Despite the September 11 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center and its affect on air travel, Seattle-based aerospace giant Boeing is continuing conceptual development of its next-generation passenger plane, the Sonic Cruiser.
That was one of the messages Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Alan Mulally conveyed to attendees October 17, 2001, at the Cahners OEM Supply Chain Group's virtual trade show, SupplyChainLinkExpo.com. Mulally was the keynote speaker at the opening of the virtual trade show's Design Pavilion.
While the final decision on actual production of the plane awaits agreement from the airline industry, Mulally said, the Sonic Cruiser would be designed to shave one hour from every 3,000-mile flight. Slated for takeoff sometime between 2007 and 2009, it would fly at about 95% the speed of sound, versus approximately 80% by the current speed leader, the 747.
Additionally, said Mulally, it would fly 6,000 to 7,000 feet higher than the current 777, putting it above the turbulence that causes bumpy rides. The 777 was perhaps the single largest design project of the 1990s, and Mulally, the 1996 Design News Engineer of the Year, headed up the project.
"The trend is that the majority of travel in the future will be on smaller, faster airplanes," he predicted.
The Sonic Cruiser is one. But, Mulally added, designing and building the new plane will require Boeing and its suppliers to vault over several technical hurdles. Among them: finding ways to accomplish an efficient fuel burn, incorporating structural materials that can withstand the tremendous forces the plane will experience, and designing new turbine blades that will more readily accommodate the increased speed they expect to achieve.
More than 8,000 people registered for the two-day online trade show to hear Mulally and several other speakers, listen to roundtable discussions on engineering topics, and visit the virtual booths of vendors who supply everything from fasteners to test and measurement technology. Other participating Cahners magazines were: Purchasing, Supply Chain Management Review, MSI, Logistics Management, Industrial Distribution, Modern Materials Handling, Control Engineering, Warehousing Management, and Plant Engineering.
Among the other keynoters at the Design Pavilion were Brian Muirhead, the NASA engineer who led the Mars Path-finder project, and Jeff Hawkins, president of Handspring and creator of the Palm computing system.
Two special panel discussions at the online show covered important engineering issues. One panel, composed of Kodak's John Erickson, Medtronic's Lynn Otten, and Bose's Rob Parker, sorted out strategies for shortening the design cycle. In another panel discussion, Ford Thunderbird Chief Engineer Nancy Gioia, GM Executive Director of Interiors and Fasteners Grace Lieblein, and Daimler/Chrysler Vice President of Technical Affairs Tom Moore talked about current trends in automotive design.
Readers who missed the live event can view all booths and hear all speakers on the archived version of the show, available until January 17, 2002 at www.supplychainlinkexpo.com.