The Sunday Times, June 18, 2006
Boeing’s new jet beats the bounce
Dipesh Gadher, Transport Correspondent
TIME to put away the sick bag. Boeing is designing a new
passenger jet aimed at countering the effects of turbulence.
The 787 Dreamliner, which is expected to enter service in
2008, will have sensors that detect strong gusts of wind and
automatically adjust the movement of the aircraft to prevent
it from being buffeted around.
Turbulence, which occurs most frequently when a plane
enters the vicinity of a thunderstorm, is believed to be the
biggest cause of injury to passengers and crew on flights.
Even for those who are securely strapped into their seats,
sudden jumps in a plane’s path can trigger a bout of motion
The new development by Boeing, the US aircraft
manufacturer, is designed to reduce the effects of the lateral
and vertical gusts and eddies caused by irregular flows of air
in the atmosphere.
Sensors on the 787, which will have a capacity of 250
passengers, will identify changes in air pressure and
determine “the angle of attack”. The aircraft’s flaps and wing
tips will then be moved accordingly so they counter vertical
gusts, while the rudder will be adjusted to reduce
“We have done studies showing that on the 787 we can reduce
the amplitude of the vertical motion by two-thirds,” said Mike
Sinnett, director of the 787 systems team.
“It won’t spell the end of the in-flight sick bag — it may
take the elimination of the drinks cart for that — but it
should reduce the occurrence (of motion sickness),” he said.
The innovation will not, however, be able to counter all
forms of turbulence, particularly when it occurs in “clear
air”. For example, if the air is free of the moisture found in
thunderstorms, onboard radar may not be able to detect the
turbulence and instruct the plane to take pre-emptive action.
Other comfort-related innovations planned for the 787 have
been made possible by the fact that 50% of the aircraft,
including the fuselage, tail and wings, will be made from
plastic and carbon-fibre composite materials instead of
Because composites are less likely than metals to suffer
from fatigue over time, Boeing claims it will be able to
increase cabin pressure so that the air pressure in the plane
will be equivalent to 6,000ft above sea level rather than
8,000ft, the norm at the moment.
Farrol Kahn, director of Aviation Health, a non-profit
research organisation, welcomed the move, claiming it would
increase oxygen levels in the cabin by 5%.
“It will make the environment more comfortable for elderly
people and youngsters with weak hearts and lungs,” he said.
“It’s significant because the number of people who die on
flights, primarily because of heart failure, is the same as
the number of people who are killed on the ground in plane
Boeing is also planning to increase cabin humidity by up to
10% on the 787. This rise in moisture levels — avoided until
now because of its long-term corrosive effect on metal
fuselages — will reduce the chances of passengers suffering
itching eyes and dry throats.
It may also reduce the spreading of colds. “You are seven
times more likely to catch a cold on a plane than on the
ground because viruses proliferate in dry conditions,” said