Pilot Spencer Marker in the cockpit

In our Ask a Pilot series, pilot Spencer Marker answers one of your aviation-related questions each week. See past installments here and submit your own to whitney@johnnyjet.com.

The “question”

When it was unveiled to the world during its rollout in 2007, the Boeing 787 promised to usher in a new era of jet travel. And while its impact isn’t as widely regarded as other game-changers, such as the iconic 747, the aircraft possesses unique characteristics that have the potential to change aviation as we know it. And all those qualities come together in one truly innovative airplane. For example:

The “answer” (or 6 fun facts about the 787)

1. It’s very efficient…
Efficiency was the name of the game when the 787 was envisioned and engineers at Boeing introduced several “firsts” in order to attain this goal.

One of the primary drivers of the aircraft’s efficiency is its composite structure. This material, while lighter than aluminum, has a better strength-to-weight ratio. So it’s lighter, and stronger. The aircraft contains more composites than any airplane Boeing has built and weighs roughly 20% less than a comparable 767, its closest cousin.

Another way the airplane gains efficiency is through its use of cutting-edge engines. These engines are unique because they are bleedless. In most commercial jet aircraft, high-pressure air is “bled” from the engines (before it is burned) to run things like the airplane’s air conditioners and ice-protection equipment. However, in designing the 787, Boeing found an innovative way to save fuel by removing this system. Instead, the airplane’s air conditioners are operated electrically. As is the aircraft’s ice-protection system. In doing this, Boeing found a fuel savings of roughly 3%.

Those, in addition to several other advancements, are showing a tangible result. In fact, airlines such as ANA have shown up to a 21% improvement on fuel burn when compared to similar types. And on a large fleet of aircraft, those savings add up.

2. It provides a unique passenger experience…
Passenger comfort was not forgotten when the airplane was designed. Boeing started with the windows, and made them 65% larger than the windows of most other airliners. They also did away with plastic window shades. Now each window features an innovative electro-chromatic dimmer. This nifty piece of technology allows passengers to electrically control the brightness of their window while still being able to see through it. Time to book those window seats!

Cabin pressure has also been increased, thanks in large part to the airplane’s new strong composite structure. So, instead of the cabin being pressurized to feel like you’re flying at 8,000 feet, the 787 will provide a cabin altitude of 6,000 feet. This increase in pressure leaves passengers less susceptible to jetlag. The innovative structure also allows for more cabin humidity, since composites aren’t susceptible to corrosion like their aluminum counterparts. So wave goodbye to jetlag and dry air!

3. It’s fast…
The 787’s sleek exterior isn’t just for show. This streamlined aircraft is capable of some pretty impressive speeds. The aircraft cruises comfortably at Mach 0.85, or 85% of the speed of sound, while its maximum speed at altitude is Mach 0.90 or just under 600 mph! This makes the comparable Boeing 767’s Mach 0.80 cruise speed seem rather paltry.

4. It was named by an employee…
In the early 2000s, Boeing was working through several names for their new jet. So instead of simply choosing, the company held a public competition to name their new airplane in the summer of 2003. People submitted names and more than 500,000 votes came in from over 160 countries around the world. In the end, the name Dreamliner was selected. The idea was submitted by 14-year Boeing employee Ross Coogan, who was rewarded with a flight in a Boeing 737 simulator. Other names in the running included Global Cruiser, eLiner and StratoClimber.

5. It’s whisper-quiet…
This cutting-edge jet boasts a noise footprint that is up to 60% quieter than that of similarly sized airplanes. This is due primarily to its new, innovative engines. But improvements in the shape of the engine also cut the noise output of the airplane. Most visible is the sawtooth pattern (called a chevron) on the back of the engine. Without getting too technical, this structure serves to mix the cold air propelled by the engine’s fan with the hot air from the core. Mixing cold and hot air in this way decreases engine noise (Boeing explains this feature in more depth here).

6. It’s environmentally friendly…
Burning less fuel cuts CO2 emissions from the aircraft by 20-30%. In addition, its ability to get in and out of noise-sensitive airports quietly lessens the aircraft’s environmental noise impact. Boeing has also been at the forefront of aircraft biofuels research, creating jet fuel from algae and other renewable resources. Flight tests have been conducted on a variety of Boeing aircraft, including the 787. And, at the end of the aircraft’s service life, most components are recyclable.


If anyone has a burning aviation question or if there’s something you’d like cleared up, drop us a line at Whitney@johnnyjet.com to get your question featured in an upcoming “Ask a Pilot” column.

Clear skies and tailwinds,


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