I just completed the first pilot training class on the 787 at United Airlines, an airplane which is destined to replace the 767 and live for many years after I retire. Here’s what I’ve learned in 787 training so far. By the way, last night we passed our MV (maneuvers validation) check ride, with emergency after emergency, and the FAA observing. Tonight was our LOE (line-oriented evaluation), again with FAA – this time 2 FAA observers. It’s 0200 and I just got back to the hotel and poured a well-earned glass of wine to celebrate. I now have a type rating in the 787. Phew. I’m pretty confident this will be the last one for me.
If you lose all 4 engine generators and the two APU generators (a really bad day), you are down to Standby Power. The RAT will drop out and provide power, but even if it fails, you still have the autopilot and captain’s flight director and instruments, FMC, 2 IRSs, VHF radios, etc. If you’re down to batteries only, with no RAT, you’d better get it on the ground, as battery time is limited. Brakes and antiskid are electric – 28V – so you don’t lose brakes or antiskid even when you’re down to just standby power.
Normal flight controls are hydraulic with a couple exceptions. Engine driven and electric hydraulic pumps operate at 5000 psi (versus
normal 3000 psi) to allow for smaller tubing sizes and actuators, thus saving weight. If you lose all 3 hydraulic systems (another bad day), you still have two spoiler panels on each wing which are electrically powered all the time, as is the stabilizer trim. You can still fly
the airplane (no flaps, though). If you’re having an even worse day and you lose all hydraulics and all generators, flight control power is
still coming from separate Permanent Magnet Generators (PMGs) which produce power even if both engines quit and are windmilling. If the PMGs fail, too, your flight controls will be powered by the 28 V standby bus.
If you lose all 3 pitot/static systems or air data computers, the airplane reverts to angle of attack speed (converts AOA to IAS), and this is displayed on the normal PFDs (primary flight displays) airspeed indicator tapes. GPS altitude is substituted for air data altitude and displayed on the PFD altimeter tapes. Very convenient.
If you lose both Attitude and Heading Reference Units (AHRUs), it reverts to the standby instrument built-in attitude & heading gyro, but displays this on both pilot’s PFDs for convenience.
If you lose both Inertial Reference Units, it will substitute GPS position, and nothing is lost.
If someone turns one or both IRSs off in flight (I hate it when they do that), you can realign them – as long as one of the GPSs is working!
There is no pneumatic system. The only engine bleed is used for that engine’s anti-ice. Wing anti-ice is electric. Each of two air conditioning packs control two CACs, which are electric cabin air compressors. The four CACs share two air inlets on the belly. Each pack controller controls two CACs, but if a pack controller fails, the remaining pack controller takes over control of all 4 CACs.
There are no circuit breakers in the cockpit. To check on them, or if you get a message that one has opened (more likely), you select the CBIC (circuit breaker indication and control) display on one of the MFDs (multi function displays). There you can reset the virtual C/B if it is an « electronic » circuit breaker. You can’t reset a popped « thermal » circuit breaker.
If you have an APU fire on the ground or inflight, the fire extinguishing bottle is automatically discharged. If there is a cargo fire, the first two of seven bottles will automatically discharge also.
There’s a Nitrogen Generation System which provides automatic full-time flammability protection by displacing fuel vapors in the fuel tanks with nitrogen (Remember TWA 800?).
Like the 767 and 777, the 787 also has full CPDLC capability (controller-to-pilot datalink communications). In addition, its full FANS capability includes ADS-B in & out. The controller can uplink speed, heading, and altitude changes to the airplane. These show up on a second line right under the speed, heading and altitude displays on the mode control panel. If you pilot wants to use them, he can press a XFR button next to each window. The controller can even uplink a conditional clearance, like – After passing point XYZ, climb to FL390. If you accept this, it will do it automatically.
Fuel system – like the 777, the 787 has a fuel dump system which automatically dumps down to your maximum landing weight, if that is what you want. In addition, it has a Fuel Balance switch which automatically balances your L & R main tanks for you. No more opening crossfeed valves and turning off fuel pumps in flight. No more forgetting to turn them back on, either.
Flight Controls – An « Autodrag » function operates when the airplane is high on approach and landing flaps have been selected. It extends the ailerons and two most outboard spoilers, while maintaining airspeed, to assist in glidepath capture from above, if you are high on the glideslope. The feature removes itself below 500 feet.
Cruise flaps is an automated function when level at cruise. It symmetrically moves the flaps, ailerons, flaperons, and spoilers based on weight, airspeed and altitude to optimize cruise performance by varying the wing camber, thus reducing drag.
Gust suppression – Vertical gust suppression enhances ride quality when in vertical gusts and turbulence. It uses symmetric deflection of flaperons and elevators to smooth the bumps. This should result in fewer whitecaps in passengers’ coffee and cocktails. Lateral gust suppression improves the ride when on approach by making yaw commands in response to lateral gusts and turbulence.
Instrument Approaches – The airplane is actually approved for autoland based not only on ILS but on GLS approaches – GPS with Ground based augmentation system, which corrects the GPS signals. GLS minimums are the same as CAT I ILSs – 200′ and 1/2 mile visibility. Our airline is not yet approved for GLS autolandings yet, though we will be doing GLS approaches.
Much of the cockpit seems like it was designed by Apple. The Control Display Units (CDUs) are virtual, so you can move them from one MFD to another. In fact, you can configure the displays in 48 different ways, I think, though we have found a few favorites we will use to keep it simple. To move the cursor from one MFD to another, you can either use a button, or you can « flick » your finger across the trackpad (Cursor Control Device) to fling the cursor from one screen to the next - much like an iPad.
I’m going home this morning, and will return for a 777 simulator ride before I go back to work. They want to make sure we’ve still got the old-fashioned legacy airplane in our brain before we fly the 777 again, even though it shares a « common type rating ». We won’t get the first 787 until October, and begin operations in November or December. At that time I’ll return for at least 4 days refresher training before beginning IOE – initial operating experience in the airplane – with passengers.
What a ride. It may be « fuel efficient », but I’m glad someone else is paying for the gas.
I think the 787 will be a great plane, but there could be some surprises with this level of innovation. Time will tell.