Last updated: 02:17 PM ET, Wed December 09 2015

Boeing Rolls Out Fuel-Saving 737 MAX

Airlines & Airports | Paul Thompson | December 09, 2015

Boeing Rolls Out Fuel-Saving 737 MAX

Photos by Paul Thompson

Boeing introduced its fourth generation 737 on Tuesday morning in Renton, Washington. Dubbed the 737 MAX, this aircraft introduces a series of innovations that will benefit airlines, even though you may not notice much as a passenger.

Before thousands of employees, Boeing Commercial Airplanes VP and 737 MAX program General Manager Keith Leverkuhn said, “Today marks another in a long series of milestones that our team has achieved on time, per plan, together.” The first MAX actually left the final assembly line Nov. 30, precisely as scheduled four years ago on Boeing’s project timeline.

The MAX series will be composed of four different aircraft — the -7, -8, -9, and MAX 200. The -8 is the first one to be built. The -7 is shorter than the -8, and the -9 is longer. The MAX 200 is a -8 with a high density seating configuration, holding up to 196 people. But you won’t have to worry about flying that sardine can, unless you fly European airline Ryanair.

What’s new about the MAX? Well in spite of the fact that is looks pretty much like the previous generations of 737, there are some important subtle differences.

The primary difference is the brand new CFM LEAP-1B engines. CFM International is a jointly run cooperative between General Electric and Snecma (Safran) of France. CFM says the LEAP-1B offers 15 percent more efficient fuel burn than the current generation CFM 56-7B engine. Low fuel burn benefits airlines’ wallets, and is also more environmentally friendly. It will also operate with less noise, which should make those airport “not-in-my-backyard”-activists a little happier.

Due to the engine fan’s larger diameter, Boeing had to lengthen the nose gear so that the engines would sit off the ground at a safe height. If engines hug the ground, they are more likely to ingest foreign object debris, or FOD.

Another noticeable difference is the new winglets on the MAX. They use something called laminar flow technology. Laminar flow is just a fancy way of saying the air flows over the surface more smoothly. In addition to looking cool, winglets do have a benefit. Without winglets, air rolls up from the high-pressure area under the wing to the low-pressure area above it while in flight. The pressure change causes vortices to form on the end of the wings, which create drag. Adding winglets reduces drag, saving fuel.

Boeing has sold 2,955 of the MAX, in all four sizes. The first airline to have the MAX in its fleet will be Southwest Airlines. First delivery is expected in the third quarter of 2017.

No other commercial plane has been so highly produced as the 737. Production of this aircraft type began in 1967, originally at Boeing Field, south of Seattle, and then moved to Renton in 1970. A total of 8,807 737s have been delivered, as of Nov. 30.

The first MAX will begin flight-testing in the first quarter of 2016, and will be joined by three other aircraft for the program. Boeing says the early tests will be “low and slow” to test the responsiveness of the aircraft’s controls, and then they’ll go on to other tests at cruising altitude. It will also be subjected to all types of climactic conditions, from scorching desert to arctic cold. 

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