Watch a Boeing 787 Dreamliner get torn apart in stress tests

Scheduled to enter into service late next year, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, like any other commercial aircraft, must be able to withstand 1.5 times the stress it could experience in flight. AirShowFan writes in:
Basically ... the airplane could be put through roller-coaster-like G forces and not snap. Of course us structural engineers will show some calculations and computer models to claim the structure can take it, but the FAA wants real undeniable proof. So whenever Boeing designs an all new airplane - something that only happens once every 10 or 15 years - we must test the wings to destruction.
Of course, this just means that 1.5000001 times the stress it could experience in flight is where the science starts being fun. AirShowFan also directs us to the spectacular tests conducted on the 777: "You can see that the wing bends up a good 20 or 30 feet before it snaps - which should make you feel safe next time you look out the window at turbulent skies and see the wingtip moving up and down just a few feet." If it doesn't creep you out to see the wing of a jetliner flexed up like a ruler on the edge of a desk, you're a nutter. More video

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18 Responses to Watch a Boeing 787 Dreamliner get torn apart in stress tests

  1. schmod says:

    I seem to remember the Boing engineers being reluctant to perform this sort of test due to the loss in public confidence it would cause, even though the 787 wings are considerably more strong/flexible than they need to be or what is normal for other aircraft.

    I wonder what changed….

  2. airshowfan says:

    When I go to Everett in a couple weeks, I’ll have to let the folks up there know that the 787 gets tagged as “science fiction” on BoingBoing ;] which is quite flattering given all the high tech that goes into the Dreamliner.

    Can’t wait till the Vmu test

  3. Res Cogitans says:

    It might be occurring to you to wonder, “well Geez, what happens if by some freaky circumstance that plane is actually subjected 154% rated load in real life? Freaky things do happen”. 150% might not sound that high.

    The short answer is it can’t, at least not unless the plane is flying much faster than it’s supposed to, or is very overloaded.

    The stall speed of a wing increases proportionally to the square root of wing load. If you’re flying along just a shade above the normal stall speed, and you pull back sharply on the yoke, the wing load will suddenly increase, so does the stall speed, and the wing stalls.

    For example, if the wing breaks at twice its normal straight-and-level load, then it’s safe to fly at up to four times the stall speed.

    The maximum weight and speed are factored into design process. The 100% of maximum expected load would be right before the wing stalls when traveling at Vne (the never-exceed speed), fully loaded. And they break the wings at 150% of that

  4. mujadaddy says:

    He said the wing tested was “half-span” … doesn’t that mean that it’s *not* the actual wing?

  5. GregLondon says:

    If it doesn’t creep you out to see the wing of a jetliner flexed up like a ruler on the edge of a desk, you’re a nutter.

    I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.

  6. Barry Wilson says:

    I worked at the Boeing plant in Everett from the mid-nineties until 2002. For a good chunk of that time they had a 777 on the stress machine ( located out behind the back of the plant ) performing simulated takeoffs and landings. I used to go park near in and eat lunch sometimes, watching the wings flex up… and down again.

    cool stuff

  7. Rob Beschizza says:

    Muja, I think that just means they tested one side of the plane, a single wing, and that is deemed a satisfactory test for both wings.

  8. Drywall says:

    Uh… why is this posted in science fiction?

  9. FoetusNail says:

    The 787’s wings are some of the most beautiful raked wings yet. The A380 is big, but the 787 is beautiful. The latest version of the 747 is also getting raked wingtips.

    The 777 wing test was also important because it helped prove the CATIA 3D software used to design the 777. The 777 was the first plane designed in 3D and it was the first twin engine plane designed from the beginning for Extended Operations.

    The 777 has so many firsts to its credit, and is one of the best planes ever built, the 787 promises to surpass a true legend.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Did anyone else think of the band Wire? Their album Wire 154?

    Hey, but that album was named in 1979 or so, and that 777 wing went kerblooey at 154% in 1995

  11. airshowfan says:

    Raked wingtips may be nice and all, but from an aesthetic point of view I think the curved-dihedral wings of the 787 (also coming to the 747-8) are gorgeous. From many angles (at least in CGI) it looks like a bird soaring. I’m sure that in 20 years almost all new airplanes will have wings like that, even if it’s just to look cool. Especially bizjets. (You don’t think they NEED those gi-normous winglets, do you? They’re almost as useless and decorative as spoilers on a Civic…)

    With CAD, modern manufacturing processes, and composite materials, we can make wings that aren’t just a long straight I-beam (or two) with airfoil-shaped ribs mounted on. (And yes, Burt Rutan started taking advantage of this a long time ago, but his planes don’t have to transport millions of people every day, so Boeing has to be a little more cautious. Still, I’m optimistic about canard airplanes and blended-wing bodies; I think I’m young enough to see them go into commercial service before I’m gone. Aeroelastic wings might take a little longer…)

    And yes, you need wings to flex. Not only that, but you need most of the structure to flex in a roughly similar way. Whichever part of a structure flexes the least (i.e. is the stiffest) will end up taking more than its share of the load, and that’s where cracks will probably form (and since it’s taking a lot of load, that’s exactly where you don’t want cracks to form). Luckily some exceptionally talented engineers ;] are doing lots of analysis to figure out where the crack-prone areas are and the fastest rates at which cracks could possibly grow, and then making sure that airplane mechanics look for cracks in the right places, using the right techniques, and with sufficient frequency, so that airplanes don’t crack apart. (And since most cracks take at least a couple thousand flights to grow beyond microscopic sizes, we have a few years to figure this out. Unless of course the airplane is flown like 13 times a day, over highly corrosive environments, but that’s a corner case…)

  12. Anonymous says:

    One thing I heard when I was young was that they had to engineer in more flex into the wing structure (747 at the time?) because they were finding cracks in the wing. This may not be correct but I used that to soothe my mind while flying.

  13. moofie says:

    @10, you’re mistaken. The top video is definitely from the 787.

  14. acb says:

    Did anyone else think that the music in the first video was a bit cheesy? I think it would have worked better with some good post-rock or minimal electronica, but maybe that’s just me.

  15. trialex says:

    Structural aeronautical engineers represent!

    Although we can’t all work for a major OEM, I do occasionally get to do some destructive testing, but nothing this cool.

  16. pork musket says:

    Every nutter needs a fluffer.

  17. HeavyD14 says:


    They seem to use that music in all videos prepared by engineers. I saw a collection of videos from some sort of conference on robotics, they all had that type of music.

    I plan on doing the same in any video I produce.

  18. Anonymous says:

    This is not the 787. It’s the 777. I watched the whole PBS documentary in 1995-6 about the building of the 777 and this video is part of that.
    Look at how young Alan Mullaly is for goodness sake.

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