The Foldable Wings, Wide Body Boeing 777X

The Boeing 777X is the latest series of the long-range, wide-body, twin-engine Boeing 777 family from Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Its features

  • New GE9X Engines,
  • New composite Wings with Folding Wingtips
  • Large cabin width and seating capacity
  • Modern Technologies from the Boeing 787.

The 777X was launched in November 2013 with two variants: the 777-8 and the 777-9. The 777-8 provides seating for 384 passengers and has a range of 8,730 nmi (16,170 km) while the 777-9 has seating for 426 passengers and a range of over 7,285 nmi (13,500 km). The 777-9 first flew on January 25, 2020, with deliveries expected to commence in 2022.

Op-Ed: Is the Boeing 777X Too Big? | Airways Magazine

Boeing describes the wings of the 777X as having an ‘optimized span’. In plain English, this means that it’s bigger, and therefore more efficient. Folded out, the huge size of the 777X’s wings translates to a marked improvement in fuel burn, something which all airlines are always keen to achieve.

So that explains why Boeing wanted to make the wings so huge in the first place, but not why they have to fold.

The main reason for the wingtips’ mechanical folding feature is to allow the aircraft to land at more airports. The FAA’s Airplane Design Group (ADG) categorization ranks aircraft from Group I (the smallest) to Group VI (containing the Airbus A380, for example). Boeing was keen to keep the 777X in Group V, the same group as the 777 classic.

Fuel efficiency is improved further by the configurable-length wingspan. The wingtips are retractable and extend flat just before takeoff to increase fuel economy. Extended wingspan reaches 235 feet 5 inches (71.75 meters) and is 212 feet 9 inches (64.85 meters) when folded. The main reason for the mechanical folding is to make the aircraft able to land at more airports worldwide. The FAA’s Airplane Design Group (ADG) categorization, which consists of 6 categories defined by aircraft wingspan, is directly linked to aircraft acceptance at the airports. Group 6 (214 ft – < 262 ft, 65 m – < 80 m), under which the 777X falls with its wingtips extended, is dedicated to the largest aircraft such as A380s. If assigned under this group, the aircraft becomes severely limited in terms of number of airports it can land.

According to Boeing, the current flagship airliner, the 747-8 series production will in 2022. While, the brand-new Boeing 777X is expected to enter service almost immediately, taking over the advantages and burdens that come with such a title. The king is dead, long live the king!

After taking a good look at its most successful long-haul, wide-body airliner, the 777, Boeing decided to advance the legacy design further into the 2020s and beyond. The first next generation variant of the Triple Seven series, the 777X, is the largest twin-engine jet to ever roam the skies. However, a lot of technologies for generational improvements were borrowed from the smaller 787 Dreamliner.

By having the wingtips foldable, the wingspan is significantly reduced. Consequently, the Boeing 777X fits well within the boundaries set for the Group 5 (171 feet – < 214 feet, 52 m – < 65 m). The fifth group offers far greater selection of airports, allowing the aircraft to cover areas dedicated to regular wide-body traffic. In turn, the 777X could be stored and maintained alongside its “fixed wing” predecessors and counterparts. Most importantly, the lower group could attract more customers. Foldable wings will be an absolute novelty among operational wide-body airliners, although the idea itself has been employed by militaries since the 1930s to save space, especially in naval aviation.

Following orders through July 31,2020, 350 units of the 777Xs have been ordered by eight airlines: All Nippon Airways – 20, British Airways – 18, Cathay Pacific – 21, Emirates – 156, Etihad Airways – 25, Lufthansa – 20, Qatar Airways – 60, Singapore Airlines – 20, unspecified – 10, with Emirates by far having the largest order. Although the latest developments indicate that Emirates could shift some orders to the smaller 787 Dreamliner.

The biggest competitors of the Boeing 777X are its domestic peers the 787, the 777 and the rivaling Airbus A350. In essence, competing with itself is not the worst case scenario but every swap away from the flagship 777X is an impactful financial downshift as prices start from $410 million per unit. For example, every swap from 777-9 to 787-10 is a loss of around $72 million at least.

The main rival, the Airbus A350, lacks sheer capacity offered by Boeing. Nevertheless, by having a proven service record of 5 years, the A350 automatically becomes more approachable and simply a safer choice at the moment. On paper, both aircraft look like great offerings but it will be an arduous task for Boeing to beat the A350 in all but most volumetric routes.

The 777X is scheduled to be delivered to the first customers in 2022. Thus far, three test vehicles were produced and extensively tested throughout 2020 in order for the design to be viable for the certification in 2021 by the latest. As a flagship, the 777X will undoubtedly see its fair share of customers but at the moment the future is being dimmed by COVID-19, some hesitant customers, its own peers and predecessors, and a great offering from Airbus.

Knowing that the 737 MAX crisis is still being dealt with, Boeing has a rather lengthy list of obstacles to overcome. Maintaining orders and delivering introductory vehicles in a timely manner will be paramount.

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