August 2012

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787 Fatigue Airframe Exits Paintshop

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Monday afternoon in Everett, ZY998, Boeing's 787 fatigue airframe exited the factory paintshop where it had spent the previous five days receiving a fresh coat of white paint.

Many have asked me, "Why does and airplane that will never fly need to be painted?"

Epoxy resin, one of the chief ingredients in composites, is susceptible to deterioration from UV rays from the Sun. Because ZY998 will spend its life testing the airframe structure outdoors, it requires that additional layer of protection.

I asked Justin Hale, Chief 787 Program Mechanic, about the UV light issue earlier this year if paint gets scraped off an aircraft in service, as it routinely does. Here's what he had to say:
Boeing has "Created allowances with missing paint that helps sort through the immediate challenge of the UV exposure and what's it doing to the structure. We've provided allowable damage limits to operate with paint missing. When you do expose composite to UV, it damages the outer layer of the resin. It goes from clear and you can see carbon fibers, then to grayish opaque. It becomes obvious. You can see the damage, just look at it. The repair is fairly simple, you sand out the resin and in most cases it stands that outer layer becomes the protection for everything underneath. Just sand it off and repaint it.
This will be one of the unique realities for 787s when they enter service. It's also the reasons that American Airlines won't be able to have a true bare metal livery on its Dreamliners. Put simply, there's no bare metal. See what's underneath.

After ZY998 left the paintshop it spent several hours on the flight line and allowed itself to be photographed by Matt Cawby, before returning to Building 40-24. As far as I know, it's the first shot of a Dreamliner and Dreamlifter together outside. In the coming years, this will be a routine sight, but for now it's a first.

Photo Credit: Matt Cawby

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