DALLAS – The Boeing 777X is one of the most awaited aircraft to hit the market and an eye-catching feature is its foldable winglets, which are the first on any large transport aircraft.
Although the type is only now making its way, the foldable winglets are a secret of Boeing that dates back to the early 1990s that suffered an initial failure. Let’s take a sneak peek into how it came about and what went wrong.
The 777x series comes in two variants the 777-8 and the 777-9 that both feature a wingspan of 235 ft when extended and 212 ft when the tip is folded when parked.
The Foldable Wingtip Idea of the 90s
Simply, the idea isn’t new. Boeing had explored the concept back in the early 90s in detail and had even obtained a patent for the same. Back in the day, the Boeing 777-200 series was offered with the possibility to add these foldable tips. The concept was even tested and was ready for production. So what happened?
A rather simple reason – none of the then interested customers were interested and thus Boeing put the concept into cold storage. eventually brought it back when the 777x was announced.
Boeing had already accounted for a reduction in parking space then. For those who had equipped the original 777-200 with the foldable wingtips, the type would have used the same space as that of a Boeing 767 or DC-10.
The 777X – It’s All about the Wing
Ever-growing airport congestion and a competitive market, especially with Airbus, meant Boeing had to do something, so they pulled out the once-upon-a-time idea and gave it a second shot for the 21st century. Boeing needed to develop and produce a large twin-engine jet that was all about efficiency. Increasing the wingspan is one way to do it.
Most large International Airports across the globe are capable to accommodate aircraft belonging to Code E standards, that is to have a wingspan limit of up to 213 feet.
Code F is the next level and an example would be that of the Airbus A380 with a span limit of 262 feet. The A380 suffers thanks to its extra-long span at most airports and requires a special gate/parking bay. Even Runways and taxiways are to be strengthened and expanded to handle such spans.
When Emirates (EK) and Boeing had their round initial talks about the 777X back in the day, Sir Tim Clark said that the range and aerodynamic quality of this aircraft are all thanks to the wing, but he also mentioned that Boeing must find a way to reduce the wingspan at airports worldwide so the plane could easily fit in at most airports and if the type wanted to sell well – basically, keep the airplane under Code E standards.
Looking Forward to the unfolding Wing Tips
The Boeing 777X series was originally scheduled to enter service in 2020, but a series of delays like certification, production, and the COVID pandemic constantly pushed that date back, and just recently another delay was announced.
It is now believed that the type will only be certified in the second half of 2024 and if all goes well deliveries would start in 2025 – a rather heavy toll on the launch customers. However, Boeing has not published any updated delivery dates.
But eventually as and when it starts to welcome passengers on board, those that look out the window can view the wingtip unfold itself sometime before it lines up for take-off and know that idea dates back almost two decades.
Boeing N779XW Boeing 777-9. Photo: Daniel Gorun/Airways