Gizmos & Gadgets: Boeing’s New 777 Airliner Features a Folding Wing

November 25, 2013 – When you think of gizmos and gadgets you usually think small but in this case we are talking about a hunking big aircraft, the Boeing 777X, the latest in that company’s transportation fleet.

The 777X promises fuel efficiency savings, a new lighter weight jet engine from GE Aviation, and composite wings built of the same carbon fiber technology found in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and other aircraft like the Bombardier C Series intermediate commercial jets.

But the real noticeable detail is in the wings. Boeing has extended the wing length of its 777 model for this new model to further improve performance and fuel economy. The wings in flight span 71.1 meters (over 233 feet). Compare that to competitors like the Airbus A350-1000 with a wingspan of 64.75 meters (213 feet) and you think, “what’s the big deal?” Well for negotiating gates at airports the long wings of the 777X can be a problem. Air terminals designed to manage 64.75 meter wingspans don’t have the parking space to accommodate 71.1 meters.

So the gadget in Boeing’s bag of tricks is a 6 meter (almost 20 feet) fold in the wing making the airplane’s on the ground fit the space available when parked at terminals. This origami feature reduces the wingspan to 64.8 meters (around 213 feet) when on the ground, almost identical to Boeing’s 747 or the Airbus 350-1000, the latter considered the 777X’s major competition.


Boeing 777X folded wing

Advancements in commercial aviation seem to crawl forward in comparison to other transportation technologies, but the 777X represents an incremental step in next generation jet aircraft design, and is the first of many changes we will see from commercial jet manufacturers over the next decade. The competition, Airbus is studying the 777X innovations and there are hints that they too will incorporate an origami wing in future designs.

Based on interest shown at the latest airshows, Boeing must be doing something right because the 777X has received 259 orders. That’s for an airplane that won’t take to the skies for another 7 years.

Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...