Boeing customers have ordered about 850 Dreamliners, a plane that is critical to the company’s future.

According to the flight tracking website, the Dreamliner had departed Yuma, Ariz., at 7:42 a.m. Mountain Standard Time.

It was expected to land in Laredo sometime on Tuesday afternoon after a several hours flight to test the Dreamliner’s nitrogen generation system, a new safety measure designed to reduce the risk of fire in the plane’s fuel tanks.

The state-of-the-art 787, which is made largely of carbon-fiber composite material depends heavily on its vast and complex electrical system.

Unlike most modern commercial airliners, the Dreamliner uses electrical systems to operate many functions on the plane that are typically powered by excess air from the engines, known as a bleed air system.

Boeing executives have touted the many levels of electronic and computer redundancies built into the plane’s design. It appears that some of the electrical systems may have failed after the fire.

Dreamliner No. 2 is painted in the color scheme of Japan’s All Nippon Airways Co., the first customer for the new airliner, though the plane is not slated for to delivery to the airline.

Boeing last year said the first three Dreamliner test aircraft have been too heavily modified for commercial service.

The plane is equipped with Rolls-Royce PLC’s Trent 1000 engines, which have come under scrutiny in recent months after a series of problems with the engines both on flying test aircraft and at Rolls’ ground testing facility in Derby, England.

It is unclear whether Tuesday’s emergency was related to any engine issue.

On Monday, Rolls-Royce, which is at the center of last week’s mishap involving one of its engines on a Qantas Airways Ltd. Airbus A380 superjumbo jet. The next day, a Qantas Boeing 747 reported a different problem with its Rolls-Royce engine.

Tuesday’s incident in Texas is the latest setback for Boeing’s new flagship commercial aircraft program, which is running nearly three years behind schedule.

The first Dreamliner is slated for delivery to ANA sometime in the first quarter of next year. It’s unclear if Tuesday’s incident will further affect that timetable.

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  1. John Whitiker Nov. 10, 2010 at 9:01 a.m.

    You smell like poo poo. Did you know that Mr. Magoo also smells like poo! Hehehe!

  2. ericst Nov. 10, 2010 at 9:15 a.m.

    More info on this in the Seattle Times story.

    PFDs and autothrottle knocked out, as well as some flight controls, *and* deployment of the RAT… very worrisome. No pilot would ever want to experience this. A potentially catastrophic chain of events.

    Fortunate that everyone is alive.