Boeing 797-X NMA: ‘Black Diamond’ and the Loyal Wingman will make it possible

Boeing has established an extremely ambitious time line for the introduction of the NMA. They want it flying on test by late 2023-24, and deliveries from 2025-26. That’s an agonisingly tight schedule, bearing in mind the Dreamliner programme took 5 years longer than planned, and when it was rolled out the engines were dummies and the whole aircraft little more than a skin on wheels.

Boeing foreswore ever working on more than one aircraft at a time again, (it was working on the MAX and the 747-8 too at the time) and the lessons from the Dreamliner, which utilised dozens of new technologies were learnt, but not really in the way they should have been, leading to the mish-mash MAX.

This time they think they can build the NMA using a system known as MBSE or Model Based Systems Engineering. This in effect, melds traditional design and engineering into a simulated and completely interconnected 3D model. In essence a totally realistic virtual model of its real world version.

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The system dates back to 2012 when planning to begin using and implementing it began, and several aircraft have benefitted from earlier developments, though mostly only in partial form. One was the KC-46 (767 based military tanker), and some engineers have been trying to remind Boeing that while the idea in principle is great, and a virtual model looks amazing, it really didn’t match up with the end result in terms of quality. The USAF is by no means happy with the KC46, and basic quality failures stretching from equipment that didn’t work, was over budget, or just atrocious manufacturing standards. Aircraft with rags trapped in fuselage spaces, metal filings in dangerous places, trapped tools in wings, chaffed wires and so on have been a headache to fix.

The MBSE project was known as Black Diamond and the purpose was to design the entire system, in full, test it, and provide proof of concept. After that it was to be used to implement the entire manufacturing process, right the way down to the last part of the aircrafts’ assembly.

By maximising the design virtually, then working out the best way to manufacture it and assemble it, Boeing believes that the NMA can cut years off of its development and short cut its way to being delivered on time, on target, and to specification, first time every time. The Loyal Wingman is the first 100% product of this system and so far its proven to work.

The question is can they do it? By all accounts Boeing’s management are totally committed to making the NMA and doing it using MBSE. If they can, then they believe that a replacement for the 737 is next and can potentially beat Airbus to market – a target they set for 2030.

It may be that this is what Boeing needs to push it back in fron of its arc rival, but only time will tell.