DALLAS – Today in Aviation, Boeing successfully staged the first flight of the 777X, the world’s largest twin-engined commercial aircraft, in 2020. At 252 ft (77 m) in length, the 777X is the longest commercial jet. Additionally, the airplane’s wingspan, boosted by the world’s largest folding wingtips, will measure 235 ft (72 m), almost the same as the airplane’s length.
The Boeing 777X, a larger version of the 777 mini-jumbo and the new family member of the successful Triple Seven family of aircraft, powerfully roared down the runway at 10:08 am, later becoming airborne with relative ease. Hundreds of Boeing employees and members of the press stood next to Paine Field Airport’s (PAE) main runway to witness the historic moment as it unfolded.
Before coming in to land at the historic Boeing Field Airport (BFI) near central Seattle at 2:00 pm local time, the plane did a traditional overflight next to Mount Rainer, where it presumably posed for Boeing’s customary air-to-air photo over Washington State’s most famous landmark.
The Boeing 777X
Boeing announced the 777X in November 2013. The aircraft features General Electric GE9X high-bypass turbofan engines, folding wingtips, a wider cabin, and greater fuel efficiency. EK finalized an order for 150 777X in July 2014, of which 126 are pending delivery. However, the airline altered the order, cutting some aircraft and swapping others for the 787 Dreamliner.
Incidentally, Boeing modeled the 777X’s wing to a similar style of the Dreamliner to help further improve the efficiency of the aircraft.
When it enters into service, the new Boeing 777X will be the world’s largest and most efficient twin-engine jet flying; unrivaled, says Boeing, in every aspect of performance. The type incorporates breakthroughs in aerodynamics and engines, delivering 105 lower fuel use and emissions and 10% lower operating costs than the competition, according to the US-based manufacturer.
Boeing also says that the 777X offers “low-risk, profitable growth, industry-leading reliability” and seamless integration with the 777 and 787 Dreamliner families. Inside, the aircraft boasts a spacious, wide cabin, new custom architecture, and innovations from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. As such, the company says the 777X “will deliver the flight experience of the future.”
Production, Testing Delays
The Boeing 777X suffered quite a few setbacks during its initial testing phase. Back in September 2019, the structural testing had to be suspended as one of the fuselage doors of their testing frame blew off unexpectedly during a maximum pressurization test.
This was a big hit to Boeing as the FAA’s (Federal Aviation Administration) officials were in attendance at the time and were ready to sign off the aircraft for its structural safety. Read our coverage here. Alongside the structural safety issue, the Boeing 777X was already suffering from delays due to a manufacturing fault with its brand-new General Electric GE9X engines.
The engines had to be recalled for a re-design due to increased wear of the engine and it producing exhaust gas temperatures that were considerably higher than the optimal limits for the GE9X engine. This was caused by malfunctioning stator vanes in the second stage of the high-pressure compressor.
The 777X was expected to enter service later than originally scheduled due to the aforementioned development snags and the coming COVID-19 pandemic. The type will go toe-to-toe with the Airbus A350-1000, which seats about 360 passengers. As we saw throughout 2020-2021, big twinjets began to steadily displace the aging four-engined Boeing 747 and Airbus A380.
The Boeing 777X Variants
The Boeing 777X will come in two different variants, the 777-8X and the 777-9X. The 777-8X will be the smaller of the two but has the ability to fly 8,730 nautical miles, whereas the 777-9X will be able to fly a distance of 7,285 nautical miles.
Also, the 777-9X is about to become the longest commercial passenger plane ever seen, measuring 252 ft (77 m). The airplane’s wingspan, boosted by the world’s largest folding wingtips, will measure 235 feet (72 meters), almost the same as the airplane’s length.
While on the ground, the 777X’s wingtips will be folded upwards in order to reduce the wingspan of the aircraft for safety and operational reasons. When flying, the 777X’s wingtips will be extended to help the efficiency in-flight, to which the wingspan will then be increased to 235 feet, 5 inches (71.75m).
Both variants will be powered by General Electric’s massive GE9X engine. The 777-8X’s list price is US$410.2m and the 777-9X’s list price is US$442.2m, according to Boeing.
Wide-Body Demand, Delivery Pushbacks
Due to overcapacity and economic weakness, experts have cited concerns about wide-body demand since before the pandemic came and wrecked the industry. According to Rob Morris, consultancy chief at UK-based Ascend by Cirium, Airlines canceled more than twice as many big jets in 2020 as they ordered the year before.
Boeing announced in 2020 that it had sold 309 777X. However, many in the industry question its dependence on Middle East carriers, which have scaled back their orders.
In late December of that year, Emirates (EK) stated via a press release that it did not expect its new Boeing 777X to join its fleet until 2023. No reasons for this were given, but it can be speculated that the 777X program delays and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic were both major factors.
Emirates previously expected deliveries to be pushed back from 2021 to 2022, according to Chief Operating Officer Adel Ahmed Al Redha. Before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world, Al Redha said, “I don’t see that they [Boeing] will be able to deliver the aircraft in 2021. I think 2022 is a safe assumption to make.”
While Boeing’s new US$442.2m flagship plane generates a lot of buzz in the aviation world, delays are keeping it from reaching its full potential with a 2023 certification date.
Featured image: Brandon Farris/Airways