Sky High: Boeing Rolls Out Dreamliner

Company expects a huge success that will reverse its fortunes.

ByABC News
July 7, 2007, 1:08 PM

July 7, 2007 — -- When Boeing rolled out its 787 Dreamliner Sunday in Everett, Wash., the public got its first look at a new plane that's already a success even though it has yet to fly.

More than 40 airlines and leasing companies have bought 640 787s -- the most ever for a plane before it enters service -- worth a tidy $100 billion. And if all goes well in mass production, Boeing will ride the Dreamliner back to dominance in civil aircraft manufacturing after more than a decade of turbulence at America's biggest exporter.

"There's a real feeling among the airlines that this is a revolutionary product that's going to transform the industry," says Richard Aboulafia of the aerospace consultants The Teal Group.

Aboulafia believes the plane marks a major technological change in the way a plane is made and the way it operates. Other analysts say it could be as important as Boeing's 707, introduced in 1958, which truly brought the jet age to passengers and allowed the public to fly longer distances in a shorter time. The 707 also made air travel affordable for the average passenger.

What makes the 787 revolutionary is that it is the first airplane built mostly not of metal, but rather mostly of high tech composite material, a type of reinforced plastic.

Mike Bair, the Boeing executive charged with bringing the 787 from the drawing board into the sky holds a model of the new plane and traces where Boeing has used composites for the first time.

"The whole structure of the fuselage," says Bair, "all the wings, the horizontal and vertical stabilizers, the nacelles that wrap the engines -- all composite."

In Boeing's massive Everett assembly building, workers maneuver four huge pieces of the fuselage, each about 19 feet in diameter. They are all plastic and then snapped together like a Lego toy. But unlike a Lego toy, this plastic will carry 250 passengers.

Bair quickly points out that this plastic is stronger than aluminum, traditionally used to make airplanes. With the super aerodynamic wing and new engines, Bair says airlines have bought so many because of two words -- operating efficiency.