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Boeing Dreamliner Safety Concerns Are Specious

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the composite-journalism dept.

Space 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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402 comments

Typical Dan Rather (1, Flamebait)

Kamel Jockey (409856) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680151)

More "Fake But Accurate" reporting.

Re:Typical Dan Rather (5, Interesting)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680195)

Actually, Dan Rather is probably not making this up - he's more likely (mis)reporting some allegations made by a now sacked Boeing engineer, Vince Weldon. The Register has a write up [theregister.co.uk] based on what was said by the engineer and the rebuttals made by Boeing and the FAA.

Re:Typical Dan Rather (2, Funny)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680257)

Engineers who want to hang people on meat hooks are the kind of engineers you can trust. Passionate - that's what that is.

Re:Typical Dan Rather (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680267)

All the same, it's a reporter's job to verify claims and not rely on single-source stories. And, I say this as someone who thinks Rather was railroaded on the Bush-National Guard story.

Re:Typical Dan Rather (4, Insightful)

jcr (53032) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680397)

The documents were not only forged, they were incompetently forged. Rather blew it, and whether he did so because he hated GWB, or just wanted to be Woodward and Bernstein so bad he could taste it, doesn't change his guilt.

-jcr

Re:Typical Dan Rather (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680789)

I don't even know why this story is about Dan Rather. Maybe Dan Rather killed this story's credibility just by associating himself with it, but that would be unfortunate.

The story is about a former Boeing engineer who has serious concerns with the new plane's safety.

Now forget Dan Rather.
If the engineer has credible concerns, what's the worst thing that can happen?
That more testing is done on the Dreamliner?
Oh noes!

Re:Typical Dan Rather (4, Informative)

wytcld (179112) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680535)

Rather didn't single-source this. He has confirmation from a number of other, currently-employed Boeing engineers of doubts about the composite materials. And if you look at the resume of his main source, it's impressive - the man was one of the top engineers at Boeing, and had done high-level work on NASA projects. Does that mean he's perfect? No engineer is. Does that mean his doubts should be considered seriously? Of course, especially when other engineers do agree about them.

There' also the very plain fact that Boeing is rushing this plane to market with far less testing than was used for recent generations of more conventional passenger jets. That gives Boeing every incentive not to listen to doubts. Boeing is betting that this can finally allow them to pull decisively ahead of Airbus, who has caused Boeing serious hurt over the last decade. Maybe it can, in the short run. Orders are coming in. But what happens if there's a spectacular crash or three? Will Boeing take the reputation hit that, say, Ford took about the Pinto? Maybe not. The public expects there to be no survivors from jetliner crashes. On the other hand, the sheer number of people these things will carry means the first such crash will be the most fatal - not counting people in buildings crashed into - ever. There will be weeks of international media scrutiny.

Boeing, we should be relieved to know, has tested the fuselage by dropping a section of it ... from 15 feet up.

Re:Typical Dan Rather (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20680561)

Actually, Dan Rather is probably not making this up

True, it's not about if Dan Rather made it up or not, it's about if he did proper investigative journalism to determine if the allegations have merit out side of a disgruntled employee trying to stir up some FUD.

Or maybe Dan's just gone of the deep end [cnn.com] . Of course, should a jumbo jet fall from the sky and crash, I don't think it's going to matter it it's made of, it's going to be destroyed. Now, in situations such as crashes on the runway [www.cbc.ca] , that might has some merit.

Courage.

Cheers,
Fozzy

Re:Typical Dan Rather (1, Flamebait)

LRNG_LNX (152143) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680321)

Once again, Mr. Rather jumps on a story without any fact checking. More sensationalist reporting to move an agenda.

Not really (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680621)

Other than your coming grip about W, what else do you claim to be false?

As to this story, do note that Weldon (with rather simply reporting) is saying that composites are NOT as safe as aluminum in a crash, which is almost certainly true. It most likely will shatter with the right impact. And Metal will be worse in certain conditions. Fox makes it worse with a supposed FAA statement (which is most likely not what was said):
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must find the 787 to be as crashworthy as aluminum planes, and the plane was doing well in those tests so far.
FAA does not require that this be as GOOD as aluminum. After all that makes it sound like aluminum is the minimum. That is ridiculous. The FAA has a standard of what they are willing to accept for a crash. Aluminum will fit the bill for a lot of it. But I would guess, so will composites, just in different ways. But to say that Rather is FAKING this is disenginous. I have little doubt that the engineer is correct in saying that composites will not do as well as metal. In fact, I would suggest iron IFF crash worthiness is the only point of interest.

Re:Carbon Fiber helped save Robert Kubica (F1) (1)

flexoffset (746749) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680687)

Carbon Fiber can be constructed to break apart in order to dissipate energy on high impact collisions. Just look at this year's Canadian Grand Prix to see the results of Carbon Fiber in a crash. It contributed to saving the life of a driver. The parts that were supposed to break away did. The parts that weren't did not. If I'm falling out of the sky in a jet, the last think on my mind will be reviewing the finer points of the composite construction of the plane.

Poisonous chemicals! (1)

charlesbakerharris (623282) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680173)

"Oh crap! The plane is on fire! Make sure not to breathe in case you get poisoned!"

Is that really the biggest concern at that point? Seriously?

Re:Poisonous chemicals! (1)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680383)

Yes indeed.
1- Not every plane accident has a 100% death toll, just consider the case of very rough landing.
2- Even if the plane goes fireball and burns everyone inside, you might consider not adding hundred of other people on the ground to the list of the victims.

Re:Poisonous chemicals! (2, Informative)

fnj (64210) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680403)

"Oh crap! The plane is on fire! Make sure not to breathe in case you get poisoned!"
Is that really the biggest concern at that point? Seriously?

Actually, poisonous fumes are a prime killer in any fire, including aircraft fires. Cyanide gas, released from burning seat material, has been the agent of death in many cases.

Re:Poisonous chemicals! (1)

UncleBex (176073) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680663)

No. You're biggest concern is still snakes on a plane. Don't worry, nothing has changed. Move along.

I don't know (3, Funny)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680199)

I heard he has an email from Pres. Bush that he sent Boeing in 1945 proving that they knew the plane was unsafe.

Where's the news? (1)

Politburo (640618) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680213)

People have been voicing these concerns for years.

Re:Where's the news? (1)

tgatliff (311583) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680577)

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 chemicals" when it burns? I would think the several tons of Jet-A all around you probably would be a larger concern. I mean we are talking about a crash here after all...

Re:Where's the news? (1)

Fozzyuw (950608) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680641)

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?

And as we all know... (1, Troll)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680219)

...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:And as we all know... (2, Insightful)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680299)

If his 70 million dollar suit against CBS fails - he needs to stay in the public eye to pick up another job.

Re:And as we all know... (1)

ptbarnett (159784) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680521)

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.

Re:And as we all know... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20680605)

"lack of thorough background information checking"

Quite the understatement, puhleeze. He knowingly presented a falsified document in an attempt to influence a presedential election. He (and others) should be in prison for this.

TV reporters are idiots. (4, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680239)

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.

Re:TV reporters are idiots. (1)

eln (21727) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680415)

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, but it could be an issue in the third world where regulations may be more spotty.

Re:TV reporters are idiots. (3, Insightful)

Splab (574204) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:TV reporters are idiots. (1)

644bd346996 (1012333) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680667)

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.

Re:TV reporters are idiots. (4, Insightful)

Bluesman (104513) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680725)

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!"

Re:TV reporters are idiots. (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680815)

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.

CF is anisotropic material (5, Insightful)

TheAxeMaster (762000) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:TV reporters are idiots. (2, Insightful)

fnj (64210) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680665)

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.

Re:TV reporters are idiots. (4, Interesting)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:TV reporters are idiots. (1)

AgentPaper (968688) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680709)

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.
I really hate to say this because I think 99.995% of what the man writes is pure drivel, but Michael Crichton hit the nail on the head in "Airframe" - in that case, a nationally recognized TV journalist aired an expose about an allegedly unsafe aircraft without doing any research whatsoever about the plane she was slagging. Everyone at the news program basically knew that the story was pure fiction, but they aired it as news anyway for the sole purpose of driving up their ratings.

I'd venture to say that the vast majority of what passes for in-depth reporting in this country and elsewhere is sensationalism bordering on pornography. Media outlets make an absolute fetish out of death, suffering and fear, and the coverage almost never has any basis in reality - it's solely to satisfy the prurient interest of a certain subset of the public.

Re:TV reporters are idiots. (1)

wardk (3037) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680735)

yep, the entire insides of a plane are highly toxic when burned.

that's why you have to get down low on the floor when exiting a burning place, so the toxic smoke doesn't kill you

the 87 is gonna be safe, what a BS story from a pissed off crank ex-employee.

he wanted 15 minutes, Dan Rather complied.

move along, nothing to see here.

Trusting Dan Rather is like.... (5, Interesting)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:Trusting Dan Rather is like.... (2, Informative)

downix (84795) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680399)

"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.

It was the Word overlay... (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680565)

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.

It wasn't just the fonts. It was that, you could type the document into Word, and it overlayed the Rathergate document exactly.

Re:Trusting Dan Rather is like.... (3, Insightful)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Trusting Dan Rather is like.... (1)

dfenstrate (202098) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680821)

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.


That alone is perhaps forgivable if he pulled an immediate mea culpa when it was clear (within a day) that the documents where forgeries.

He didn't, however. He defended them for twelve days as genuine and even late in 2006 was still defending them as legit fakes (whatever that means).

Before you jump on Dan Rather or Boeing... (0, Offtopic)

downix (84795) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680247)

Reember, news is no longer about full and honest reporting, it is about money. Quick bucks by sensational stories. If CBS, NBC, etc pick up on this, they pay HDNet for the rights and footage, and in turn sell adspace for their own reports. None of them care if it's right, they care of it pads the wallet.

Ahh the wonders of politics. (4, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Ahh the wonders of politics. (1)

njfuzzy (734116) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680385)

It's amazing how illustrative Pascal's Wager can be for most two-way decisions...

Curing process (2, Interesting)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680265)

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?

Re:Curing process (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680361)

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.

Re:Curing process (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680425)

I'd wager this is true of any airliner - (dangerous fumes if it burns) regardless of frame composition.

Re:Curing process (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680765)

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 (4, Informative)

UDGags (756537) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Curing process (1)

tgatliff (311583) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680799)

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 other resins I know they use heat and pressure, but typically in your clear resins where high clarity is required. Meaning, the reason for the pressure in that case is to shink the bubbles during curing...

Re:Curing process (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20680823)

The composite is made of carbon fiber and epoxy. The epoxy to be used on planes is flame resist grade. It is pretty hard to ignite those composites, even ignited, they don't burn well, they give out stuff that suppress combustion. Unfortunately, those stuff suppressing combustion are poisonous too in many cases. Also the composites leave chars that can prevent the spreading of fire. In the case of aluminum alloys, when the aluminum alloys exposed to the heat radiation that can ignite the composites, they conduct the heat everywhere and ignite what ever they can, and then, the aluminum alloys melt.

Re:Curing process (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20680829)

Depends what you mean. The prepreg that Boeing uses for its main structures is usually autoclaved and cured at a few hundred degrees (in the neighborhood of 300 to 500 F).

The fibers themselves are made at extremely high temperature, but I'm pretty sure that's not what they're worried about. They're worried about the polymer matrix materials that the fibers are embedded in, which are usually aerospace epoxies or some other sort of ultra-strong crosslinked polymer. When those burn, just like all polymers, they can release toxic fumes.

There are ceramic matrix materials that are used instead of polymers. The space shuttle's leading edge repair plugs made by GE and ATK Thykol are examples of carbon fibers in a silicon carbide matrix, and can withstand temperatures in the several thousands of degrees without burning or negative structural effects. They also use the stuff to make rocket and jet engine parts.

Composites fail differently (3, Insightful)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Composites fail differently (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680339)

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.

-jcr

Re:Composites fail differently (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680483)

http://www.sailinganarchy.com/fringe/2007/images/SIEMENS02.jpg [sailinganarchy.com]

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 way. One must balance both the pluses and minuses, light weight & higher strength, with how it fails(usually in shards).

all that said I wouldn't hesitant to buy a carbon fiber mast or fly in a 787 Once it has passed all flight saftey inspections.

Re:Composites fail differently (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680685)

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.

-jcr

Re:Composites fail differently (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680713)

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.
 

Re:Composites fail differently (1)

mapsjanhere (1130359) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680729)

While the carbon fiber does not corrode, a carbon fiber composite does age - and potentially rapidly. The interface between the epoxy matrix resin and the carbon fiber is notoriously sensitive to delamination, especially in the presence of moisture. But as with all new materials, time will tell. Before Boeing was the big star in the civilian airliner market with their 707 they were years behind Britain's DeHavilland in technology. Until DeHavilland came out with an all-aluminum pressurized aircraft, and engineers learned too late that aluminum, if cycled repeatedly due to pressurization, tends to fatigue crack. The Comet had a series of spectacular crashed, and DeHavilland went belly-up. The biggest issue actually on the composite aircraft is maintenance. It's very hard to inspect a composite part for hidden flaws, and you cannot simply cut out a panel and rivet a replacement in if you're worried about a section.

Re:Composites fail differently (1)

JonathanR (852748) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680439)

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.

I'm pretty sure you haven't seen it bend (1)

TheAxeMaster (762000) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680459)

Since they've built ONE so far and they are trying to make that one fly. The 787 static wing load test isn't for months. Perhaps you're thinking of the 777 static test, which is the only one to my knowledge that has been videoed and released. Posting from a Boeing computer...

Boats are made out of composites (1)

snowwrestler (896305) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680277)

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.

GPR boats suffer from "Boat Pox". (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680597)

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?

 

Hrmmm sounds familiar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20680281)

Next thing you know, the reporters will claim that Reardon Metal is unsafe! DONT GET ON THAT TRAIN, DAGNY TAGGART! :O

I've read this somewhere before ... (1)

grimflick (947516) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680293)

OK, I know someone out there is going to lable me a Randite (or some such) but this is exactly the kind of fud campaign that Hank Reardon faced when he introduced "Reardon metal" in the book "Atlas Shrugged" I mention this because the motivations of the FUD campaigners in that book were essentially - I don't own a piece of Reardons Pie, so I am going to fling poo and see what sticks. Maybe Rather is upset because his Alcoa stock price is likely to be negatively influenced by this plane - if it is a big hit.

Re:I've read this somewhere before ... (1)

Politburo (640618) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680487)

The events in Atlas Shrugged are likely based on Andrew Carnegie's propaganda. When his competitors started adding more coke to their steel, he said it was unsafe, etc.. after he bought them out for pennies on the dollar, he quietly changed his steel formula to match the ex-competitor's.

In all fairness (1)

Rooked_One (591287) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680297)

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! :)

F-16 is made of composites (5, Insightful)

chiph (523845) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:F-16 is made of composites (1)

bondjamesbond (99019) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680473)

...and the F-117 and the B-2 and not to mention that T-38's that have been retrofitted with composite wings and tail surfaces and Spaceship One and tens of thousands of Cirrus-type private aircraft and.... I'll fly in a Dreamliner any day - I just don't have the need to go to Australia or Asia or Europe right now.

Re:F-16 is made of composites (2, Informative)

tgd (2822) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680839)

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...

If you ask me... (4, Funny)

maniac/dev/null (170211) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680359)

If you ask me, Dan's gotten himself in more trouble than a chipmunk in a tire factory.

OT your sig (1)

everphilski (877346) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680707)

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

Busy man (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680375)

Dan's a little distracted right now as he's busy SCOing CBS [cnn.com] . 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?

Shorter Testing Schedule? (3, Informative)

necro81 (917438) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680377)

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.

Re:Shorter Testing Schedule? (1)

ErikZ (55491) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680845)

If the 20% reduction in fuel costs are realistic, the only way they'll fail is to have the airframe dramatically explode.

Airbus have had problems with composite parts too (1)

EvilGrin666 (457869) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680455)

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 [guardian.co.uk] where the composite rudder fell off the Airbus A310 in mid-flight. Also, more tragically, American Airlines flight 587 [wikipedia.org] 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.

Re:Airbus have had problems with composite parts t (1, Interesting)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680675)

"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 for each of the triple redundant flight computers on a 777. The teams were not allowed to have any contact whatsoever, even personal contact outside of work. Meanwhile, the first Ariane 5 went BOOM because all three (identical) flight computers crashed in sequence due to the same software bug.

I've flown a lot, and am in general not afraid of flying, except when I step onto an Airbus. Then I get a bit nervous...

The real safety concern is off-radar... (2, Funny)

aapold (753705) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680499)

As we know from Battlestar Galactica, making the hull from composites will make it invisible to Radar [battlestarwiki.org] ..

thus air traffic control will be unable to find them and guide traffic around them.

unsafe, huh? (5, Interesting)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680507)

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 http://www.the-eggman.com/writings/death_stats.html [the-eggman.com] .

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"?

Re:unsafe, huh? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20680669)

Are you controlling for the amount of time people spend in each of those vehicles per year? You're not? What happens when you do? They're about the same? Huh.

Re:unsafe, huh? (0)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680831)

well ok relatively the death rate is close, but actually dying is pretty darn absolute, so your attempt to statistically link the two fails.

All that matters when it comes to death is absolute numbers...perhaps 2 out 3 people who enjoy jumping out of 3 story buildings die. With your analysis, this would make this the most dangerous thing in the world, with a 66% death rate.

It sure is dangerous, and dumb, but just because it rates the highest in percentage does NOT make it the most dangerous thing to do.

Counter example: (1)

Visaris (553352) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680741)

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%.

Re:unsafe, huh? (1)

clickety6 (141178) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680755)

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... ;-)

Re:unsafe, huh? (1)

drfireman (101623) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680843)

It sounds like you'd consider Russian Roulette a safe activity.

I don't disagree with your conclusion (that flying is safe, driving is less so), but if you want to move the discussion towards more quantitative arguments, you should make sure you use the right numbers. The percentage of accidental deaths caused by cars vs. planes tells me very little about their relative safety.

wonder how much airbus paid for that story. (-1, Redundant)

gonar (78767) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680511)

Dan Rather has zero credibility, except among the sheeple.

F1 too (1)

jamesl (106902) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680513)

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 (2, Insightful)

fadilnet (1124231) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680551)

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 plane is not ready.

Not as well studied? (5, Interesting)

vogon jeltz (257131) | more than 6 years ago | (#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).

Remember the Comet (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20680619)

The first aluminum pressurized passenger aircraft were not safe either. There was a learning curve in building large, pressurized metal planes. Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Havilland_Comet [wikipedia.org]

There is a learning curve for working with composites too. We are fairly far along in learning to build small (non-pressurized) aircraft, or parts of aircraft out of various composite materials, but just as in the time of the Comet, we are early in the curve for building large, pressurized aircraft. There will be "educational moments" along this curve.

Boeing Dreamliner Concerns Are Spacious? (1)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680625)

I should hope so, what would be the point of having a plane that you can barely move in?

Composite Bicycles (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680635)

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 can develop an inspection system that doesn't cost more than the new materials save, then they win, with no loss to safety.

People have suggested that since military aircraft have used composites, they must be safe. Yes, but... The Military needs planes that have certain performance characteristics, and cost is secondary.

Er... let's not jump the gun. (1)

pigiron (104729) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680703)

The article criticizing the concerns merely says that they "may" be faulty. That hardly qualifies this threads title to claim that the concerns raised are specious. Just because some aircraft utilizing various amounts of carbon have proven to be safe does not imply that all carbon aircraft are therefore safe, especially one that may not have been adequately tested.

book Airframe (1)

Moridineas (213502) | more than 6 years ago | (#20680871)

The whole situation kind of reminds me of the book Airframe by Michael Crichton (which I enjoyed a lot!).
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