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Goodrich to Take Flight With Rollout of 787

When Boeing Co. rolls out its 787 Dreamliner next week, San Diego-area aeronautics workers will be cheering, proud of their contributions to a plane that many say will shape the future of commercial aviation.

“This marks a whole new way to build an airplane, and a whole new technology to build commercial airlines,” said Dave Castagnola, vice president of Boeing programs for Goodrich Aerostructures, which is based in Chula Vista.

Goodrich is providing the nacelle systems for the Dreamliner, a craft that will feature 250 seats. Nacelles are the metal cowlings that cover the engine, reducing noise and helping to slow the airplane when landing.

A completed 787 is being showcased at a television event July 8 that will be broadcast worldwide to a potential audience of 100 million, according to Boeing. That same day, Goodrich is holding an open house for employees and their families to view the broadcast. The event should draw 5,000 to its facility.

A good deal of work has yet to be done on the 787. A flight testing phase lasting between six and nine months lies ahead, but Boeing is on target to deliver the first planes to All Nippon Airlines in May, despite recent reports of glitches involving suppliers.

“We are on schedule to meet all our milestones and targets,” said spokesman Adam Morgan. “Anytime you have a major scale program like this one, there will be some bumps in the road. But none of the problems that we face are anything close to a showstopper.”

As for Goodrich Aerostructures, a unit of Goodrich Corp., the 787 program represents a dramatic change in the way it designs and manufactures products, said Castagnola.

“This is a very significant project for us. It’s simply the largest contract ever awarded to Goodrich Aerostructures.”


$4 Billion-Plus Deal

At the time the contract was signed in April 2004, Goodrich estimated the value at $4 billion, but because of the advance orders, the revenue stream from the 787 contract will be much larger, Castagnola said. As of mid-June, Boeing said it had 634 orders from 45 customers.

The 787 represents a sea change, not only in terms of design and components, but in the way the plane is manufactured. Boeing is contracting more key parts of the 787 to global subcontractors than previous planes, including wings, fuselage and nose sections.

One thing that hasn’t changed is using an outside contractor for nacelles. Before it was acquired by Goodrich in 1997, Rohr Inc. was a longtime supplier of cowling systems to Boeing and Airbus, a European commercial aircraft maker, Boeing’s main competitor.

Goodrich managers say because of the 787 program, they expect to gain a major advantage over competitors that could keep the company at the top of the heap when it comes to manufacturing nacelles.

“When we’re done with this project, we’ll be years ahead of where we were before,” Castagnola said. “It’s a great opportunity that we are seizing to give us a leg up on our competition.”

Among the more challenging aspects of the program was designing two different systems for two different engines at the same time, something never done before by the subcontractor.

In the past, nacelle production for different engines was usually staggered, with the first designs targeted to the engines ordered by the first customer. But because of the sheer number of orders, staggering times were greatly reduced, making for parallel design projects.

The same team of engineers worked on nacelles for engines made by General Electric and Rolls-Royce. Just as the customer can change the 787’s seating configuration, the customer can also order different engines.

After design work was completed, and work shifted to production, the project was separated into two lines, said Jeff Rogers, Goodrich vice president for 787 development.

“It’s like having twins. One has to come out first, but not by much,” Rogers said.


Computer-Controlled Machines

Goodrich did a major overhaul in how it makes nacelle composite material pieces for the 787. Instead of workers manually laying out fabric that is compacted and heated, computer-controlled machines now do the work.

As a result, the composite material is laid down exactly the same way, ensuring better quality and consistency in the product, Rogers said.

Goodrich is also using robotic machines to drill holes and install fasteners, a process that used to be carried out by employees.

This doesn’t necessarily mean fewer workers, Rogers said.

“We’re changing what our employees do,” Rogers said. “Rather than bending over tools and laying fabric, we’re now using tools that have better ergonomic features to them.”

Goodrich Aerostructures employs 4,000 around the world , half in Chula Vista. About 450 employees of the total work force, including some in Riverside and a new assembly plant in Everett, Wash. (next to the plant where the entire jet is assembled), support the 787 program, said Goodrich spokesman Patrick Palmer.

In winning the 787 contract, the company was able to attract talented workers in a variety of professions and positions that should help maintain its supremacy in nacelle manufacturing, Castagnola said.


Greater Efficiency

The use of composite materials in the Dreamliner will make it lighter, thus making it one of the most fuel-efficient planes ever produced, according to Boeing. Chicago-based Boeing said the 787 will use 20 percent less fuel per passenger than comparable wide-body craft, such as the 777 and the 747.

Besides the leaps in materials technology, Boeing said advances in the engines, aerodynamics and its systems all contribute to a far more efficient plane with far fewer emissions.

Goodrich’s nacelles will also decrease engine noise, which should make those in and around the flight paths of airports such as Lindbergh Field happier.

The 787 nacelles are among the largest ever made by Goodrich. The diameter of the 787 is the same as the diameter of the fuselage of the 737, said Rogers.

Producing the first nacelles for testing took nine months once design work was finished, but that timeline will be reduced as production ramps up. Goodrich wouldn’t provide the cost for a nacelle, but Boeing recently said the cost for a completed 787 will range from $146 million to $200 million.

While Goodrich managers say they are thrilled about their participation in the cutting-edge technologies of the 787, they are also working on another contract for Airbus’ A-350 XWB, which should generate plenty of business for several decades.

Yet next week the focus will be on the 787, a plane that is a quantum leap in the progression of airliner production.

“We’re pretty proud of it,” said Rogers. “It’s not just another airplane. It’s a significant change in this industry.”


Editor’s Note: The original version of this story misstated Jeff Rogers’ title. It has been corrected in this verison.

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