Our latest acquisition, the brand new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner is due to arrive in a few days, touching down at Schiphol in Amsterdam on 14 November. I’ve been walking around the Boeing factory in Everett USA since August, supervising the aircraft’s construction on behalf of KLM. I’d like to tell you something more about how this aircraft is assembled.
The Boeing 787-9 is unusual in that all its components come from all around the world: the wings from Japan, the doors from France, the flaps from Australia and the body from Italy. Dozens of suppliers are involved in creating this aircraft. Unlike any of the other types made in Everett, the B787 isn’t built in the usual sense of the word, it’s assembled. This is spread across six positions.
Geavanceerde Boeing 787 Dreamliner
I’m not here alone, by the way. My team includes a technical representative and two ground engineers / inspectors who also work here at Boeing for KLM, following the assembly of the aircraft each step of the way, and checking and testing all the technology.
The Dreamliner is one of the most advanced aircraft of its time. More than half the body is made of composite material, not aluminium. This generates weight savings of 20% and allows for more interior space. The advantages of this for passengers can be seen here.
Position 0: preparing the largest parts
This is where the largest parts of the aircraft – the body, tail, nose and wings – are prepared to be joined together. The main job here is the assembly of the tail; this is where the horizontal and vertical fins are attached to the tail section.
The first inspections take place during these preparations. We look to see whether the electric cables have been fitted properly, for instance, and to see whether there is any damage to the structure or any other deviation from the norm.
Position 1: wings and body
The aircraft acquires its final shape in this position. This is where the wings are attached to the body. This is incredibly precise, mechanical work. First the wings are fixed and supported by an enormous jack. Then they are manoeuvred into position alongside the body. Lasers are then used to determine the precise position and holes for the bolts which fix the wings to the body are drilled by computer so that the bolts fit exactly.
The nose is then attached to the body and the tail section assembled. The vertical fin is also sprayed in the KLM colours at this point. And the aircraft gets its undercarriage.
We carry out other inspections during this phase, including checking the wing tank cables and the air-conditioning equipment under the floor.
Position 2: interior design
Our future PH-BHA has arrived at position 2 and now stands half way down the hanger. This is where most of the interior is constructed, such as the galleys, toilets, seats and ceilings. Work goes really fast now, even though not many people appear to be working on it. The building process is very efficiently organised. This is also where the engines are installed and the doors hung in the body. The cooling system and hydraulics are also filled with the correct liquids. Finally, a number of tests are carried out relating to fuel, electronics and software.
Position 3: ‘it’s alive!’
This is where the aircraft comes to life. Hydraulic and electrical systems are activated here. The system tests are carried out and the aircraft has electrical contact with AMS. The aircraft now gives off its first signs of electronic life.
Position 4: testing, testing, one, two
There is now far less equipment around the aircraft. Last night we performed the last cabin pressure tests and the interior is more complete now that the baggage bins have been installed. Economy seats are also placed in this phase and the Inflight Entertainment System is tested.
Position 5: paint job
The PH-BHA is then towed to position 5, the spraying hangar where it is painted in the KLM livery. Our aircraft are given a “base coat – clear coat”. It’s just like a car really. The paint is protected by a layer of clear varnish. It’s so smooth you can comb your hair in the reflection.
Position 6: ready to go
Stall. The aircraft is prepared for flight here. Everything is retested thoroughly: fuel pumps, lighting, etc.
Once this has been done, it’s time for a test flight. The KLM B787-9 PH-BHA and PH-BHC performed superbly during their first test flights. Now we just have to wait for the KLM crew to arrive to fly the aircraft to its new home on 13 November, touching down at Schiphol on Saturday, 14 November.
Read all about how the pilots prepare to fly this new aircraft.