New Boeing 787 More Likely Than Other Planes To Be Unsafe… After Crashing?

UPDATE: Cirrus Designs, UCLA, and Airbus refute these claims.

Semi-retired newsman Dan Rather claims the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is made of a brittle material that is more likely than traditional materials to shatter on impact and emit poisonous chemicals when on fire. To us, the most important words in that sentence are on impact and when on fire, because if those conditions are met then we figure we’ll already be in more than enough danger.

A former Boeing engineer, who claims he was fired for his concerns over the issue, explains the problem in a more serious way. With airplanes made of aluminum, the fuselage crumples but remains intact, which keeps life-threatening fires away from passengers. But not so with the Dreamliner:

“With a composite airframe, the fuselage would not crumple, it would shatter … that shattered hole would be there for the fire that’s going into the airplane. Instead of everyone getting out, it would be a far less positive result.”

He doesn’t even mention all the sharks that would be able to get in if you crashed into the ocean. But we will.

Boeing says that they’ve tested the plane and it’s as “crashworthy” as aluminum planes. This leads us to wonder, how do airlines crash-test planes? May we see the footage, please?

“Boeing’s new 787 could be unsafe, Rather to report” [Reuters]


Edit Your Comment

  1. ChrisC1234 says:

    Seems to me that the only real way to test this would be to crash one… so crash away.

  2. Paul says:

    It really hasn’t been my experience that big jetliners leave a lot of survivors when they crash, in general. If this modern plane is a lot less likely to crash than the older models, then I say any extra danger after impact is irrelevant. Hell, maybe it’ll kill you faster, rather than letting you sit around and feel your flesh melt off!

  3. WV.Hillbilly says:

    This plane hasn’t even been certified air worthy yet.

    They’re crash testing it now.
    In one test they crush it between 2 steel plates. In another they drop a 10,000 lb fuselage section from a tower onto a steel platform.

    I thought Dan Rather was dead.

  4. Buran says:

    @switchcraft: Crashes are quite survivable … it’s just that it’s the really bad ones that tend to make the news.

  5. rouftop says:

    Here’s footage of a crash test.

  6. NickRB says:

    Remember, that Dan Rather was the reporter that ran a story with phony documents, because the story was too good to check?

    Anyway, this story is crap. Boeing already tested this thing to the max. Plus the FAA had boeing drop the damn thing with the gear up from 30 feet in the air to prove how strong it is. I can’t wait to enjoy a ride on this American aircraft.

  7. dmolavi says:

    mr hillbilly – he is, it’s just his talking head reporting. don’t you watch futurama? ;)

  8. Leiterfluid says:

    @WV.Hillbilly: You’re thinking of his career.

  9. Kathlene says:

    This is an effing ridiculous allegation. Do you know how many composite aircraft are already in service? Gajillions, I tell you. Crashworthiness is a major part of any aircraft’s structural test program. While I agree that composites are more brittle than metals, they have great damage tolerance capabilities. And the FAA has burn requirements for all aircraft interiors to make sure that they don’t ignite too easily or emit excessive toxins. If this aircraft was built using the FAA regulations from the 70’s, the guy might have a credible point. But composite aircraft structure has come a long way since then, and the issues he’s talking about are required to be addressed through testing (and signoff by the FAA). Cripes. I can’t believe this retard is getting air time.

  10. Its not a crash test, but here is a pretty impressive video of stress-testing the wings of a 777:


  11. TPK says:

    However valid or invalid the report, with Rather reading the script, nobody will believe a word. What moron still thinks he has any credibility? I wouldn’t hire him to read a weather report.

  12. @rouftop and @rhesuspieces00: These clips are awesome. Thanks!

    @NickRB and @tpkeller: I don’t have feelings for Rather one way or the other, but thought you might find it interesting to know that he just filed a $70 million lawsuit against CBS for that whole forged document scandal — he’s claiming they scapegoated him and diminished his reputation. (I saw it on Google News earlier today.)

  13. xenth says:

    One could just as easily say it is safer because composites are stronger than aluminum and thus can endure more. I’ll still be gripping the arm rests because even if that plane is made out of solid diamond we are soft and fleshy and do not handle high speed collisions well.

  14. siuengr says:

    Notice that the allegation come from a “former” Boeing employee that was fired. He is obviously disgruntled and is pissed off about it. The claims have no basis, in other news, the moon could crash into the earth tomorrow too.

  15. TPK says:

    @cwalters: Yes, I saw that later this evening after I posted. Interesting. One reporter commented that they believed he saw the Don Imus $20M settlement and figured he could get a piece of the same pie…

  16. abigsmurf says:

    emiting toxic chemicals when on fire is a major major major issue. Fires happen on planes, planes are specifically designed to ensure that fires will spread slowly and that most materials won’t emit highly toxic chemicals. Planes are sealed, if toxic fumes are released the passengers WILL breathe them in.

    As for planes shattering on impact, most major incidents happen on landing. If there’s lots of turbulance planes can land extremely hard, possibly breaking the undercarrige and scraping along on it’s belly. If it doesn’t hit anything a plane should survive that kind of landing. However if a plane has a brittle shell, you’ve got something that could undergo critical structural failure whilst travelling at a couple of hundred miles an hour.

  17. majortom1981 says:

    I thought carbon composites were supposed to be strong and light? Isnt that why diamonds are one of the hardest things on earth?

  18. Canadian Impostor says:

    Hey guys, I’d just like to weigh in as a mechanical engineer with a background in materials science who works with high performance composites and metal alloys a lot.

    I’d like to explain a term; the word “brittle” doesn’t mean fragile or weak, it means when something fails it fails in a specific way. If you think of a piece of silly putty, as you pull on the silly putty it stretches and stretches until it finally pulls apart. This is a “ductile” material. Brittle is the opposite of that. Brittle failures are when things like glass break. Glass doesn’t stretch out as you pull on it like silly putty, you just pull and pull and then all of a sudden it snaps apart.

    Steel is ductile. It’ll bend and stretch and deform and all that jazz. Aluminum is brittle. Aluminum snaps. Composites are brittle too, but they’re also much much stronger than aluminum or any of its alloys.

  19. vanilla-fro says:

    I’m with anybody that doesn’t care how it holds up after a crash. I want it to not crash. at all. ever.
    If one does crash with me in it, I want it to tell me a few seconds a head of time so I can join the mile high club….even if I’m alone.

  20. Arlahna says:

    I have no science or engineering degrees or anything really to lend this conversation in a technical sense. I can, however, say that I have seen the dreamliner sitting right outside the buildings where it was built (only 10 minutes from my house) and it looks pretty dang sweet. :) I’d fly on it, if just to say that I have. :D

    I now return you to your more intelligent conversation.

  21. seawall says:

    Paul, you’re really, really wrong. What is your experience in airliner crashes? I could list the countless accidents on here in which there were many survivors, but one of the best recent examples is the Air France Airbus that overshot the runway in Toronto a few years back. EVERYBODY survived… hundreds of people… because a well trained flight crew got them out of the plane before it burned. Certainly there are exceptions, but they are a subset of the already very-rare airliner crash.

  22. Phanatic says:

    Let’s talk materials terminology.

    “Brittleness” is the tendency of a material to fracture before it undergoes deformation. A good example of a brittle material is concrete; apply a stress, and you won’t see much strain of the concrete before it just gives up and fractures.

    Brittleness doesn’t have anything to do with how strong a material is. Concrete’s very strong in compression, it just also happens to be very brittle.

    Someone else already posted a video of them bend-testing the winds on the 777. They flexed them until they broke. Well, they have to do the same thing with the 787. In that test, they have to apply 150% of the maximum load to those wings. With the 787, they’re debating whether to keep flexing the wings until they break, like they did with the 777. Why the debate? Because the wings can flex much *further* than the wings of the 777, without breaking, and that means if they want to break them they’ll have to alter the test fixture.

    That right there demonstrates the composite wing structure is *less* brittle than the aluminum; if it were more brittle, it wouldn’t deform as much prior to fracture.

  23. kidgenius says:

    Canadian Impostor:

    Actually, Silly Putty is a really bad example for what you are trying to explain. Silly Putty is a dilitant compound whose material properties change depending on how force is applied over a given time span. Over long time spans, it is very ductile, over short time spans it is very brittle. Hit Silly Putty with a hammer and it will shatter :-)

  24. Anonymous says:

    The 787 only uses composite materials for the “skin” of the fuselage. The frame is made of titanium. While most aircraft use the skin as a key part of supporting the fuselage, the 787 would be fine with just the frame. There are no concerns regarding integrity of the aircraft based on the use of composites.

    I can’t speak toward the issue of poison or holes to allow fire through, but my personal plan in event of a crash is already to get out as fast as possible. I don’t see that changing in light of this news.

  25. Canadian Impostor says:

    @kidgenius: That’s a fair point. I posted that early this morning. I was thinking of chewing gum or something stretchy and ignored silly putty’s non-newtonian properties.

    I don’t do a lot of engineering with silly putty. ;)

  26. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    I’m glad we have a few engineers around because I hate to rely solely on explanations by “disgruntled former engineers” and Dan Rather, the guy who loves to rely on questionable sources and fake documents.

    Also, did anyone hear about his $70 million suit against CBS? Why won’t he just give up and go away.

  27. zachary.barnes1992 says:

    Well, the way i see it is…. Airbus has been using composite parts, well, for years!! not to mention all the plastics and highly flammable plastic things in the cabin. Plus, less aluminum and metal equals less sparks, which equals presumably…. less fire. All this is just because it’s new and has never been done before. I’d rather die from the smoke, than from the flame anyways

  28. mconfoy says:

    @WV.Hillbilly: Maybe Rather’s brain is dead but the body still works?

  29. mconfoy says:

    @rhesuspieces00: Oh my god, they glue the panels of the wings together with something like super glue Dan! Actually, that was a factor in that Airbus 310 that lost the tail plane out of JFK. Boeing actually builds the wings at Boeing Helicopter in Essington, PA, completely assembled, unassembles them and flies them out to Seattle in a 747.

  30. mconfoy says:

    @rhesuspieces00: I wonder how much Peter Coyote whores himself out to do the narration? He certainly takes money over quality when it comes to the movies he makes.

    But seriously, if companies made their products as well as Boeing, Airbus and others do, this site would not have much to say.

  31. AlphaTeam says:

    Why worry about crashes. In all frankness, they should just make sure the plane staying in the air oppose to making sure it doesn’t shatter on crashing. Seriously, how many planes don’t blow up or disintegrate anyways when they crash? Your chances are almost nil already.