Boeing 777 — The Ultimate History (IV)
Part IV— Going Further, Getting Capable & More Records (2000–2009): The Boeing 777, as is known at the time, undergoes a complete transformation to increase it’s range and capability, thus increasing its popularity even more.
The Boeing 777 was really one phenomenon of popularity in the very beginning of its flying career, with may airlines adopting the airplane for long-haul flights, specially since the beginning of the production of the 777–200ER variant, which started to be built in 1996, with some records achieved on its way, including the one for reliability: 99.5% departure reliability. But the 777–200ER and the 777–300 are precisely catalysts for the upcoming changes for the 777 program, in order to making the twin-engined airliner a true long-haul king.
From the start of the 777 program, Boeing had plans to conquer the ultra-long haul market with a shortened 777–100X derivative, a shortened version of the 777–200 with reduced OEW and increased range, in some ways similar to the Boeing 747SP (Special Performance) — But it ended up on the shelves, mostly because the 777–100X would carry less fewer seats with the same operating cost and less cargo revenue, thus higher cost per seat. In March 1997, the Boeing board approved the specifications for the longer-range 777–200X and 777–300X: 298 passengers in 3 class and over 15,900 km of range for the 777–200X and 355 passengers in 3 class and over 12,200 km of range for the 777–300X. The design freeze would occur in 1998, certification of the 777–200X would occur by August 2000 and the 777–300X would occur months later, in January 2001.
These longer-range 777s will require engines with more than 100,000 lbf of thrust, leading to talks between Boeing and the engine manufacturers. General Electric offered to develop the GE90–115B, a more powerful version of the existing GE90 engine, while Rolls-Royce offered to develop the Trent 8104 engine, based on the Trent 800, but with capability of producing 104,000 lbf of thrust. Pratt & Whitney has not candidated to offer to develop a higher thrust PW4000, much because of the fuel burn debacle of the PW4098 engine present on the 777–300. In 1999, Boeing choose GE to exclusively powering the 777–200X and 777–300X, beating out rival proposals. Under that controversial deal, Boeing agreed to only offer the GE90 on those new versions.
The longer-range 777 program (called 777-X — Note: is used a hyphen to distinguish from the current 777X program) was officially launched in 29th February 2000, when Boeing began to issuing offers for the airlines. The program was developed in a period when the airline industry was suffering a downturn, during the earlier 2000s, thus ending up slowing the development of those versions. The very first model to emerge from the program was the 777–300ER, which was launched by Air France with a order for 10 aircraft.
The 777–300ER is the B-market (long-haul) version of the standard 777–300, combining the capacity of the 777–300 with the range of the 777–200ER, thus making a perfect airplane to replace quad-jets like the 747–300 and the 747–400. To do so, 35% of the parts used on the 77W (the IATA code for the 777–300ER) were totally different from the earlier counterparts: It features raked wingtips, extended 1.98 metres for each side, a totally strenghtened fuselage, for being able to withstand the higher maximum takeoff weight of the airplane in comparison to the 777–300, a enlarged fuel tank (with capacity up to 181,280 litres of fuel), and a modified landing gear, able also to support that increased MTOW. It has also a improved tailstrike protection.
The space between the top of the cabin & the crowns of the fuselage are now able to be used for the crew restrooms. This feature allows more seat revenue. The 777–300ER is powered by two massive GE90–115B turbofans, each with 115,300 lbf (513 kN) of thrust, and has a range of 14,697 km (7,930 nautical miles). The MTOW of the 777–300ER is of 351,535 kg (775,000 lbs), the biggest for any twin-jet airplane.
The cerimonial roll-out debut of the 777–300ER took place on 14th November 2002, with the first flight made in early 2003. During the flight test Boeing made various performance improvements, in order to obtain the specifications which are known today. Those improvements resulted from the exceptionally good performance of the airplane, alongside a higher-than-expected engine efficiency and some exchanges made in order to reduce the drag. The first 777–300ER was certified by both FAA and EASA (ex-JAA) in 16th March 2004, and it was delivered to Air France on 29th April 2004. The 777–300ER ended up overtaking the 777–200ER in orders in 2010 and in deliveries by 2013, thus making the best-selling variant of the 777 as of 2017.
The other longer-range 777 derivative to be born is the 777–200LR Worldliner, the C-market (Ultra-Long-Haul) version of the standard 777–200. It was launched alongside the 777–300ER in 2000. Because of the airline industry downturn after the 9/11, the development of the 777–200LR stopped for one year, since the demand for Long-haul flights was extremely compromised, due to the decline in air travel. Only in August 2004, the first Worldliner was began to be assembled, with its roll-out debut in 15th February 2005. It rolled out in the then-new Boeing colours, at the Boeing’s plant in Everett. The airplane completed its first flight in March 8, 2005, with certification by FAA and EASA granted in 2nd February 2006 and delivery to the launch customer, Pakistan International Airlines, made in 26th February, 2006.
The 777–200LR features a increased MTOW in comparison with the 777–200ER, alongside a enlarged tank (similar to the one in the 777–300ER) as standard, but with two auxiliary tanks as optional, which are located in the rear cargo hold. It has also a strengthened fuselage like the 777–300ER, in order to be able to withstand the MTOW of the aircraft. It has a maximum design range of 15,855 km (8,555 nautical miles) with GE90–110B engines and without the additional fuel tanks. The more powerful GE90–115B is another engine option on the 777–200LR. 55 777–200LRs were built, with Emirates and Delta Airlines being the biggest operators of the type.
The 777–200LR will be the protagonist of one of the most amazing Guinness World Records: The longest non-stop flight of a passenger airplane, by flying 21,604 km (11,664 nautical miles) eastward from Hong Kong to London. The flight had a duration of 22 hours and 42 minutes. The flight occured in 10th November 2005.
The 777 Freighter, based upon the 777–200LR, was launched in May 2005 with a launch order from Air France, which bought 10 airplanes. The 777F was launched to respond to a stronger demand for freighters capable to flying further and more efficiently, while carrying a high ammount of cargo. The 777F was intended to replace the Boeing 747–200 Freighters and the McDonnell Douglas MD-11Fs existing on some cargo fleets out there. The 777F uses the same structural design and specifications of the 777–200LR (including the standard engine: the GE90–110B, with the 115B in option) with the fuel tanks of the 777–300ER. It has a MTOW of 344,450 kg (766,000 lbs) with a maximum payload of 102,000 kg (224,900 lbs) and a range of 9,200 km (4,970 nautical miles), which is the record for the longest range freighter avaliable in the market. A longer range is possible if the airplane carries less cargo.
The first 777F started to be built on January 2008, with its roll out debut done in 21st May 2008. The maiden flight of the 777F was done in 14th July 2008 with the certification by both FAA and EASA granted in 6th February 2009. The first 777F was delivered to Air France in 19th February 2009. As of 2017, 130 777F have been delivered, with 31 unfilled orders. The largest 777F operator is FedEx Express, with 19 aircraft in service.
That’s what I’ve to say in this 4th part of the “Boeing 777 — The Ultimate History” — Please follow me on Twitter (@O530CarrisPT is my username) to not lose the next and last part, entitled: “Part V — The Later Years: First accidents, more improvements and the future: The 777X”.