Dan Rather is making a splash this week with an expose on the composite materials used in the fuselage of the new Boeing Dreamliner due out in 2008. Rather explains in the article that
One of the selling points of the new 787 is lower maintenance costs. Because the composite airframe won't corrode or rust, Boeing says the maintenance costs will be cut by thirty percent. They also say that detailed visual inspections on a periodic basis should be sufficient to detect serious damage to the composite material.
In a move questioning the embattled Rather, 'Wired Blog' contributor Aaron Rowe submits this criticism (found here)
While there is a lot of weight behind the argument that composite materials are not as well-studied as aircraft aluminum, the reasoning behind the flurry of recent articles may be faulty. First off, if a plane crashes, the composite frame will definitely not be the only source of toxic fumes. Second, high performance composites have been used in fighter aircraft and for years. Sports cars, race cars, and train cars made from composite materials have endured fantastic crashes. Claims that the impact toughness of carbon fiber is inadequate may be premature.
Rather's supremely ridiculous speculations on the military career of President and Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush may have prompted some of Rowe's questions about the reporter's legitimacy. In a move highlighting Rowe's journalistic prowess, he cites a manufacturer of composite planes who says that there is "no reason to believe that composites cannot be made every bit as strong as aluminum." Everyone knows that the most reliable source on a product is the one who stands to make the greatest profit from its sale.