A Malaysia Airlines 777

A Malaysia Airlines 777

It’s easy to get lost writing about a passenger airliner. There are often many more variants for passenger planes than military aircraft. There are several models of each, different engines, extended bodies, and each airline does things a little different, so forget about trying to catalog the interior.

Take the Boeing 777 for instance. Different models use different variants of the GE90, Pratt & Whitney PW4000 or Rolls-Royce Trent 800 series engines. Seating capacity goes from about 300 to 550 depending on class configuration and model. The 777-200 series is 209 ft. 1 in. long, and the 777-300 and 777-300ER are 242 ft. 4 in. long. Wingspan varies by 13 feet depending on the model as well. Typical cruise speed is constant across all models at 560 mph, however. The standard 777-200 has an impressive range of 5,240 nautical miles, but the 777-200ER can travel about halfway around the world, with a range of 9,380 nm.

The 777 is the world’s largest twinjet airplane, featuring the largest turbofan engine of any airplane. The airplane is an evolution of Boeing’s attempts at bridging the gap between the massive 747 and the smaller, short-to-medium range 767.

In 1978, Boeing showed off three new models — the 757 to replace the 727; the 767 to challenge Airbus’s medium-range A300, and a 777 with three engines to compete with the similar trijet DC-10. The first two airplanes were riveting success, but the initial trijet 777 was unimpressive and quickly dropped. But this left a huge gap between the 747 and 767.

At first, Boeing tried to enlarge the 767 and capitalize on its success, but airline requirements for a large, long-range aircraft were getting really specific by the late 80s, leading Boeing to opt for a brand new design. The resulting twin-engine configuration was first offered to airlines at the end of 1989.

The airplane has become one of Boeing’s best-sellers. One of the major reasons behind the success is that it is more fuel-efficient than other wide-body jets, keeping costs down in the often fragile airline industry. United Airlines placed the first “Triple Sevens” into service in 1995. As of the middle of 2012, 60 customers had placed orders for nearly 1,400 aircraft.

Planform view of an Air France Boeing 777-200ER in flight (Media credit/Sergey Kustov)

Planform view of an Air France Boeing 777-200ER in flight (Media credit/Sergey Kustov)

With more than 1,025 aircraft delivered and 18 years of service, what’s most impressive about the 777 is not the size, nor the speed, nor the glass cockpit with Boeing’s first digital fly-by-wire controls, nor the fact that it is the first completely computer designed commercial airliner. What should impress you the most is that despite its groundbreaking features, until Asiana Flight 214 in July 2013, only one 777 had ever crash landed, none had crashed, and no passenger to ride a 777 had ever died. Only a handful of airplanes could make that claim.

Before Flight 214, which has been blamed on pilot error, the only major problem had been with a part on the Rolls Royce Trent engines. On January 17, 2008, a British Airways flight crash landed 1,000 feet short of Heathrow Airport, injuring 47 people. The investigation revealed that ice crystals clogged the fuel-oil heat exchanger. This component was redesigned in 2009.

On September 5, 2001, a ground crewman was burned to death at Denver International Airport during a refueling accident.

As of 1999, Boeing has only used the General Electric GE90 engine for new 777s. The engine is built exclusively for the 777 and can put out 74,000 to 115,000 pounds of thrust each. It has maxed out at 127,900 lbf., which is a world record. A single GE90 can keep a 747 aloft.


We will defer to Wikipedia for this one.

Essential Reading

The book I keep on the shelf is “Boeing 777: The Technological Marvel,” by Norris and Wagner. It’s a nice reference with great photos. It’s very cheap on Amazon, especially for a gently used copy.

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