CHARLESTON, S.C. — Last week was a crucial week for Boeing South Carolina: the 787-10 rollout combined with a presidential visit, and the voting down of the International Machinist Union by a wide margin at the company’s North Charleston plant.
This week continues with a flurry of activity, though not nearly as dramatic.
Hours before the delivery of the first 787-9 to Korean Air, Boeing hosted a briefing on the status of the Boeing South Carolina Operation and the 787 Program, together with a guided tour around the premises of its site. Darrel Larson, Director of Operations – 787 Aft Body, Boeing, was in charge of delivering a presentation, showing the latest advances in the Dreamliner program and Boeing South Carolina.
Boeing South Carolina is home to the company’s second 787 final assembly and delivery facility. Since it delivered its first aircraft in 2012, the final assembly line in Charleston has rolled out 150 Dreamliners, and is currently delivering five out of the 12 787s produced every month, with the remaining seven produced in Everett.
There is the capacity to increase to a total of 14 between the two final assembly lines but Boeing is mum on if and when that will happen, the potential production split, and the actual production flow rates.
Boeing South Carolina is the only final assembly line for the largest variant – the upcoming 787-10, due to the Dreamlifter not being able to transport the entire mid/aft body fuselage. This is also the only Boeing 787 FAL that can produce all three variants: the 787-8, 787-9, and 787-10.
Beside the first 787-10 to rollout that is now on the flightline, there are two other 787-10s in production: one is on the final assembly line, and another has just entered section 47-48 aft / body join.
The first flight of the 787-10 is expected to take place within 4-6 weeks. As they are completed, three of these aircraft will be based at Boeing Field for the test flight campaign, which is expected to last approximately a year, much like in the case of the 787-9.
First delivery is scheduled in mid 2018 to launch customer Singapore Airlines with 30 on order. 149 787-10s are on order from such airlines as British Airways and United, and lessors Air Lease Corporation and GE Capital Aviation Services. The 787-10 increases standard two-class capacity to 330 passengers over 290 for the 787-9 and and 242 over the 787-8.
The Dash 10 is similar in size to the 777-200ER and competing Airbus A350-900, but with a slightly narrower fuselage cross section.
Larson comments that the 787-9 and the 787-10 share a 90% in commonality, and a 70% in commonality with the 787-8. The primary difference is the additional 18 foot stretch over the 787-9. This is accomplished by inserting 2 fuselage plugs of 10 feet forward of the wing and 8 feet aft.
To prevent tail strikes because of the length, a semi-levered landing gear enables rotation over the aft wheels rather than at a the boogie center, much like the 777-300ER.
Besides the stretch, a key differences lie in propulsion. The first and third -10s will have Rolls-Royce’s new Trent 1000 TEN engines, while the second (aircraft 548) will be powered by General Electric’s GEnx-1Bs.
At 224 feet long, the fuselage has been strengthened for greater bending loads in the center wingbox. To accommodate the extra passengers, the cabin air conditioning environmental systems have 15% more capacity.
Reportedly, this commonality has contributed to the 787-9 and 787-10 being profitable now on a cost per unit basis. Boeing claims that the 787-10 has not slowed the production flow on the current 787-9 final assembly line.
Boeing South Carolina: Dreaming Big From the Beginning
The North Charleston site has always played an outside role for Boeing’s Dreamliner back to its early days, long before it was even part of Boeing. Boeing’s South Carolina operations began in 2004 as two independent suppliers in the Boeing supply chain: Vought Aircraft and Global Aeronautica, which itself was a joint venture formed by Alenia North America and Vought in support of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner program.
These facilities were built for aft and mid body fuselage body-join and some fabrication for the entire Dreamliner program, which facilitate the entire Dreamliner program. These completed sections were designed to be transported to Everett by the 747-based Dreamlifters, or transported to the adjacent North Charleston Final Assembly line.
As Boeing and its supply chain fought innumerable hurdles and challenges, Boeing decided to move forward in acquiring its floundering North Charleston suppliers. In June 2008, Boeing acquired Vought Aircraft’s share of the Joint Venture rendering Global Aeronautica, a jv of Boeing and Alenia North America.
In July 2009, Boeing purchased Vought’s North Charleston operations and in December 2009 it purchased Alenia’s potion of the Global Aeronautic JV. Boeing Charleston was officially created and now wholly owned by Boeing. The site’s name would later change to Boeing South Carolina.
In October 2009, Boeing selected its North Charleston site for a new 787 Dreamliner final assembly and delivery line. Boeing South Carolina would be the first ever-regular production line for a Boeing widebody airliner outside of Everett, Washington. Boeing broke ground on the new, 1.2-million-square-foot final assembly building in November 2009. Early limited production commenced in July 2011 with the first 787 rolling out of North Charleston on April 27, 2012. Air India accepted that aircraft, a 787-8 on October 5th, 2012. Since then Boeing Charleston has assembled 150 Dreamliners at an ever quickening production rate which has reached 5 per month. Boeing is reluctant to reveal the maximum possible production rate at Charleston.
In the early days of North Charleston’s learning curve and the 787’s well documented production challenges, Boeing sent 787s to Everett for rework, completion, delivery, and depending on customer – painting. Since opening a 256,000-square-foot paint facility and Delivery Center in 2016, that is a thing of the past: Boeing South Carolina aircraft are fully assembled, flight tested, and delivered at North Charleston.
A Look Down at the 787 Lines
Boeing has five main production facilities supporting the Dreamliner at North Charleston.
The Aft / body Fabrication & Assembly building is where section 47, the last passenger section, is not only fabricated out of composites but is joined to section 48, which integrates the horizontal and vertical stabilizers and aft pressure bulkhead. Section 48 is built by a division of Korean Airlines in Busan, Korea.
Twelve of these aft body structures are assembled each month on a “just in time” manufacturing basis. While on our visit, we could witness the third 787-10’s aftbody under body-join.
The completed aft bodies are then transported a short distance away to Midbody Fuselage Assembly and Integration – a place that Boeing SC proudly calls “The Heart of the 787 where we never miss a beat.” The four mid-fuselage components arrive via Dreamlifter from manufacturing partners Kawasaki and Fuji in Japan and Aviation in Italy.
These sections, 43-46, are joined, integrated, wired, and tested at four locations called cells (10, 20, 30, and 40) with 12 stations called lines. Twelve is a recurring number, being the maximum current monthly 787 manufacturing capacity. From here, these fuselage sections are either flown via Dreamlifter to Everett or trucked a few hundred yards away to the on-site North Charleston Final Assembly Line.
At 1.2 million square feet Final Assembly Line, this enormous factory floor is equivalent to a footprint of 10.5 football fields. Its production process is identical to its sister 787 FAL in Everett, but its layout is configured in a “U-shape” similar to Everett’s 777 line. It is not a moving or pulsing assembly line however.
The completed midbody/aftbody fuselage sections arrive at position 0. Full wing/body join, forward fuselage join, and horizontial/vertical tailfin join occurs at position 1.
The aircraft is powered up at position 2. Position 3 is where cabin fitting begins. Once complete, the aircraft are swung 180 degrees to positions 4, 5, 6, and 7 before finally being rolled out to paint and the flightline.
Also on site is the Interior Responsibility Center, which we were unable to tour. Crew and attendant rest stations, stow bins, closets, partitions, and class dividers are all manufactured here.
The dedicated Boeing Decorative Paint Center opened on November 30, 2016 which as mentioned before allows Boeing to fully complete 787s on site before customer delivery.
The final piece of the puzzle is the Flight Line. Boasting 9 stalls with blast fences, operations here include initial fueling and engine runs, flight control and systems ground functional tests, B-1 Boeing first flights, C-1 Customer acceptance flights, and final customer delivery.
Boeing SC Beyond the Dreamliner
Boeing has developed its own eco-system of an aviation cluster in Charleston. In 2014, the north campus expanded with the opening of the Boeing Research & Technology Center, which focuses on advanced manufacturing technology and composite fuselage manufacturing.
Boeing Propulsion South Carolina is where the assembly of the 737 MAX engine nacelle inlet is undertaken. The Propulsion South Carolina team also designed the forthcoming 737 MAX engine nacelle fan cowl and the 777X nacelle.
Since taking over the entire site in 2009, the company has injected over $2 billion in Boeing South Carolina. It currently employees a workforce of 7,500 directly and with 884 acres of land, there is plenty of room for growth for the Dreamliner and other programs and initiatives. It’s clear that Boeing’s burgeoning South Carolina complex has plenty of runway left for the future.