Mr. French said that one milestone in the development of composite structures for airframes was the B-2 stealth bomber.
One of Vought's predecessor companies, LTV, had a major hand in creating that revolutionary plane.
"Back in the early to mid '80s, LTV designed, developed, produced, assembled and delivered one-third of the structural design of B-2 stealth bomber out of Dallas," Mr. French said.
"That's where our company got really good on composite structure. We really pushed the technology and really came out with some innovative technologies that allowed that airplane to fly. You just could not build a B-2 out of metal."
Now composites are a big part of a lot of different military and commercial planes, including many of Boeing's previous jets.
Dr. Miller noted that the 737, 747, 757, 767 and 777 all use composite parts to varying degrees.
But the 787 -- and, eventually, competitor Airbus' A350 -- have taken the technology to another level.
There are three variants of the 787: the 787-3, the 787-8 and the 787-9.
According to Boeing, the prices on the planes range from a low of $146 million on some configurations of the 787-3 to $200 million for some configurations of the 787-9.
Those price tags put the 787 about in the middle of Boeing's current lineup of commercial jets: less expensive than the 747 and 777 families but a little pricier than the 737 and 767 jets.
No ticket price break
While composite materials can do a lot of things, Mr. Hamilton said one benefit passengers probably won't get from the composite structures is lower ticket prices.
The increased fuel efficiency is a bonus, he said, but rising fuel and labor costs will probably eat up most of those savings.
The 787 will also offer other technological upgrades for passengers that are unrelated to the composite structures, such as larger overhead luggage bins, sensors in the airplane's nose that automatically smooth the flight during turbulence and features in the engines that reduce noise.
The biggest advance in the design of the 787, though, is clearly the composite structures.
While Boeing is reluctant to predict an all-composite future for new plane designs, Mr. French at Vought said he expects the technology to become even more popular.
"The whole passenger experience is going to be greatly enhanced as more and more composite passenger-type aircraft fall into the industry," he said.
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Boeing is studying ways to increase production rates for the 787, but a likely production speedup would only occur after the first 112 airplanes are produced in 2008-09.
Analysts say composite materials used to make the new plane will be revolutionary. A festive rollout is planned