A Look At Boeing’s 777 EcoDemonstrator
Now in its sixth flight-test program, Boeing’s EcoDemonstrator initiative is part of the company’s accelerating focus on evaluation and development of advanced technology features to improve operational efficiency and secure long-term sustainable growth. Including the current program, which is based on a former Air China 777-200, it has now tested more than 160 discrete technologies since 2012. Of the 112 already tested over the first five EcoDemonstrator phases, 40, or 36%, have transitioned to implementation on Boeing aircraft or partner products. A further 51, or 45%, have progressed in technical development, while the balance of 21 have been discontinued.
The latest program, which follows previous tests using a 737-800, 787-8, 757-200, Embraer 170 and 777F, is evaluating another 50 technologies covering aerodynamics, advanced materials and environmental improvements, flight controls, flight deck and avionics, operational efficiency and what Boeing describes as a “smart cabin.”
Shape Memory Alloy Vortex Generators
The SMART-VGs (shape memory alloy reconfigurable technology vortex generators) were tested on the 777 but could prove to be an important fuel-saver for long-range commercial and military aircraft. Developed by NASA Glenn Research Center in association with Boeing, they were located in an area of noncritical flow on the “piano” panel aft of the starboard engine pylon.
They were tested to validate the inflight performance of the deployable, reconfigurable devices, which in most cases are only required for slow-speed flight. A rod of shape memory alloy was inserted at the base of the VG where it connected to the wing. The material was “trained” by NASA to twist as it cooled off below a certain temperature threshold, pulling the VG’s fin down as it does so to lie flush with the wing. Having been out of the flow for most of the cruise portion of the flight when it is not required, the alloy retracts to its original shape, lifting the fin to its upright position for approach and landing.
Air Data Measurement System
An externally visible experiment mounted in a forward window on the 777’s left side is a combined light-detection and ranging sensor/laser radar integrated air data system. Developed by Colorado-based Ophir, the system measures true airspeed, angle of attack, angle of sideslip, outside air temperature and static local air pressure in all weather conditions and altitudes.
Tested in an earlier form on the Embraer 170 EcoDemonstrator, the system is being developed in conjunction with Collins Aerospace and could increase safety by providing a dissimilar source of air data compared to current systems. For the flight, the system was collecting data but not providing feedback to the 777’s air data system.
Cargo Halon Replacement
The aerospace industry has been working to find effective replacements for ozone-depleting halon in aircraft fire-extinguishing and suppression systems in the cabin, lavatories, cargo hold, engines and auxiliary power units (APU) since production of the chemical was banned in 1994. Although non-halon solutions have been found for cabins and lavatories, the industry is still forced to recycle halon until effective replacements can be developed for engines, APUs and the cargo hold. The EcoDemonstrator is testing a new blend of bromotrifluoropropene (BTP) developed by Boeing and fire suppression specialist Meggitt that may work for cargo holds. The “Blend D” agent, which has already passed the FAA minimum fire suppression performance standards for Halon 1301, mixes BTP with an inert gas such as nitrogen or CO2 and will be assessed for dispersion and concentration characteristics in flight.
Recyclable Carpet Tiles
Following earlier tests of an experimental recyclable carpet tile evaluated in 2012 on the first EcoDemonstrator, Boeing is testing an improved 100% recyclable version developed by InterfaceFLOR for commercial use. Dubbed “Sky-Tiles,” the new carpeting covers the entire cabin of the 777 and can be installed three times faster than current carpet tiles while lasting up to four times longer. Boeing says the ability to recycle the tile will divert 8,000 lb. from landfills over the life of a typical single-aisle airliner. The product is applicable to the 737 family and produced at a carbon-neutral factory.
Acoustically Tuned Sidewalls
A prototype acoustically tuned sidewall section replaces two standard left-hand sidewall panels between Doors 3 and 4 in the EcoDemonstrator’s Section 46. Designed to specifically target vibration reduction at the 413-Hz mode, the panels reject unwanted sound transmission and cut down the complexity of current acoustic treatments.
They also offer potential weight savings and on the new midmarket airplane (NMA) would reduce weight by an estimated 20 lb. per aircraft. Flight tests evaluated noise-level reductions and helped to validate the modeling and design techniques involved.
A prototype Boeing Connected Cabin app on a tablet was used to control the lights, displays, sound and cabin equipment, as well as commodities such as a business-class seat. It also was able to display the status of cabin commodity health. Another app from Boeing Global Services/Jeppesen, which can display the status of the cabin commodity health data (including intelligent cabin projects), was demonstrated as well.
OLED Ceiling and Displays
Boeing is studying the use of ultrathin OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display technology for ceiling displays, virtual windows and even transparent class dividers. An OLED display was installed on the divider between Doors 2 and 3 and on the cabin ceiling of the EcoDemonstrator.
The screens, which weigh 20% less, cost 40% less and are easier to maintain than current designs, could provide new display options including entertainment, branding, flight information, outside camera views as well as cabin environment “mood” influencers.
Operational Efficiency and Flight Deck Avionics
Flight crews on the EcoDemonstrator tested Elbit’s Skylens head-worn display (HWD) unit as a possible future alternative to current projector/combiner head-up display (HUD) units. The HWD, pictured being used by Boeing test pilot Ruth Morlas, weighs almost 70% less than current HUD installations. The display, which does not have to be worn for the entire flight, was evaluated for pilot comfort and data collection and presents synthetic vision imagery while simultaneously permitting uninterrupted head-down viewing of instruments.
FANS and AOC Messaging Over IPS
Boeing is developing internet protocol suite (IPS) technology as an enabler for advanced air traffic management and airline operational control (AOC) technologies in collaboration with Honeywell, Inmarsat and SITA. Using prototype communication equipment, which was installed on a pallet on the main deck, Boeing demonstrated using IPS for existing applications by connecting via the EcoDemonstrator’s center VHF antenna. The IPS trial forms part of Boeing’s long-running strategy to make access easier to trajectory-based operations that reduce fuel consumption and reduce delays.
Editor's note: This article was updated to correct the former Air China aircraft type that is flying as the ecoDemonstrator now.