The essence of the 787

SEATTLE – Just across from Boeing Field, the 787 Dreamliner takes flight.

Well, sort of.

From the outside, it looks like an ordinary office building. But inside, Boeing Co. engineers put the guts of their latest jet to the test. This is where Boeing tests the 787’s systems – its flight controls, its electrical and hydraulic power.

Unlike an airplane’s structures – its wings, tail and fuselage – a jet’s systems aren’t as visual, aren’t as easy to track. But, as Boeing’s rival Airbus found out with the wiring on its A380 superjumbo jet, a new airplane’s insides are just as important as its outside.

Boeing has scheduled to roll out the 787 on July 8, and fly the first Dreamliner in late summer.

“We’re essentially almost there,” said Mike Sinnett, chief project engineer for 787 systems.

As an example, Sinnett said, the 787 has experienced about one-fifth of the engineering errors with wire design than have previous airplane programs. And the company’s extensive systems-simulation program has given it a leg up in getting the 787 certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Of our thousands of parts, 90 percent are waiting to be installed on the airplane or are installed,” Sinnett said.

Last December, only 25 percent of systems parts had reached that point in the process. As pleased as Sinnett is with the 787’s progress, he acknowledges that this is the time when things get anxious for Boeing engineers.

As with much of the Dreamliner, Boeing approached the new plane’s systems differently than it has previous airplane programs.

“In the past, systems have kind of come along for the ride,” Sinnett said. With the 787, however, Boeing took “a very holistic approach that looked at the entire airplane.”

The company considered input from its suppliers, from Boeing employees, airlines and passengers. As a result, each party gets features it wants.

For airlines, improvements in the 787’s systems actually make the aircraft more fuel-efficient by shaving pounds of unnecessary flight control equipment and miles of wiring. Airline pilots also get an enhanced flight deck with larger screens and standard head-up displays.

“It’s tough to imagine getting more display area than what we’ve got here,” said Mike Konicke, lead 787 flight deck engineer.

For passengers, advances in systems have led to more legroom because engineers have been able to cut down on the size of bulky electronics boxes typically stored under passengers’ seats. Improvements in the 787’s cabin pressurization and air humidity mean passengers will travel more comfortably and experience fewer of the ailments such as dehydration associated with jet lag.

“I think we’ve done a lot of work to honor the people in the airplane,” Sinnett said.

Reporter Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Members of Gravitics' team and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen stand in front of a mockup of a space module interior on Thursday, August 17, 2023 at Gravitics' Marysville facility. Left to right: Mark Tiner, government affairs representative; Jiral Shah, business development; U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen; Mike DeRosa, marketing; Scott Macklin, lead engineer. (Gravitics.)
Marysville startup prepares for space — the financial frontier

Gravitics is building space station module prototypes to one day house space travelers and researchers.

Orca Mobility designer Mike Lowell, left, and CEO Bill Messing at their office on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023 in Granite Falls, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Could a Granite Falls startup’s three-wheeler revolutionize delivery?

Orca Mobility’s battery-powered, three-wheel truck is built on a motorcycle frame. Now, they aim to make it self-driving.

Catherine Robinweiler leads the class during a lab session at Edmonds College on April 29, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Grant aids apprenticeship program in Mukilteo and elsewhere

A $5.6 million U.S. Department of Labor grant will boost apprenticeships for special education teachers and nurses.

Peoples Bank is placing piggy banks with $30 around Washington starting Aug. 1.
(Peoples Bank)
Peoples Bank grant program seeks proposals from nonprofits

Peoples Bank offers up to $35,000 in Impact Grants aimed at helping communities. Applications due Sept. 15.

Workers build the first all-electric commuter plane, the Eviation Alice, at Eviation's plant on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Arlington’s Eviation selects Seattle firm to configure production plane

TLG Aerospace chosen to configure Eviation Aircraft’s all-electric commuter plane for mass production.

Jim Simpson leans on Blue Ray III, one of his designs, in his shop on Friday, August 25, 2023, in Clinton, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Whidbey Island master mechanic building dream car from “Speed Racer”

Jim Simpson, 68, of Clinton, is using his knowledge of sports cars to assemble his own Mach Five.

Inside the new Boeing 737 simulator at Simulation Flight in Mukilteo, Washington on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
New Boeing 737 simulator takes ‘flight’ in Mukilteo

Pilots can test their flying skills or up their game at Simulation Flight in Mukilteo.

An Amazon worker transfers and organizes items at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amazon cuts ribbon on colossal $355M fulfillment center in Arlington

At 2.8 million square feet, the facility is the largest of its kind in Washington. It can hold 40 million “units” of inventory.

A computer rendering of the North Creek Commerce Center industrial park in development at 18712 Bothell-Everett Highway. (Kidder Mathews)
Developer breaks ground on new Bothell industrial park

The North Creek Commerce Center on Bothell Everett Highway will provide warehouse and office space in three buildings.

Dan Bates / The Herald
Funko president, Brian Mariotti is excited about the growth that has led his company to need a 62,000 square foot facility in Lynnwood.
Photo Taken: 102312
Former Funko CEO resigns from the Everett company

Brian Mariotti resigned Sept. 1, six weeks after announcing he was taking a six-month sabbatical from the company.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Paper or plastic? Snohomish County may require businesses to take cash

County Council member Nate Nehring proposed an ordinance to ban cashless sales under $200. He hopes cities will follow suit.

A crowd begins to form before a large reception for the opening of Fisherman Jack’s at the Port of Everett on Wednesday, August 30, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Seafood with a view: Fisherman Jack’s opens at Port of Everett

“The port is booming!” The new restaurant is the first to open on “restaurant row” at the port’s Waterfront Place.