As Boeing's troubled 787 Dreamliner returns to the skies, the company is taking another step towards its next new aircraft design: the Boeing 777X.
Expected to start commercial flights by the end of this decade, the 777X is the next-generation of Boeing's best-selling 777, which has become the company's most profitable aircraft with over 1,000 in service.
The 777X will adopt some 787 technology such as extra-long wings made from carbon-fiber composites rather than metal.
However, the tips of those wings are expected to fold up when the 777X is on the ground, dropping down and locking into place before the plane takes off.
It's a high-tech trick required to help the 777X fit into airport boarding gates and taxiways designed for the smaller members of the 777 family – the 777X's wingspan is expected to exceed that of today's largest 777-300ER by 6 metres (20 feet), making them even longer than Boeing's 747-8 jumbo jet.
In fact, it's not even a new idea: Boeing patented it in 1995 for the original Boeing 777, and while no airline ever ticked this option box on their order, a full-scale model of the folding wingtip is on display at Boeing's Museum of Flight in Seattle.
Long wings for the win
The reason for Boeing's love affair with long wings? They''ll let the 777X fly further, increase fuel efficiency and carry more passengers and cargo.
"The range and aerodynamic quality of this aircraft is all about the wing," says Emirates President Tim Clark, who has been privvy to Boeing's work on the 777X.
The stretched wingspan means the Boeing 777X "flies faster, it carries more, it is far more fuel efficient."
Boeing is expected to offer the 777X in two sizes – the 777-8 and 777-9, following the naming conventions adopted for the 787 Dreamliner – along with 'ultra long-range' LX versions.
Although the 777X is almost seven years away from takeoff, Boeing will soon start spruiking the jet to airlines in the hopes of landing big orders – especially from current 777 stalwarts such as Emirates, United Airlines, Singapore Airlines, ANA, British Airways, American Airlines and Cathay Pacific.
The prize of a high-profile launch customer who will take first delivery of the 777X – but also carry the first risks of delays – is likely to go to Emirates, which is already the world's largest customer for the Boeing 777 and has been working with Boeing on finalising the 777X specs.
“We’re working closely to get to specifications we’re happy with,” Emirates' chief Clark told Bloomberg last month. “That means layouts, the seats, the galleys, getting the weights right, getting the fuel burn.”
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.