Articles

British Airways Boeing 747-400 in D-Check

September 17, 2019


[Music] one aircraft transformed the world request permission to carry at the high power ground rent with two decks carrying over 500 passengers and wings the width of a football pitch it was twice the size of any airliner before [Music] the Boeing 747 affectionately known as the jumbo jet okay going up on 104 it’s still an engineering marvel it’s just awesome the power of these things now as one 747 Victor x-ray is stripped to its bare bones and given the biggest overhaul of its life there’s a rare opportunity to explore deep inside its hidden features is massive a 200 strong team of highly skilled engineers take on the challenge of checking over 20 thousand parts of this mighty aircraft if we don’t take that out now that crackle just ran and ran and ran safety is paramount in this finely balanced machine every component from its engines to its kettles must be intricately examined for damage the amount of knowledge and experience we need to learn is just incredible I’ve got three children they’re very proud that mummy works on airplanes well when you see a pirate and down the runway as well a hundred four hundred and fifty knots do you think I did then boxer and we’ll reveal what happens to a jumbo when it reaches the end of its working life [Music] this is engineering Giants I’m Rob Bell I’m a mechanical engineer and I’ve always loved to get my hands on complex machines to discover how they work I’m Tom wiglesworth an electrical engineer with a passion for big machines and this is Victor x-ray the 747 that’s about to let us in to all its engineering secrets [Music] this is the shortest flight this plane will no doubt ever do it’s flying just 132 miles from Heathrow to Cardiff Airport and in a few moments time this is where the 747 will arrive this enormous maintenance [Music] all planes are regularly maintained when every six years 747s come here for complete overhaul that means that they’re stripped right down every part is meticulously checked before being reassembled and sent back out into service this is the first time that British Airways have allowed cameras to film the complete overhaul of one of their aircraft and will be there for every critical stage in the engineering process this is a perfect opportunity for me and Rob to see deep within the Boeing 747 and appreciate how amazing these enormous machines are [Music] so there’s an aircraft coming nose Victor x-ray was the 1,170 second jumbo to be manufactured by Boeing it was delivered to the airline 14 years ago and has since flown 36 million miles equivalent to 1500 times around the world as captain Doug Brown shuts down the engines and hands the plane over to the Cardiff engineering team I’ve been offered a rag glimpse inside the flight deck hey Doug thank you for letting me in here this is from Boise every boy’s dream isn’t it absolutely what is the least-used or press which to be honest very few of them get used in flight when the 747-400 was designed in 1989 it moved from being a three crew airplane with a flight engineers panel there which had thousands of buttons dials and gauges and a full time flight engineer to an automated two per airplane with just two pilots so this is a simplified version this is in some ways yes but what’s going on behind the scenes is quite complex the actual heart of the airplane is this flight management and what that allows us to do is to program the airplane and the autopilot of aircraft with a lot of the information before flight and as we go through the flight we’re actually using the flight management computer to control the aircraft as much as anything else on the airplane in the case of raw flying what’s the minimum amount of controls you need in the absolute worst case you get you can fly the aircraft using these three basic instruments like ultra visual horizon airspeed indicator an altimeter I don’t know of any case where a 747s got down to flying on those instruments there is a huge amount of redundancy built in clearly now it’s time for the 200 million pounds worth of 747 to be carefully towed into the maintenance hangar where it will live for the next five weeks [Music] it was wonder what it’d be like to be part the ground crew Heathrow I’m guessing getting a bit of a feel for it now [Music] I’m break on good today now I can finally climb aboard through what is currently the only way in a maintenance hatch in the belly of the plane thank you very much excellent thank you oh there we are first class it’s pretty spacious up here very spacious been starting c18 how’s the view from up there I’ll show you [Music] this is one eighth reserved for the creme de la creme absolutely which makes this see what Mick Jagger’s girlfriend now that Victor x-ray is safely inside the hangar the engineering team can begin the monumental task of stripping the Jumbo back to its aluminium shell and forensically examining all of its critical parts for the smallest defect because number one to us is safety safety safety safety we are looking after people’s life here we can’t make any mistakes you’ll be right all the time you know there’s no garages at 36,000 feet over the next five weeks engineers will work in teams within different areas of the plane methodically searching for any signs of damage amongst Victor x-rays six million components one day we come into work and we’ll be doing the cabin which which is very involved there’s all sorts of different disciplines of engineering that the cabin halls and the next day we could be on the wing the next day we could be doing the engine runs at the end of the cheque which is pretty pretty exciting this complex operation will take over 30,000 working hours with the team having to complete 12,000 separate jobs we’ve pretty much run seven days 24 off general manager bill Kelley is in charge of the maintenance facility how many years would that be flying for well this aircraft could fly upwards of 25 years oh yeah absolutely a very robust very reliable strong aircraft and when well maintained as we do they have gone from many many use yeah bill and his team are under massive pressure to finish Victor x-rays overhaul on time on the same day it’s due for completion the Jumbo is scheduled to fly passengers to South America delays can cost millions of pounds you know you get something wrong in maintenance where it delays you by a day or two days it can really start to impact the rest of your operation so you need to be on the ball much of the work on Victor x-rays fuselage needs to be carried out at height the tip of its tail fin is 20 metres above the ground so the aircraft will be surrounded by this rig designed by these engineers specifically to fit a 747 it’s not to get right up close to the tail fin like I’m here now if you get a sheer sense of scale for the whole thing the tip to the ground is almost 70 foot and looking back along to the front of the aircraft is a perspective I’ve never seen before it’s seriously impressive [Music] the first big engineering challenge is to test one of the planes heaviest components the 18 wheeled landing gear locked into the scaffolding rig the plane can’t be propped up like a car so it’s 180 ton weight is supported on three jumbo size jacks as the floor is lowered [Music] so I can see clear ground now between the wheels and the floor a failure of the mechanical systems that lower the landing gear could be disastrous so this is the only occasion when engineers have the opportunity to check that the wheels can drop safely if the pilot has to rely on gravity the landing gear weighs as much as a double-decker bus so if it was simply allowed to fall down it could potentially cause serious damage it’s getting the front one down so its mechanisms are designed to offer enough resistance to control the speed of deployment it’s now they drop the guys are just giving them a push to get them finally locked into place when if you’re in air and you had to do that the pilot would just kind of swing the plane a bit and get them to swing out and lock and for the back gears there the air pressure that’s flying past it would lock those back into place what are these these two plates at the top here on the nose wheel you’ve got no brakes so when the aircraft takes off the wheels are spinning pretty fast so those are basically big scuffle eats the tires will hit them and it just slows them down and stops them okay okay inside Victor x-ray the cabin team are preparing to strip out all the seats Melanie gedda’s and Janice Nash are among a growing number of female engineers working at the facility you see with British Airways everybody knows the label dabrander and they assume that your cabin crew you know and they don’t just naturally assume that you work in engineering so it’s not to be piled on fire I’ve got three children they’re very proud that mummy works on a client’s fixes aeroplanes so let’s definitely want to tell the kids go in from work one day and you call your friend to say no have you been stuck in the office then you go hey I’ve been walking the wing today and they’re like wow it’s great through rigorous training engineers must learn every facet of the 747 Stan Williams first worked on the Jumbo 19 years ago and flying on one has never been the same since I’m listening for everything I wish I didn’t sometimes I’ll put headphones on because you don’t wanna hear there’s lots of noises different noises that go on on an aircraft when when it’s in flight and but you can’t help it this is in our blood if you like before everything disappears from the cabin this is C&C FDA’s office cabin crew member beckie wodsworth has agreed to reveal some aspects of working on a 747 she spent over 10,000 hours in the air on planes like Victor x-ray where space is extremely tight for the ovens on an average flight beckoner team will serve 300 passengers over a ton of food and drinks is it true that when there’s two pilots on board they have to have a different meal that’s absolutely so you know should there be something wrong with the chicken example then you don’t want them both coming down ill with the same thing and it’s those little flash points that I mean who decides at first it’s know me the captain captain first co-pilot guess what’s lacked today I read the captain will often say you choose first oh what a lovely English tradition a 14-hour flight in cramped conditions is hard work so today 747 crews are able to use a secret compartment above the passengers head stair service there the crew rest area spaces of a premium isn’t it cozy oh wow so what’s the longest flight you do it’s about soar 14 hours from Singapore and in that time then how long would you get to spend enjoying this looks you need to get about the essence three and a half hours rest I think what you also should have is a little button to call a member of the public up to help back down in the cabin the next test is on a critical safety component that Airlines hope their passengers will never see that was impressive failure of the chutes is not an option with live depending on them they must inflate within seconds and stay inflated so all 12 chutes are sent to the interiors workshop for rigorous testing Wow it’s huge here specially trained engineers like Michael wake ensure that the slides are leak free and inflate at incredibly high speeds basically they’ve got a open up within a certain time limit okay which on these particular unit is three seconds okay so what’s the process behind inflating one of the universe the door open yeah and then a cylinder then charge of 3px 300 psi and that’s that’s this here yeah there’s a huge technical challenge with the inflation of such a large device to inflate something the size of an aircraft lifejacket a small cannister can provide enough air but the same system would require a three meter long cannister on an escape chute so instead when triggered the cannister of compressed carbon dioxide and nitrogen delivers only an initial boost the clever technique is that these gases are forced through a narrow gap which causes them to accelerate rapidly this acceleration creates a vacuum that then sucks in enough ambient air to inflate the entire slide in three seconds that was pretty quick three seconds we happy with that yeah Wow look at it it’s testing the escape chute is the easy part now like a parachute that 30 square meters of material must be folded precisely back into its container measuring just half a square meter and that typically that would take how long six hours of our Bluebird Wow it’s as much an art as science [Music] it’s all too easy to take flying for granted as passengers were oblivious to the fact that the enormous metal tube were traveling in is flying through the air at close to 600 miles an hour and at a height similar to Everest an atmosphere unable to support life engineer Gavin bevor stock is showing me how Victor x-ray pumps air from its engines into the cabin to create an atmospheric pressure similar to conditions on the ground due to a rise in altitude means a decrease in pressure but also to comfort for passengers it has to be maintained softer women on the ground who have 14.7 PSI and actually rising through the air it reduces down and once you get below 10 psi your standard it’s not very comfortable you start having breathing problems and he is so thin that you out you will struggle but the greater the pressure of air that these pipes pump into the cabin the stronger the fuselage needs to be that would add weight to the aircraft so there’s a compromise planes usually fly with the pressure equivalent to between six and eight thousand feet comparable to the world’s highest cities that means reduced oxygen and is one of the reasons we often feel tired on a flight pressurizing the cabin can also cause metal fatigue because as air is pumped in and out of the aircraft its fuselage expands and contracts you can see all the dimples along the skin of the plane which when it’s pressurized up in the air or gets smoothed out it’s a pretty amazing bit of engineering but this frequent flexing of the fuselage can cause cracks it’s one of the major reasons why Victor x-ray is undergoing this intensive operation in order to thoroughly examine every inch of the airliners internal shell engineers have to remove almost every fixture and fitting inside the cabin some seven four sevens can take over 500 passengers but airlines can use tracks in the floor to choose their own seating plan on Victor x-ray McGregor his team must rip out 299 seats make with the right allen key to just sort of steal yourself a bit of extra legroom in flight no it wouldn’t hurt a lot less you got having their drift with you as well no security now you wouldn’t know they’re lighter than a settee yeah there you go done once removed Victor x-ray seats are sent to the interiors workshop to be reupholstered and put through their paces by veteran seat tester mark Jago so is it your job then to sit in this chair watch a few films play a few games and then say yeah it was a terrible job but somebody’s got to do it back in the hangar work continues in the cabin all these sightings all the data on the bottom 300 floor panels must be removed all the Center trough area their guests reworked a hundred and eighty window protectors and blinds taken out and a hundred and forty side wall panels stripped off since the skeleton the plane is the behind here that’s the framework aluminium frame yeah it’s all aluminium or now steel Steel’s too heavy warning aircraft to be as much as possible than you are nut installation is pretty vital isn’t it 67 of minus 50 degrees outside yes I believe about minus 56 degrees around 35,000 that’s enough to protect you from that minus 50 or that sort it’s two days into the overhaul and most of the first-class cabin fittings have been removed the team can now begin the painstaking task of searching every inch of the internal frame for the smallest of defects alone behold we found a little crack down in the corner which we’re gonna put right yeah your favourite seat one a shift manager Paul Thomas has discovered a minor crack in one of Victor x-rays floor supports in the corner you can see the tail tail and it runs right to the corner they normally emanate from from fastener hole so a rivet and then run out or sharp edges you know you can even see the line yakun so yeah we pretty much got to replace that partner and you you visually inspect the whole structure absolutely if we don’t if we don’t take that out now that crackle just run and run and run and run and run so we found it now so the floorboards will come up we’ll deal with it all this area just for that I mean no just for that small little crack yeah reassuring you it is reassuring but yeah because I mean my car is you know COLLADA call it a crack no lay-bys at 30,000 feet I’m afraid no lies in the sky though amazing sky absolutely it’s day four of the overhaul and works beginning on Victor x-rays largest components it’s wings really from wingtip to wingtip we’re looking about 211 feet so have exactly the huge wingspan that’s about football fits there at a football pitch yeah overseeing the work on the aluminium and carbon fiber wings this shift manager Chris Morgan obviously they’re very sturdy but there’s quite a bit of movement isn’t there in the actual yes I mean if you can see this movement here now you get a total displacement up and down is about 32 feet that’s because you don’t want to a wing to be rigid well they need to allow for turbulence and nito low for airflow power air flows around a wing is crucial to achieving flight and yet incredibly even among experts there are different theories to answer the question how does a plane fly and most people have that question answered with Bernoulli’s theory and padule– theory suggests that air going over the top of the wing has to travel further than the air underneath because it’s got to travel further it speeds up because it speeds up the air particles spread out and diffuse this results in lower pressure above the wing than the pressure beneath that pressure difference literally pushes the plane into the air but this doesn’t explain why planes can fly with symmetrical wings in fact it’s the angle of the wing and the amount of air it deflects down that matters because according to Newton’s third law the air force downwards results in an equal and opposite force upwards onto the underside of the wing at the right speed and angle this is enough to lift the plane into the air [Music] inflight Victor x-rays wings are subjected to enormous forces apprentice Louis Robinson who has been scouring the surface of this wing to find any damage that may have occurred we found there some damage during inspections which damages round there where all that is pulled away from the structure below it okay so the composite started to come apart defects spotted it can now be repaired it turns out that Louis’s engineering passion runs in the blood three generations of my family of work so it’s just ran with the family I suppose yeah and they lay on ship with you sometimes no my dad’s on the opposite shift to me okay written something and my Bambi’s retired now yeah Louis’s next job is on Victor x-rays flaps vital components which increase the surface area of the wings allowing aircraft to fly slow speeds the only way the crucial hydraulic and backup electrical control systems can be thoroughly checked is to remove the flaps Lewis has to control this crane with absolute precision the crane has been set to point nine of a ton which is the exact weight of the flat though removing that so when the last guy undoes the last bolt the wing doesn’t drop to the floor or fly to the ceiling she off okay slowly but surely the flap is removed from the wing with barely a millimeter of movement or poured down all right look at his face he’s loving it during flight air passes over these flaps and wings at hundreds of miles an hour that causes friction and the build-up of static electricity to deal with that there are small attachments known as static weight if you could see it how would that static look coming up it does it just sort of fizzle out literally that visibility wise it’s often very hard to see yeah but you will still get sparking okay flashing light yes and sometimes in the hide in electric storms and and certainly in a lightning strike we will get these like sacrificial they will take a little bit of a battering on average every aircraft is hit by lightning once a year so how does a plane deal with this phenomenon this laboratory at the university of cardiff holds the answer because this is one of the few places in the world where scientists led by phil like our have the technology to make lightning of their own it might sound bad during these lightning tests two planes and things but absolutely everything on an aircraft has to be certified against all threats it could be posed to it the state-of-the-art laboratory tests new materials as aircraft manufacturers look to find lighter more cost-effective alternatives to the aluminium currently used so why do planes get hit by lightning the aeroplane seems it’s actually in the sky it’s a huge metal object it induces the lightning strikes itself because it’s the only thing there so how do planes survive to find out we’re going to test this aluminium model similar to our own 747 assert let’s blow it okay you might have the best job in the world sometimes I think so there’s a lot of paperwork to those now it’s my chance to play garden basically when I say fire is very easy just press fire and fire so easy from model airplane survived a day look it looks perfectly intact everything in everyone inside a plane’s protected by the aluminium fuselage which is a good conductor it allows the electricity to take the path of least resistance along the fuselage and out again what would the passenger feel they might hear a loud thump but that’s about it they shouldn’t feel anything at all a graphic experiment illustrates the dangers of using a non-conducting material in this case plastic fire which is why all new material combinations are so extensively tested back at the hangar work to strip back with seven for seven continues [Music] today engineers are about to reveal one of the parts of the plane that the public never sees the nose cone or radome as it’s known shields the aircraft’s weather radar which needs to be checked for corrosion and it works on the radar principle which is like a complicated echo it fires out radio waves in a very very fine focus it fires a beam out and then listens to that beam coming back which will bounce off any clouds or anything that’s up ahead and that information is fired out at different angles to allow a huge range of sight which is fed back to the flight deck so the pilot can take whatever action he needs to take Victor x-ray is now a week into its overhaul and next its most valuable components are about to be removed for closer examination is a big moment indeed they’re actually taking the engine off the wing these things cost about 8 million pounds each the last thing you want to have happen is it come crashing to the floor as experienced as he is it’s a nervous moment for team leader Scott Crowell weather starts an apprentice 10 years ago and I’ve worked my way up to team leader but I mean even as a team leader now the amount of knowledge and experience we need to learn is just incredible and I think that’s what keeps me going generating over 60 thousand pounds of thrust an engine exerts enormous pressure on the mounts that hold them in place it’s crucial that engineers remove the engines so they can examine these fixtures for signs of where the pylon is that big bracket if you like you can see which connects the engine to the wing the engine to the pylon itself has about eight bolts eight bolt yeah so just for the friend and four at the back that’s what the boys are in doing and doing our own doing the forward birth the eight bolts are crucial in holding the engine in place so each one will be sent to a laboratory and tested for weaknesses elysium these all get sent away now and eat eat a lot of a new set going back on ndtv non-destructively Chester nice may be x-rays yeah yeah ultrasound reading ultrasound a picture idea for the drop the seven-ton engine is supported in a sling attach to the crane it’s an impressive operation to make sure this is all rigged up perfectly well then nothing can go wrong yep you’ll just be pushing it is it any it’s heavy to push or once now suspended it’s quite feel good to supporting it obviously we try not to with all the work is done by the crane alright so we let that do it okay clear come down to happen hey Scott and his team slowly lower the engine making sure that all of its pipes are disconnected to be honest it seems like the tension is being transferred from the crane into the engineers here you can see them all get more and more focused as it’s wagons are down again [Music] [Music] nothing even steel toe-caps would withstand the force in one of these coming down looking pretty good we’re almost there it’s in and that lady and gentleman is a wrap so the end of the day Scott when you go home you still got that job satisfaction with you oh definitely I mean you know every day I go home I see my little girl and she says daddy how’d your team work all today when I say honey today daddy fit an engine not just any engine and I’ll be 211 ah here we go hon impression now yeah when turning the big fan at the front sucks in air which is then compressed mixed with a mist of fuel and ignited in a combustion chamber this produces a huge continuous blast of energy in the form of hot glasses these are directed out of the back of the engine producing some of the engines thirst the energy from the combustion is also used to spin the front fan faster sucking more air in this air is directed around the outside of the core and forced out of the rear producing the rest of the engine’s dust the 24 precious titanium fan blades which provide the lion’s share of the aircraft’s thrust can now be removed and examined by Chris Thomas and his team for damage I mean it’s yeah it’s not inconsiderable weight but it’s lighter than I thought it would be the titanium blades are hollow to save weight so what exactly are you looking for when you’re doing those inspections okay when I inspect the blade I took the surface of the blade the leading and trailing edge of the blade from the erosion damage again a chips or dents yep the corners missing or any impact damage you can get on the surface of the blade blades can be damaged by hail or bird strikes all the blades have got on the breed route here you see on the market on the blade yeah each blade is serialized and they’re put in a specific location okay balance the hub so much like on a car wheel say when you’ve had a same done with your with your car where it needs to be balanced so when it’s going around a high speed it’s not it’s exactly the same so if you’ve had to do some work on one blade you might have to rebalance the whole thing not just that blade that’s right dear Wow [Music] fully loaded Victor x-ray needs approximately a hundred and twenty thousand horsepower from its four engines to get into the air that similar to the power of a thousand family cars pulling this plane off the ground it’s just in through this hole here just in through that hole this one here and generating that level of thrust is thirsty work I’m crawling up into the bowels of the 747 with engineer Phil Taylor he will spend over two weeks looking for leaks inside the aircraft’s labyrinth of fuel tanks versus its the main tank we’re in the center wing tank which is situated between the two wing sections above you is the cabin area with the cabin seating okhane you’re in the forward midsection of the aircraft basically it holds 65,000 litres 65,000 these certainly and that is that all in this but here I know this is one compartment of six compartments point towards the rear of the aircraft but there’s more than one tank on a plane there’s eight in all so how much fuel were you looking at there across all of it the fuel quantity for the whole aircraft face two hundred and sixteen thousand liters is massive I mean your average sized cars what 60 liters Cincinnatus Oh approximately three and a thousand cars you could fill with one jim buffalo lake aviation of hill Victor x-ray is now two weeks into its five-week overhaul and so far is on schedule Engineers have completed over 5,000 of the 12,000 jobs that need to be done before the 747 can be classified as air worthy again in the cabin the last remaining floor and wall panels need to be stripped along with the toilet module no no I’m good to go make okay I’ve been roped in to help okay states me did tell you that now make on their on a lot of old trains I know that anything that was produced just be dumped out onto the track and from that I think they developed the sort of urban myth that suggests the same happens on planes is that as I’ve ever been true no ends up in the earth freights which is right there in the back of it right before tanks I last met Mick removing all the seats and I wondered if working on aircraft for nineteen years made him feel more or less comfortable about flying in one I love flying anyway so I mean he doesn’t bother me in the slightest I’ve always loved flying but the wife doesn’t like flying at all so I mean we’ll get on it we’ve gone already to Lanza right something like that yeah and we sit there and the flaps will go down and I’m sorry gripping your hand that’s the flaps going down this will sure up I don’t want to know I don’t wanna know yeah in an industry where safety is paramount even a toilet is a highly engineered piece of kit as an electrical component that could cause a fire it has to undergo stringent tests before it’s passed fit to fly the tests are carried out at the company’s avionics facility outside car D here the hundreds of electronic gadgets used on a plane from navigational aid and in-flight entertainment remotes – toilet flushing systems are stripped tested and calibrated by highly skilled engineers like Martin Jenkins so what happens when you go to the toilet on an hour by train you actually finish dude what were you doing your facially click button which is on the side of the toilet the need in the cabin there’s a massive washing noise which is what we heard Julio non-natural rig you got a spray of water from the top and the vacuum gets created in a bowl and sucks sucks only above 16,000 feet air pressure outside the plane is considerably lower than inside by opening a small vent the waste pipe and tank are bought to the same low pressure as outside effectively creating a vacuum this means that when a seal on the toilet bowl is open anything in the bowl sucked away into the pipes and waste tanks [Music] when you’re flying Martin when you go to the toilet in the air you must have an ear now for what is the perfect flush that’s good point actually because sometimes you make it an actuator that is actually working but not to the spoiler capacity and as you just said you can pick it up as you’re listening to it when the fresh say can you make that unit but I probably would yeah and the other gauge that we get as well [Music] although it might seem over-the-top this level of testings not without good reason on a flight electrical powers are too premium so even the kettles are tested to make sure they don’t use too much electricity and take it away from a more important system engineer Simon or is currently checking that these kettles draw the correct current while taking the exact time to reach the precise temperature to make a perfect cup of tea we violated eighty-three cells just plus plus or minus two Celsius the board of tasters inside say PG tipps or whatever it said there that says boil accounts it’s hot but not boiling yeah yeah I some a a Eva even the cattles are over all the tested when the 747 flew for the first time over 40 years ago many of these devices being tested here haven’t even been invented as technology has evolved manually controlled cables and pulleys have been replaced by computer-controlled electronic signals transmitted by wires [Music] beneath Victor x-rays passenger compartment is the cargo bay surrounded by the 172 miles of wiring that connect all the planes complex systems many of these cables flow from the pilots controls to these vital computers currently being examined by avionics engineer Nick jawed I first 747 was designed back in the sixties I presume those wouldn’t have had any of this no their racks were built but it had totally different boxes on the box they were much more primitive than they are now so how would what these boxes do now have been done back then a lot of the functions done by these boxes used to be done by the flight engineer that rolls are done him because what these guys done by the thought machines taking over man’s job it’s now just three weeks until Victor x-ray is due to fly again as it’s been stripped bare I’ve been able to see how the aircraft’s intricate flight controls work delved inside its complex engines and experience the impressive mass of its landing gear as it was tested but could the planes computers I’ve just seen control all of these without a pilot I’m really interested to see if it could actually fly itself I’m heading down to London to see pilot Doug Brown who flew Victor x-ray to Cardiff he’s going to demonstrate a 747s autopilot in one of the airline’s eight million pound flight simulators right I’ll just give you a chance to fly the airplane manually for a little while as it’s just climbing your way for gassing away and then what we’ll do is we’ll put the autopilot in we’ll bring it round then we’ll do an automatic approach and an Ottawa and got to this runway okay so potentially there are three planes to be think about one is yeah pulling back yeah I’ll be able to live off vertically yeah you’ve got the steering in the pedals yep to keep yourself down the runway all that babe yeah but then you’ve also got the out of this horizontal level as well keep control what does this control all four of the engine so engines one two four forward thrust on there and you can see the ancient spool up oh here we go it’s actually down there yeah okay now I’m gonna do full power on no we’re coming up to walks the speed that would ask you a pullback already rotate so back on the night okay don’t come the stick while you rotate okay in the middle [Music] that’s nice before that I’m going to select landing gear up I think this is amazing once up it’s a tight 360 degree turn so that we can simulate an automatic landing [Music] you see the everything I can’t straight ahead yes we’re going to like the effort of the autopilot run-through and we’ll go right through to North Island we’d also probably be able to do that itself the aircraft will learn itself if the pilot has set it up properly to do some fine [Music] the autopilot is now controlling the seven four sevens approach to the runway altering the pitch and direction of the aircraft it can also control the level of thrust but the autopilot cannot extend the wing flaps which slow the aircraft down or deploy the crucial landing gear only then can the 747 land itself although the autopilot cannot apply the brakes so now you can stick the reverse thrust on you do okay the 747 is a remarkably intelligent machine but it still requires skilled pilots to fly it and it’s the high level of training which is one of the reasons why flying statistically remained so safe another reason is that the airline industry has learnt valuable lessons in rare accidents through an iconic component housed in the tail section of a plane here they are two black boxes this on the right is the data recorder the call to the telemetry of the flight and on the left is the voice recorder which will cause all the pilots voices [Music] the two black box has a regularly tested at BJ’s avionics lab where I met up with engineer John Davis this is a black box but as you can see it’s not actually black did orange and that’s because it’s clearly identified in any incident it’s a big old tape recorder it is a big deep recorder that’s what basically it is as you can see as well the tape is actually surrounded by ether – thermo packs which are Chauth spring loaders spring Lord in Israel yeah with two thermal packs which are chalk impregnated with water so on the event of a fire that water turns to steam keeps their map tape a steam temperature okay so it won’t destroy the tape and what sort of temperature range is it specified – it should well it should withstand 1,000 degrees C over a 30 minute period of time that’s where a VA Shenfield burns so the bit you’re opening now inside there that is the the precious cargo of this is the part that interested in that record the last 30 minutes of any flight it may look archaic and new airliners have converted to digital solid-state data storage but tape still does the trick that could contain the the most precious of information that will ultimately be fed back to to make sure it never happens again exactly yes which it has many times yeah to comply with comprehensive safety legislation all aircraft must work to strict maintenance schedules including detailed tests every year and a complete overhaul every six years at 14 years of age Victor x-ray could still have another 10 years of flying ahead of it but there comes a time when a 747 is just too costly to keep maintaining then it’s worth more as spare parts than a complete aircraft this is part of your run flaps part the Kruger flaps okay mark Gregory is the boss of air Salvage international with a lot of see the largest Stanley dismantling company in the UK in fact in Europe a Cotswolds Airport in Gloucestershire Mark and his team salvaged over 40 aircraft a year these here can we have a closer look at these can yeah that they are 747 inboard landing gears removed from a 747 400 if he’s done huge amount of landings than the value of that is kind of dropping but I think this has done quite a lot of landings we’re still you know still not cheap roughly how much then you’re probably looking at about 300 thousand dollars for a set landing gears like this on a 747 Markel salvaged up to 1200 parts which will eventually be sold to airlines around the world precision electronics means a secondhand coffeemaker could fetch up to three thousand pounds even a simple bowl for the toilet could sell for as much as five hundred pounds these are the front screens of 747 that got very high value and I would say probably around thirty thousand dollars what each for each screen yeah because these ones here obviously they’re heated the heated element is running through them I think they’re gold heating elements are go through them okay so in here now you’ve got so that there’s very very thick that they’re really thick screens they wrote their laminators you can just see the elements see the elements in there a bit like your car heater front screen as well that hits home the the value of the whole industry now yeah this massive machine massive 80% of the salvage value of an aircraft comes from its engines there’s a 737 engine this has probably got a resale value of about 1.2 million I suppose Wow and going back the bigger engines at the back they’re a little bit more once all the valuable parts of the 747 have been removed what’s left of the aluminium shell will be tackled and after almost three weeks Victor x-ray is now at a similar stage of its overhaul 18 days ago this plane was flying passengers around the world and today what it looks like in size up but our cried from what it would have been then in this skeletal state there are signs of the 747s evolution well right in the very front of the aircraft here and above us is the flight day and just looking around even in a plane as modern as the 747 it’s surprising to see how much mechanical equipment there is as well as obviously all the electronics Victor x-ray still uses the Jumbos original cable and pulley system to control some of the aircraft’s most important functions including the landing gear doors and the rudder and then finally right at the back here hopefully yes yep you see the cable was heading off through the cabin and off to the rudder keeping it mechanical keeping it simple now the flight deck looks a lot different now without the seats and all the flight insurance the cardiff team now have a tight deadline to turn Victor x-ray back into a fully working plane it’s booked to go back into service in just over two weeks on the same day the complex process is due to finish [Music] but when a 747 has come to the end of its working life like this one at Cotswolds Airport there’s no turning back for mark Gregory in his salvage team we’ve removed over a hundred and thirty tons of equipment on our left Whitman is no know 100 tons of aircraft which has got very little value because the only value of the air is the metal at this point the final part of the demolition process can begin so we’re storm we’ll take the tail off for us to the tailor then we’ll work forward we have one of the wings into the fuselage and through the rest of the body didn’t take very long it’s about three days to do a sample it really is all the guts and the veins and everything just being pulled out of the Holika she very soon the 747 is nothing more than a heap of scrap metal so this is 200 million pounds worth of plane reduce to probably the most expensive pile of scrap I’ve ever seen in my life only a few recognisable fragments of the aircraft remain so this is a leading edge and this is where you go don’t you see her yeah thin but pretty I mean take some batter though yeah that’s pretty durable then it’s a wing moves back he doesn’t need to be as doesn’t meet to be as strong so they make it out of this lightweight stone Union engineering being led by Nature isn’t it Hanako look at this so you can I mean you can see the thickness that’s so thin some 747 flight decks are spared demolition to be used as the shell in the construction of flight simulators Wow this is proper kind of aviation history how it all used to be all these controls here’s where flight engineer would have sat when you needed one obviously I’m Victor x-ray that’s that’s gone now the remaining carcass of a 747 like this still has a recycling value worth up to 35,000 pounds and although it’s no longer pure enough to be used again in aircraft construction as recycled aluminium it does get to live another day once I’ve separated out the aluminium it will be sent away smelted down and recycled meaning what was once a fuselage of a 747 could be your next fizzy drink or even the frame of a bicycle we’re on our way back to Cardiff where Victor x-ray should now have been given a new lease of life the last time last time indeed is heading out tomorrow evening it’s due to head back into service there is Victor x-ray completely different super hidden [Music] it does smell new it just smells here last night here this was all completely open yeah it’s all on again the screens are running goods since arriving five weeks ago engineers have replaced over 5,000 separate parts including eleven brand new toilets 386 square meters of new carpet has been fitted along with 285 refurbished seats [Music] and there were 14 brand-new first-class seats for passengers paying upwards of 5,000 pounds of flight for the luxury Wow it’s mad to think it does all this and it flies in just over 24 hours time these seats should be occupied by paying customers on route to South America so now for the first time in five weeks Victor x-ray is towed for a hangar for the final critical tests that need to be carried out to ensure all the parts of the aircraft including its four engines are working [Music] for Hugh Gibbs this is the only occasion when an engineer gets to power up a 747 for real so will we be moving anywhere when you put it up to almost maximum thrust no no we’ve got the brakes on and where we can’t do more than one engine at full power at a Titan we have to do them one at a time really so if you had ball for you we’d be taking off well taking off through the middle of Cardiff Airport yeah request permission to carry at the high power ground run okay going up on 104 [Music] the sensation have been here right now is kind of what you get when you hit turbulence mid-flight yeah we’re here on the runways outside got a very poor it’s just awesome the power of these things that was a brilliant fun experience to me hehe but from a technical perspective how did he go all when well we had no problems at all got the high power and was lovely and smooth and it passed all the tests that we needed to do so and just running those engines up to throttle like that get any less exciting anytime now I’ve been doing it for about five years now I still love it [Music] the following day and on time Victor x-ray is ready to bid farewell to Cardiff [Music] for the engineers this is the moment when all the hard work pays off quite rewarding you know their job ownership you know we especially if you’ve been on it from start to finish and you think you look back I’ve done that works and it’s well when you see it barreling down the runway as well a hundred and forty hundred and fifty knots do you think I did them but sir you know I’ve been in the industry of 20 years and you’ll never lose that pride and that feeling inside that you know you’ve been part of producing that product and keeping it safe and obviously knowing that when the aircraft returns to Heathrow the customer is then sitting on that aircraft and you know you’ve done your job well after five weeks over 30,000 working hours and 12,000 separate jobs Victor x-ray is ready once again to take to the skies [Music] and for the engineering team who have painstakingly strip the aircraft down and built it back up again there’s the satisfaction of knowing it works [Music] [Applause] [Applause] [Music] James May has some things you need to know here on BBC HD this evening at 10:00 but first we’re driving one of the world’s most dangerous roads next [Music] you

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