Innovations in Aircraft Design
In May 1996, the first Boeing 777 stopped by Langley Research Center
as a salute to NASA's involvement in its creation. Several Langley
innovations were instrumental in the development of the aircraft,
At Marshall Space Flight Center, results from tests aimed at improving the performance of NASA's Space Shuttle engines led to improvements in the Boeing 777's new, more efficient jet engines. Working with Pratt & Whitney, the U.S. aircraft and rocket engine provider, NASA engineers conducted evaluations of wake patterns flowing through the plane's turbine engine airfoils. Data taken proved useful in obtaining better turbine efficiency, as well as realizing substantial fuel savings.
Boeing 777 inlet, hinge and strut blankets were quilted with either stainless steel or ceramic thread. These blankets protected areas of the plane from high temperatures and fire. Fostered by Ames Research Center, the Boeing 777 blankets have a lineage to Advanced Flexible Reusable Surface Insulation (AFRSI) used on certain areas of the Space Shuttle.
Several other areas benefited from NASA and Boeing collaboration. Langley had contracted with Boeing, for example, to design and validate a digital flight control system for fly-by-wire and fly-by-light/power-by-wire applications. In developing the digital fly-by-wire system, researchers utilized the Apollo guidance, navigation and control hardware as the primary digital system. Fly-by-wire systems for control of wing and tail surfaces replace bulkier and heavier pulley and cable systems on the 777.
The Boeing 777's modern glass cockpit is a system that uses computer technology to integrate information and display it on monitors in easy-to-use format. Research was undertaken on the challenge of maintaining a pilot's situational awareness during flight operations. The evolution of the highly automated glass cockpit, particularly in commercial aircraft, has roots at Langley Research Center.
Glenn Research Center has long-standing partnerships with the General Electric Aircraft Engines and Pratt & Whitney in long-term research projects, such as the Energy Efficient Engine. These have resulted in technologies that increase engine efficiency, reduce engine noise and reduce harmful emissions. The technology base has been applied in the GE90 and PW4084 turbofan engines that power the new twin-engine Boeing 777.
Taken as a whole, NASA contributions in fundamental research and technologies proved meaningful to 777 development. Together, industry and government skills and abilities melded, jointly contributing to the airplane's operating efficiency, passenger service, environmental compatibility and safety.