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Space Science

Boeing Dreamliner Safety Concerns Are Specious 402

SoyChemist writes in to note his article at Wired Science on the uproar Dan Rather has stirred up with his claim that Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner aircraft may be unsafe. "Dozens of news agencies have jumped on the bandwagon. Most of them are reporting that the carbon fiber frame may not be as sturdy as aluminum. Few have bothered to question Rather's claims that the composite materials are brittle, more likely to shatter on impact, and prone to emit poisonous chemicals when ignited. While there is a lot of weight behind the argument that composite materials are not as well-studied as aircraft aluminum, the reasoning behind the flurry of recent articles may be faulty. The very title of Rather's story, Plastic Planes, indicates a lack of grounding in science. Perhaps the greatest concern should be how well the plane will hold up to water. Because they are vulnerable to slow and steady degradation by moisture, the new materials may not last as long as aluminum. Testing them for wear and tear will be more difficult too."
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Boeing Dreamliner Safety Concerns Are Specious

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  • by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) * <bittercode@gmail> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:12AM (#20680199) Homepage Journal
    I heard he has an email from Pres. Bush that he sent Boeing in 1945 proving that they knew the plane was unsafe.
  • People have been voicing these concerns for years.
    • What I find interesting is the perception that using composites on aircrafts are something new. In the GA-experimental world, they are all considered superior for a whole range of reasons, and have been around for more than a decade. In the commercial world, various smaller parts have been used with composites for a number of years.

      The burning argument is the one I find the most bizarre. So let me get this straight... A > 20 ton aircraft crashes, and all they can think about is the potential "toxic ch
    • by Fozzyuw ( 950608 )

      People have been voicing these concerns for years.

      Hehe, no kidding. As I read it... "Boeings new Planes are not safe if they crash!"

      Really? They figure that out all by themselves?

  • Shocked (Score:2, Funny)

    by Selfbain ( 624722 )
    Dan Rather falsely reporting something? I'm shocked, SHOCKED! Well, not that shocked.
  • ...Dan Rather is making good use of his PH. D.'s in Materials Science and Molecular Chemistry when he says these things.

    Really, Dan is just cranky after being outed by CBS for his lack of thorough background information checking, so he's taking it out on Boeing, probably because he had to wait for a flight at JFK.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) *
      If his 70 million dollar suit against CBS fails - he needs to stay in the public eye to pick up another job.
      • If his 70 million dollar suit against CBS fails - he needs to stay in the public eye to pick up another job.

        Hammer, meet nail.

        This is nothing but a vain attempt by Rather to become "relevant" again. It's the equivalent of Britney Spear's "comeback" at the MTV awards show, and is just as likely to succeed.

    • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:00AM (#20681059)
      I take it you don't actually understand how the TV news business works. Rather was the anchor for the news, he wasn't the one doing all of the investigation, research and fact checking on the stories that appeared. There just aren't that many hours in the day. Which is why news outlets will have producers, copywriters, fact checkers and a whole support staff that handles huge portions of the news end of things.

      When it comes to the news, there are these very strict deadlines, and if you miss a key deadline by 20 minutes to fact check, you may as well just wait for the next day. And yes that's a big deal with a huge story, it could be the difference between breaking a story and being a me too response.

      Using hindsight as a measure of how well an investigation was done is a practice with its sole root in ignorance. One would just assume that Nixon would be outed for the plumbers.

      I think that it is amazing that people are genuinely OK with the lack of hard reporting on any of the presidents activities or the huge number of changes of course which were justified as not being changes at all, but totally against an honest mistake.

      If the press had been really on their job instead of pussy footing around all the potentially huge stories without investigating them, I seriously doubt that the W fans would be complaining about this one instance rather than how the "liberal media" is out to get an honest politician.
  • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <Satanicpuppy@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:13AM (#20680239) Journal
    Carbon fiber more brittle than Aluminum? So's diamond...What's your point? Carbon fiber is also a lot more flexible than aluminum and it's lighter. There are pros and cons of every material. It produces chemicals when it burns? Like inhaling toxic smoke is going to be your big worry if the PLANE is ON FIRE.

    This kind of crap is infuriating for airline companies...It doesn't take much at all to kill a whole line of planes, just the vague reputation for being unsafe. A report like this, based on a flawed understanding of Carbon vs Aluminum where the "reporter" doesn't even grasp the real issue, could do real harm.
    • by eln ( 21727 ) *
      I'm not a materials scientist or anything, but I'm confused by your post. How can something be both more brittle and more flexible at the same time? I thought those two were contradictory.

      Anyway, from what I understand the biggest unknown with carbon fiber is its longevity. If this stuff degrades faster over time than aluminum, you could end up with a lot more poorly maintained aircraft coming apart in the sky. Probably not a big deal in developed countries where maintenance requirements are very strict
      • by Splab ( 574204 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:35AM (#20680629)

        Probably not a big deal in developed countries where maintenance requirements are very strict, but it could be an issue in the third world where regulations may be more spotty

        Yeah because here in the first world we didn't just have 3 plane crashing during landing due to poor maintenance. (Look up Bombadier 8Q-400).

        And GP said:

        It produces chemicals when it burns? Like inhaling toxic smoke is going to be your big worry if the PLANE is ON FIRE.

        This is a very big issue, if you inhale smoke from a grill you don't drop dead within seconds, if you keep doing it you will of course die from lack of oxygen. The problem they have been talking about with the carbon fiber is the smoke can contain toxins that will kill you a heck of a lot faster, making escape from the fire a moot point because you are dead trying to find the exit.
      • When carbon fiber composites break, they tend to shatter. When aluminium is overly stressed, it dents or rips. The thing is that it takes a lot more force to break the carbon composite than to dent the aluminum enough to compromise its strength.
      • by Bluesman ( 104513 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:42AM (#20680725) Homepage
        I'm not a materials scientist either, but I did take a structural engineering class and sleep in a Holiday Inn express last night.

        There are many classifications of materials that could be interpreted as "brittle." Brittle is much too general a term to be used in engineering, so you have to be suspicious of the news article.

        You can measure tensile strength, which is a measure of how much something can bend until it break. There's another measurement where you find how much something can bend until it permanently deforms, so that it won't go back to its original state. Each of these could be called "flexibility" but that doesn't tell you the whole story.

        Carbon fiber when it fails may fail explosively and shatter, while a soft metal would simply deform slowly when bent far enough. This could be called "brittleness" but it really has little to do with the actual engineering problem, since if you design the carbon fiber component to high enough tolerances, you're not worried about it breaking, since the force required to break it would be so huge you'd have other, much bigger problems besides the breaking of the part. (Like, how do we get the people out of the broken plane when Godzilla is about to eat it?)

        It would be easy to criticize the engineering of the plane on the news, because nobody is going to sit there for three months to check everything out -- they'll watch the demo of a small piece of carbon fiber breaking and think, "Oh my god, that could be the wing of my plane!"
        • by wikdwarlock ( 570969 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:52AM (#20682973) Homepage
          IAAME (I am a mechanical engineer) I hate to be pedantic, but if you're going to give people technical words like tensile strength, give it to them correctly. Tensile strength refers to the amount of stress a material can handle, before failure, when loaded in axial tension. While bending does involve loading that is 50% tensile, it also contains an equal, compressive, component. In fact, many materials have a different compressive strength, and may fail at a loading that does not exceed tensile strength due to buckling or other problems on the compressive side.
      • by Aladrin ( 926209 )
        He may have confused the terms, but he's got the right idea. Diamond is the hardest substance, but it's fairly easy to chip off a piece of it.

        Carbon Fiber has similar issues. It's extremely strong under some stresses, but under others it snaps easily. From what I gather, CF is very rigid, but doesn't take impact or bending well.
      • by TheAxeMaster ( 762000 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:50AM (#20680837)
        It only works that way in different load directions. You can take a sheet of CF in a typical layer configuration (say a 45/90/135) and bend it 45 degrees or more and it won't break or even look like it was bent when you return it to its former shape. But if you pull on it it doesn't stretch like aluminum. What people misunderstand is that because it doesn't stretch, they think it is more prone to failure which just isn't true. It is absorbing the same (or more) energy but it doesn't exhibit the same behavior while doing so. Aluminum will fail and snap also, but people are more comfortable with it stretching first because that's what they are used to seeing. It doesn't make it better, just different.

        The types of CF composite that degrade faster are the ones where the resin doesn't have a UV inhibitor in it. UV degrades the resin just like it does to any plastic but with proper protection that isn't a problem. Once this was understood companies developed UV inhibitors for the resins to make them resistant to UV degradation. And you can bet the farm on a $150+ million dollar plane being adequately protected. There is no reason to think that they won't last just as long as an aluminum plane. Never mind that the resin only carries a tiny fraction of the load, in the directions the fibers aren't laid up for. Meaning the resin is mainly there to keep the material from delaminating.

        Though some may not know it, but as aluminum oxidizes over time it becomes aluminum oxide which is more brittle and prone to fracture. So you face the same problem with aluminum, but it is adequately protected and hasn't been a problem for the many many years that commercial aircraft have been flying. Just like fiberglass boats, adequately protected and maintained they last a long time.

        But what do I know, I'm just an aerospace engineer with some composite materials training. I should leave the science to Dan Rather.
        • by Shotgun ( 30919 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:24AM (#20681401)
          Your analysis is dead on, but I'd like to add just one point. The nature of aluminum corrosion, pitting, creates stress risers. That is a point where a crack starts easily. Build an airplane and you will soon understand that once a crack starts in aluminum it needs to be repaired or thrown away post-haste, for it will soon be two pieces of aluminum. Composites are somewhat more forgiving.

      • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <Satanicpuppy@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:21AM (#20681361) Journal
        Not at all. Aluminum won't shatter without being super-cooled or absorbing some kind of catastrophic strike...It'll bend, warp, tear, deform. Carbon fiber will bend, hell, there is theory (not yet tested to my knowledge) that carbon fiber wings could bend to the point of touching above or below the plane.

        The difference is, if aluminum bent like that it wouldn't return to it's original shape, whereas carbon fiber might. Carbon fiber is very flexible, but when it bends too far it effectively explodes...Shatters into a zillion pieces. So it's brittle.

        Put the two materials side by side, and carbon fiber can absorb a hell of a lot more energy without failing than aluminum, but aluminum isn't brittle, so it might be better at dealing with certain types of impacts.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fnj ( 64210 )

      Carbon fiber is also a lot more flexible than aluminum and it's lighter.

      Flexibility is defined by Young's Modulus, "E". Carbon fiber has a much higher ratio of Young's Modulus to weight, and a higher outright value of Young's Modulus, than aluminum.

      Like inhaling toxic smoke is going to be your big worry if the PLANE is ON FIRE.

      Actually, yes, it is. Carbon monoxide and cyanide gas in smoke is the biggest killer in fires, including aircraft fires.

      • by deacon ( 40533 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @12:56PM (#20684409) Journal
        He said: "Carbon fiber is also a lot more flexible than aluminum and it's lighter."
        You said: "Flexibility is defined by Young's Modulus, "E". Carbon fiber has a much higher ratio of Young's Modulus to weight, and a higher outright value of Young's Modulus, than aluminum."
        Not quite. Young's Modulus is the stiffness of a material. Flexibility is a non-technical term, but it implies amount of strain a material can withstand before beginning to yield. And for an aircraft, the strength to weight ratio should be the most important. For the non-MEs: strain, stress, yield all have very, very specific meanings in mechanical or materials engineering. Also, aluminium has no lower fatigue limit: It will eventually develop cracks no matter how low the cyclic stresses are. And since airplanes constantly vibrate in operation...
    • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:39AM (#20680679)
      This kind of crap is infuriating for airline companies...It doesn't take much at all to kill a whole line of planes, just the vague reputation for being unsafe

      Yup. Michael Crichton's "Airframe" was actually a pretty good read on this very subject. Well, it INVOLVED this sort of subject. Most people also don't understand that the airframe ain't the same as the engines, and ain't the same as the particular airline's choice about all sorts of other things (from avionics packages, to training programs/frequency, etc). But it shouldn't just be infuriating to airlines, it should be infuriating to ANYONE who manufactures anything, works for someone who does, likes buying from anyone who does, has some of their Mom's 401k invested in someone who does, likes the fact that we get tax revenue from someone who does, who would rather buy from Boeing than ship the cash consortium manufacturer, and more.

      I'm way more worried about the corrosion of national critical thinking skills and basic science education (which allows this sort of stuff to be written and passively consumed) than I am about the prospects of water-based corrosion to a CF airframe 20 years from now. We can fix/replace an airframe, but we can't fix some teenager that's been trained to not think, and who finds the trouble of actually grokking issues like this to be unfashionable and too much work. That Dan Rather is pandering to that cultural flaw (while suing CBS for $70 million for getting busted having done it before!) isn't just embarassing, it's Actually Evil(tm). And not just for Boeing's upper management bonuses.
  • by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:14AM (#20680241)
    Trusting Dan Rather is like....
    • Buying Madonna's book: Screwing for Virginity.
    • Buying MS Vista for it's speed and congeniality.
    Seriously folks, Dan Rather has about as much common sense as a Bugby.

    This is the guy that went on the airwaves with a "memo" supposedly typed in the 1970's, with proportional fonts and different-font sized superscripts! I would not trust someone like that to tell me it's raining.

    Carbon-fiber composite construction has been around for going on forty years now. It's been accellerator tested in hot humid ovens and passed with darn good results. Boeing doesn't make junk. And airframes are warranted for tens of thousands of Hobbs clock hours, so the airlines are not at risk, they're voting with their checkbooks.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by downix ( 84795 )
      "This is the guy that went on the airwaves with a "memo" supposedly typed in the 1970's, with proportional fonts and different-font sized superscripts!"

      I have a typewriter from the 1960's that offers that, the IBM Selectric, introduced in 1961. Boughtat an rmy surplus aucton, it was the most popular typewriter for military use until the mid-70's.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        >the IBM Selectric, .... Well, not really. First of all I did not say anything about the document having multiple fonts in it. But if you assume the "th" had to be done in a smaller font size, then: The IBM Selectric offers "fonts" in the sense that Windows offers "security". You can, at considerable expense, ($40 in 1960 dollars!, almost $180 today!) purchase alternate type balls. These were NON-PROPORTIONAL, i.e. fixed space fonts. You could select 9 or 10 or 12-point spacing, but only by movin
    • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:39AM (#20680673)
      >Seriously folks, Dan Rather has about as much common sense as a Bugby.

      Why Dan Rather specifically? This week I watched regular tv for the first time in years. I usually just tivo stuff. The "news" I saw at the hotel is the most ignorant, consumerist, and alarmist crap I have ever seen. Rather, from what I remember years ago, seems a step above the always OJ, always Arabs-Want-to-kill-us, etc crowd.

      I think the problem is that "news" in the US is just crap. Americans now prefer crap over facts. Picking on one reporter or one network isnt helping. Theyre all like this.
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:15AM (#20680263)
    If you go "this is unsafe!" and you were right, and you can go I told you so, and score a political victory.

    If you go "this is unsafe!" and you were wrong, you can go well my conserns were addressed and score a political victory.

    If you go "this is safe!" and it is safe. Nothing really happends no creditability loss or gained.

    If you go "this is safe!" and it was found unsafe. You get fired, invistagations, rumors you were in colution with with contrators....

    So if you were trying to run or stay in office what will you demmand.

    Government is a failure driven buisness it is what you do wrong that hurts you and if enough people above you were fired then you finally get promoted. So Screamming and yelling and making false accuasations and make the world seem like an unbarable place to live is the best thing you can do for your job.
  • Curing process (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Capt James McCarthy ( 860294 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:15AM (#20680265) Journal
    Isn't the curing process for carbon fiber a few thousand degrees? Wouldn't fire have to be hotter then the curing process before carbon fiber would burn or smolder?
    • Probably but the fumes from this thousand degree fire could cause some medical problem in the long run if you were in close contact. Unlike the near emeadeate death from the fire.
      • I'd wager this is true of any airliner - (dangerous fumes if it burns) regardless of frame composition.
      • Thinking this further. There is also the issue of insurance cost. It is cheaper for the insurance company to pay the families if everyone dies horibably but quickly. But the cost of long term illnesses would cost a lot more to the insurance company. So I bet they rather make sure there is no toxic fumes in the rare case of a fire vs. allowing something to be unsafe and killing everyone in one shot. Man Insurance is pure evil.
    • Re:Curing process (Score:4, Informative)

      by UDGags ( 756537 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:46AM (#20680781)
      Carbon fiber will burn in air around 500-600F. Air has oxygen which attacks the carbon...this is why almost all composites on an airplane undergo TOS (thermal oxidative stability) studies. If the plane has crash landed and is on fire the fumes are from the resin used not the carbon. The FAA requires rigorous fire testing of materials. Usually, flame retardant additives are used on structures that could burn or they use a phenolic resin.
    • Carbon Fiber processes is no different that any other laminate molding. Yes there are resins resins that you would want high temp low moisture for curing, but it is more about removing moisture to ensure correct resin/fiber bonding than anything else. I suspect the resin is vaccumed originally to remove bubbles during mixing, but with a laminate piece as large as a fuselage, small bubbles during curing would be the least of there concerns. Proper pre-preg placement would the the most important. In othe
    • Isn't the curing process for carbon fiber a few thousand degrees? []

  • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:15AM (#20680273)
    Carbon fiber can fail, but when it does fail it tends to do so suddenly and violently. Where metals bend Carbon fiber tends to explode. Though i have also seen the films of boeing stress testing the 787's wing bend. With far more bend than a metal wing could handle. As others have pointed out weathering may also limit the useful life of the parts.

    In the End CArbon fiber isn't better or worse than a metal plane. It's just different with different things that can go wrong.
    • by jcr ( 53032 )
      In the End CArbon fiber isn't better or worse than a metal plane.

      I beg to differ. Carbon fiber is better because it doesn't corrode, and it has a superior strength-to-weight ratio.


      • []

        Watch the sequence I avoided putting this in the first post as I don't want the poor site slashdotted.

        Carbon Fiber is used often in Sail boats. Including the masts. The images don't show the break up but a small section of the mast is missing. Instead of bending it just broke, crashing everything to the ground. It could be build quailty, or a number of other factors but such things need to be sorted out. Hence why I say it can go either wa
        • by jcr ( 53032 )
          Racing boats are built for performance, not durability. The fact that this mast failed surprises me no more than a drag racing engine throwing a rod. It really says nothing at all about an aircraft designed for decades of service.


      • I beg to differ. Carbon fiber is better because it doesn't corrode, and it has a superior strength-to-weight ratio.
        Composites can suffer from all sorts of problems, from fatigue failures, ultraviolet weathering, water ingress, delamination etc.

        They have different problems but they do have problems. I assume the Boeing engineers know what they are.
    • Since you're talking about bending a wing under test, I would like to point out that the failure mode for a similar structure in aluminium will probably fail in a buckling mode, which happens to be sudden and catastrophic also.

      I think the waste stream of old carbon fibre composite parts will be more of a long-term problem. At least the aluminium could be recycled.
      • 777 static wing test (Score:4, Informative)

        by Jaeger ( 2722 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:56AM (#20680939) Homepage

        For the 777, one test Boeing performed was bending the wing to 150% of its maximum rated load to make sure the wing was structurally sound. The all-aluminum wing shattered at 153%, which makes for a great video: Boeing 777 Wing Ultimate Load Test []. (The video is from the PBS documentary miniseries Twenty-First Century Jet.)

        When I'm flying and I see the wing bobbing up and down outside my window, I try not to think about seeing this video. (Of course, I know the loads are different, but then I have to convince my reptile brain.)

  • Almost any boat you're likely to see in a private marina probably has a hull made of fiberglass, an epoxy/fiber composite. Working with composites around moisture is mostly just a matter of attention to detail and maintenance. Carbon, kevlar, and fiberglass epoxy composites have been used for decades in whitewater and flatwater kayaking and canoeing. With proper maintenance a single boat can easily last that long.
    • Yeah, but epoxy/fibre boats suffer from "Boat Pox", where blisters form under the skin and the GRP delaminates. Now, if that happens in a fibre wing, I suspect there would be disastrous consequences.

      Would you care to reassure me in some other way please?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Puls4r ( 724907 )
        Certainly. A boat hull is subject to immersion in water 24 hours a day 7 days a week for 8-9 months. Many times for years if it bubbled rather than dry stored. In addition, you have cruising boats that have been in the water for decades.

        Delamination of the layers, or "blistering" can be completely prevented by using an appropriate barrior coat of non-absorbing osmosis resistant epoxy.

        The point is, engineers have decades of experience with laminates and epoxies that see far more moisture than a plan
  • they should put on the disclaimer... "More likely to shatter on impact, if you are lucky enough to have survived it!"

    **My personal disclaimer - I'm not happy with airlines, so don't look at my like that! :)
  • Next thing you know he'll be tossing words like "hella" and "truthiness" around.
  • by chiph ( 523845 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:20AM (#20680345)
    And it was built in the early 1980's. You would think that in a plane whose computers limit turns to 9g's -- not because of the airframe, but because of the stresses on the pilot -- they would have concerns over strength. But that is not so.

    One concern the USAF had with the F-16 was that in the event of a crash, a cloud of electrically conductive carbon fibers would settle over the base, shorting out anything electrical. Judging by the F-16 we had burn on the taxiway at Hahn AB in 1985, that wasn't the case.

    Chip H.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tgd ( 2822 )
      And so are F1 cars -- which crash at speeds equivalent to a plane landing and takeoff all the time. They're much SAFER because of their CF construction...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The F-16 is made from aluminum. Production started in 1976. In the block 30, 40 and 50 F-16Cs some composite materials are used, but not in any great quantity. Carbon fiber composites emit very toxic fumes when burned, but then so do a lot of other materials used in aerospace.
    • So is the GEnx (Score:5, Informative)

      by Z_A_Commando ( 991404 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:39AM (#20681659)
      General Electric's GEnx is going to be used on the Dreamliner. It has a composite fan case and composite fan blades with a titanium leading edge. As part of the FAA certification for the engine to be certified to fly, it must withstand several tests: endurance, icing, foreign object ingestion, crosswind, and blade-out. -Endurance runs the engine at take-off power for over a week straight. -Icing involves shooting ice into the engine until it stalls or until you can't shoot a larger amount of ice. This is also done with water. The GEnx did not stall on this test. -Foreign Object Ingestion is where organic objects are shot into the engine (birds of various sizes). Think meat grinder. -Crosswind involves applying winds from non-standard directions. Fairly straight forward. -Blade-out is where an explosive charge is placed in the forward fan and detonated causing a blade to shoot out and get sucked into the engine. By FAA regulations the forward fan case and engine must completely contain the failure. The end result is a destroyed engine. For the GEnx, I have personally seen the fan case from the blade-out, and the carbon-fibre fan case withstood the blade-out on its first run. This truly attests to the strength of composites. Just my 2 cents.
  • by maniac/dev/null ( 170211 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:21AM (#20680359) Homepage
    If you ask me, Dan's gotten himself in more trouble than a chipmunk in a tire factory.
    • OK, I have this weird habit of collecting cultural references to Abe Lincoln ... if you don't mind, where did you derive your sig from, or did you make it up? thanks
  • Dan's a little distracted right now as he's busy SCOing CBS []. You see, it was their fault that he lied about the fake Bush memo and therefore they should give him $70M.

    Does Rather have credibility with anyone now, or is this just an old man past his glory days that desperately wants to remain relevant and visible?

  • by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:21AM (#20680377) Journal
    From the Fox News article:

    The first 787 is due to be delivered to Japan's All Nippon Airways in May next year, meaning it will have at most six months of flight tests, much shorter than previous jetliner programs.
    What they don't mention is that, while the testing schedule is shorter in terms of calendar days, Boeing is logging just as many, if not more, flight hours with the 787 test aircraft as they have with earlier projects. The accelerated schedule is to meet their delivery deadline, but all the requisite tests are still being done.

    Boeing knows that the health of the company for the next 10-20 years rests with this aircraft. Airbus, despite its problems with the A380, isn't going to cease being a fierce competitor. If Boeing screws this project up, and gets a lot of bad PR from an aircraft failure, they'll be lucky to survive. With so much at stake, I trust them to do their jobs right.
  • Airbus have been using composite parts in their aircraft for quite a while. However, as it turns out, this hasn't been a problem free experience. Notable examples are Air Transat flight 961 [] where the composite rudder fell off the Airbus A310 in mid-flight. Also, more tragically, American Airlines flight 587 [] crashed after the co-pilot made several rudder reversals resulting in the composite tail fin of the A300-600 snapping off.

    I hope Boeing have learned from these accidents.
    • "I hope Boeing have learned from these accidents."

      To my knowledge, they haven't because they didn't make those design decisions in the first place, knowing that there was a risk to them and deciding to avoid them in advance rather than risk learning from a bad decision the hard way.

      Boeing engineers are incredibly conservative. Airbus is a bit more aggressive - brought to you by most of the same companies that brought you Ariane 5...

      As an example: Different design teams made both the hardware and software
    • The American Airlines flight crash had nothing to do with the fact the tail was composite - the NTSB report (Press Release []) found that the fin failed beyond the ultimate load that the fin was approved to:

      The Board found that the composite material used in constructing the vertical stabilizer was not a factor in the accident because the tail failed well beyond its certificated and design limits.

      The Air Transat incident is looking more and more likely that it was caused by leaking hydraulic fluid causing delamination in the composites to the point of failure.

    • after the co-pilot made several rudder reversals

      After he had been told by a pilot to NEVER do that again, and one pilot refused to ever fly with him again.

      The guy, through a combination of his own inflated ego and the flawed American Airlines Advanced Aircraft Maneuvering Program (AAMP) killed everyone onboard that flight. What happened was in the AAMP one of the things taught was a "Wake Turbulence Avoidance Manuver" in a commercial flight simulator. The problem was they started with the simulation pause

  • by aapold ( 753705 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:29AM (#20680499) Homepage Journal
    As we know from Battlestar Galactica, making the hull from composites will make it invisible to Radar []..

    thus air traffic control will be unable to find them and guide traffic around them.
  • unsafe, huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Connie_Lingus ( 317691 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:29AM (#20680507) Homepage
    I hate articles like this...doesn't anyone actually use, you know, MATH to quantify terms like "safe" and "unsafe", without just throwing around FUD like this? BY FAR, the most dangerous thing we all do everyday is drive our cars around, which account for 44.3% of all accidental deaths in this country. This is followed by "Unspecified non-transport accidents" at 17.6%, and Falls at 13.6%.

    Death stats found here [].

    Aircraft deaths do not even make the list. How can something that accounts for less then 0.1% of all accidental deaths be called "unsafe"?
    • Aircraft deaths do not even make the list. How can something that accounts for less then 0.1% of all accidental deaths be called "unsafe"?

      While I find your overall point valid, the above has an easy answer: popularity. It is obviously unsafe to mechanically force the ingestion of 100 pounds of live fire ants... However, this particular act probably accounts for no deaths at all, 0.0%.
    • I see. So standing on a live mine in a cage of angry black mambas, juggling three running chain saws, wearing a plastic bag over your head connected to a carbon monoxide pump and piddling on a 10,000,000 Volt live connection accounts for exactly zero deaths, so obviously cannot be considered unsafe... ;-)

  • Has anyone told Kimi Raikonen, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso how unsafe composite materials are? At the Montreal F1 race Robert Kubica demonstrated how fragile and prone to fire they are when he took a 150 mph flight into the wall.
  • Publicity (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fadilnet ( 1124231 )
    This helps Boeing. All it has to do is present counter arguments and have FAA representatives state publicly that the plane is secure. It's just good publicity. Airbus is quiet. If it had started making some waves about the current statements by Rather, then it would have been interesting. Are there no simulation (VR) conducted about crashes occurring? Boeing should release the results and even make the risk analysis report public (at least part of it), as a slap in the face of all those who believe the pla
  • Not as well studied? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vogon jeltz ( 257131 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:30AM (#20680553)
    Oh Dear, here we go again ...
    Carbon fibre, Aramid and glass fiber are the predominant construction materials in sailplanes. They all have a long, proven track record of reliability and endurance.
    When a plane crashes, toxic fumes (emitted mostly by the material's matrix, usually epoxy raisin) will probably be the least of your problems.
    Carbon fibre will burn to C02, because, as the name implies, it consists of carbon.

    PS: I know what I'm talking about, because we build sailplane prototypes at the University of Darmstadt (the kind where you can actually sit in and fly).
  • I should hope so, what would be the point of having a plane that you can barely move in?
  • I ride metal bicycles, which slowly degrade after a point you're putting significant energy into flexing the frame because it looses stiffness. At or before this point is the time to buy a new bike. I've heard from people who ride composites that they tend to fail suddenly, like during a ride.

    Anyway, the aerospace people have been using composites for longer than the bicycle people, so they've developed things like X and Gamma ray machines to look for defects before they become a problem. If Boeing ca
  • by leereyno ( 32197 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:55AM (#20680921) Homepage Journal
    Dan Rather's claims are based on a report he received from 1972 detailing the flaws and dangers of carbon fiber airframes. The report used proportional fonts, kerning, and a typeface that was not available until much later.

    When questioned about these inconsistencies, Rather declared "I believe this story is true! I believe it in my heart! I stand by my pres.. errr, I mean Boeing, but I feel this story is true!"

    Boeing was not available for comment.

  • by cbc1920 ( 730236 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:56AM (#20680945)
    The comments in this thread are just more evidence for why we should leave the aircraft construction up to the engineers and not try to figure things out here.

    Carbon fiber is a VERY active area of research, and it is definitely true that more is known about aluminum than CF structures, but this is for the simple fact that aluminum is about 10x simpler to understand and model than CF. You are talking about a metal that is isotropic (material properties the same no matter what direction you measure them) versus two different polymers, bonded together. Composite mechanics are incredibly complex, but that doesn't mean we don't understand them enough to make them safe. It only means that we have to use larger safety margins in our designs. As research continues, you will not see airplanes get safer, only cheaper and lighter. Safety is driven by FAA regs, and performance that is driven by material knowledge.

    In general, carbon fiber is stiffer and stronger than aluminum. This means that you can make the plane weigh less and flex more. Good, right? It also will have better fatigue properties than Aluminum, since it does not have to deal with crack propagation. Aluminum will fail catastrophically, while CF will go gradually. Chances are that you will detect a CF failure long before it becomes a safety problem, as long as you use those fancy infrared/X-ray/gamma ray inspection devices. For those concerned about "water fatigue", there are a number of industry standard tests to measure this degredation, and it is included with every roll of CF that you order. It's definitely not something they haven't thought of.

    The FAA has some of the most stringent regulations of any government agency when it comes to airplanes. The chances of an unsafe product making it to market are very low, simply because of the maintenance required and number of test hours needed. If you remember scandals of the past, they all come from companies either cheating the regulations or the regs failing to be applied. Please don't get riled up unless one of these two things is happening.
  • by petaflop ( 682818 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:11AM (#20681199)

    If you go to the article on WIRED, you are presented with the text accompanied by a picture of a shiny new boeing airliner. Presumably we are supposed to infer that the picture shows the aircraft concerned, perhaps rendered using CGI? In fact, mouseover the image and a balloon help pops up saying 'dreamliner', and the file is called "dreamliner.jpg".

    However if I'm not very much mistaken, the picture is not a 787/dreamliner, but rather a Boeing 737/700 - a much smaller jet made mostly from more conventional materials. In fact, it's the same image used on the 737 wikipedia page []. Careless journalism from WIRED too, perhaps?

  • by Comatose51 ( 687974 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:44AM (#20682807) Homepage
    Which is exactly why we built our B2 Spirit stealth bomber out of it... or why Ferrari uses CF for their cars or why my high end Cannondale bicycle is made out of it. Aluminum doesn't bend; it just cracks given enough flexing (try this with a soda can). Any cyclist who knows bikes are aware of this.

When someone says "I want a programming language in which I need only say what I wish done," give him a lollipop.