The High Stakes of Being Unconventional

There’s a really nice article by Bob Jacobson over at Total Experience on the development of the new Boeing Dreamliner and the Airbus A380 “super jumbo” and the challenges of stepping too far outside the bounds of user expectations in a very high stakes game. Jacobson quotes an Economist article on the Boeing plane that preceeded the Dreamliner:

Boeing once toyed with a blended wing-body, a sort of flying wing, to produce dramatically better aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. Passengers would have sat in a wide cabin, rather like a small amphitheatre. But tests with a mock-up produced such a negative reaction that the company dropped the technology, except for military refuelling aircraft.

Fascinating case study. I have no first knowledge on this at all, but I wonder if Boeing’s vaunted digital prototyping methodology had anything to do with not discovering the passenger problems earlier. Perhaps a fullscale physical mockup earlier in the process would have caught the difficulties, rather than relying on 3D CAD (even with virtual reality enhancement) for as long into the development process as possible.