Photos of the incident show a forlorn airplane tipped on its nose after its front landing gear collapsed. The damage “looks like it could be quite expensive,” says one expert.
Some of Boeing’s early 787 Dreamliners were so messed up during assembly that they were unsuitable for sale to an airline and sat in storage for years with no takers. A few were eventually sold off to be expensively re-worked as private VIP jets.
Adding a sad coda to that woeful history, last Thursday in Moses Lake, one of those VIP airplanes fell on its face.
As the jet sat on the ramp at Grant County International Airport, where a custom interior was being installed, the nose landing gear collapsed. The carbon-fiber forward fuselage hit the ground, as did the engine pods.
No one was hurt, but the plane sustained damage that according to one expert “looks like it could be quite expensive.”
Photos of the incident posted online show a forlorn airplane tipped on its nose.
The airplane, Dreamliner No. 11, was bought by Korean Air — but not for use as a regular commercial airliner. Airline spokesman Nathan Cho said Korean will operate the aircraft for an anonymous VIP client.
Greenpoint Technologies of Kirkland, which designs and builds custom luxury aircraft interiors “for private clients and Heads-of-State,” won the contract to complete the aircraft conversion.
Boeing first assembled the plane in 2009 but, because of repeated re-work, it didn’t roll out until six years later. In 2015, Boeing finally delivered the jet to Korean Air.
The jet flew to Moses Lake where Greenpoint was to do the interior modifications, which are typically very expensive and take years to complete.
Now, in addition to that ongoing work, the damage sustained with the face plant will have to be repaired.
Greenpoint marketing director Christine Hadley refused to answer questions about what happened or about the likely repair.
“A private VIP 787 at Greenpoint Technologies experienced an incident which is under investigation,” she said in a curt emailed statement.
Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman said “we are aware of the incident and have been in contact with Greenpoint,” but declined to say more.
When reached by phone on Tuesday, the photographer, who works at the airport, consulted his employer and then declined to comment on the accident.
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After examining the photos, Hans Weber — a veteran aerospace technology consultant who has advised the FAA and NASA and whose expertise includes aircraft repair technology for carbon fiber composite materials — said that the type of repair needed for the damaged carbon fiber area depends on “the force with which the plane hit the ground and the extent to which the strut and wheel assembly did damage.”
He said it’s possible the damaged forward fuselage, which is manufactured in a single piece by Boeing’s 787 partner Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kan., can be patched over.
However, if the damage is more severe, he said, it may be necessary to cut out and replace the damaged section, one of the standard repair procedures for the 787.
Weber said the front wheel strut will need to be replaced, and probably the area where it attaches to the structure needs to be repaired, including any damage to the wheel well.
He added that at least the front section of each engine pod, or nacelle, would have to be replaced.
“A question here is if there is structural damage to the pylon or even engine,” Weber said. “If so, that needs to replaced/repaired.”