- Boeing has unveiled its 2023 ecoDemonstrator program, which includes a new “Explorer” aircraft.
- The first “Explorer” is a Boeing 787-10 that will fly to countries in Asia to test better route coordination.
- The 787 joins Boeing’s fleet of 10 ecoDemonstrators, like the flagship 777-200ER and the Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9.
Boeing announced a new addition to its fleet of ecoDemonstrator aircraft on Thursday — a Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner.
The jet is part of the manufacturer’s 2023 flight testing program, which uses specially modified planes to assess new technologies to make flying safer, quieter, and more efficient.
Over the years, these flying labs have tested things like 3D-printed materials and a “self-disinfecting lavatory,” among other experiments.
The addition of Boeing’s new 787-10 ecoDemonstrator brings the total fleet of test beds to 10, but the aircraft is different from its predecessors.
According to the company, the Dreamliner is the first of several “Explorer” aircraft that will focus primarily on testing operational efficiency.
Specifically, Boeing wants to show how better route coordination across multiple international airspaces can “achieve the optimal flight path” and effectively decrease fuel burn by up to 10%.
To do this, the company has partnered with four nations to fly the 787 on long-haul missions from Seattle to Tokyo, Bangkok, and Singapore in June.
The plane will fly on the highest-possible blend of traditional jet fuel and sustainable aviation fuel, with factors like weather, airspace closures, and air traffic control taken into account.
“The industry will need continued fleet renewal, efficiency gains, renewable energy carriers such as sustainable aviation fuel and advanced technology to meet the civil aviation industry’s commitment to achieve net zero carbon emission by 2050,” Boeing chief sustainability officer Chris Raymond said in a press release.
In addition to the new 787, Boeing will use its “flagship ecoDemonstrator” — a 777-200ER introduced in June 2022 — to test 19 new technologies in 2023. According to Boeing, the aircraft’s mission is to assess things like safer taxi operations and a new fuel sensor compatible with 100% SAF.
Inside the empty Boeing 777-200ER ecoDemonstrator during a June 2022 tour in Washington.
Last year, which was the ecoDemonstrator program’s 10-year anniversary, the plane assessed 30 technologies, including more durable tray tables and a hat-like pilot display system.
When conducting these tests, Boeing engineers will travel with the aircraft to monitor data and review data, as well as oversee the safety of the flight.
While not every experimental technology makes it onto a future Boeing jet, about a third actually have. Some of these include the V-shaped wingtips on the Boeing 737 MAX jets, the iPad app used by pilots for real-time information, and the camera system on the highly-anticipated 777X to help avoid ground obstacles.
According to the company, the other technologies were “discontinued after learnings were accomplished.”
Take a look at the eight other ecoDemonstrator planes that Boeing has used to test over 230 technologies since the start of the decade-long program.
2012: Boeing 737-800NG
The Boeing 737-800NG ecoDemonstrator.
Unveiled in 2012, the company’s first-ever ecoDemonstrator was a 737-800NG on loan from American Airlines. The plane jumpstarted the journey of increasing safety, reducing carbon emissions, and decreasing the industry’s noise footprint.
Tests were done on things like fan nozzles and trajectory systems, as well as aspects of the “Advanced Technology Winglet” that eventually made its way onto the MAX fleet.
2014: Boeing 787
Boeing 787 ecoDemonstrator.
In 2014, the planemaker debuted its second ecoDemonstrator — a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The jet was actually the company’s fourth in a series of six 787 test-planes built between 2009 and 2010.
The 787 ecoDemonstrator tested 35 projects, including a collaboration with Delta Air Lines to generate real-time turbulence reports. Boeing also assessed touch-screen cockpit displays and partnered with NASA to test aircraft spacing to improve landing efficiency.
2015: Boeing 757-200
Boeing 757-200 ecoDemonstrator.
The third aircraft in the ecoDemonstrator family was a Boeing 757-200 from the TUI Group, which is a leisure travel company with five European airlines under its brand. Flying the jet in 2015, Boeing worked with TUI to test new carbon-reducing technologies.
The planemaker also once again partnered with NASA to test two specific things: One was a “bug-phobic coating” on the right wing to help reduce drag, while the other assessed better airflow over the rudder to improve efficiency.
2016: Embraer 170
Embraer 170 ecoDemonstrator.
Boeing hasn’t always used its own planes for the ecoDemonstrator program. In 2016, it opted for a Brazilian-made Embraer 170 regional jet to assess a series of technologies.
The company tested things like an “ice phobic” paint to reduce icing and the buildup of bugs, lasers to detect true airspeed, a new wing design to decrease noise, and a Brazilian-produced biofuel.
2018: Boeing 777-200F
Boeing 777F ecoDemonstrator.
The planemaker unveiled its first cargo ecoDemonstrator in 2018 — a FedEx Boeing 777F that tested some 35 technologies over a remote landscape in Montana.
One unique project was a set of lasers equipped on the plane that could detect turbulence ahead, giving pilots time to get people seated. Boeing engineers also outfitted the jet with sensors and cameras to alert the crew of obstacles in its path.
2019: Boeing 777-200
Boeing 777-200 ecoDemonstrator.
In 2019, a Boeing 777-200 bought from Air China was used as the next ecoDemonstrator. The jet assessed over 50 projects, like a communication system that automatically provided rerouting information to pilots during bad weather, and an automated system that adjusted the cabin’s temperature and humidity.
Boeing also tested external cameras to “provide more passengers with a view outside the airplane.”
2020: Boeing 787-10
Boeing 787-10 ecoDemonstrator.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Boeing continued its ecoDemonstrator program in 2020 with a Boeing 787-10 from Etihad Airways. The project came shortly after the UAE-based carrier unveiled its Etihad “Greenliner” Program in 2019.
One experiment conducted on the ecoDemonstrator involved 1,200 microphones attached to the plane to collect noise data. Boeing hopes the information will help make aircraft quieter, especially over urban areas.
2021: Boeing 737 MAX 9
Boeing 737 MAX 9 ecoDemonstrator.
Boeing partnered with Alaska Airlines in 2021 to obtain a 737 MAX 9 ecoDemonstrator. Insider toured the jet and found the cabin full of seats, which the company said is done to simulate the weight of the jetliner and transport test engineers.
The MAX ecoDemonstrator project focused on things like single-engine taxi and lighter cabin materials to reduce the jet’s weight — both to improve fuel efficiency.