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Dreamliner latest to endure battery technology issues

This undated photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board shows the burned auxiliary power unit battery from a JAL Boeing 787 that caught fire on Jan. 7, 2013, at Boston's Logan International Airport. It's been nearly a quarter of a century since the last big jump in battery technology. As 21st century technology strains to be ever faster, cleaner and cheaper, the battery, an invention from more than 200 years ago keeps holding it back. It's why electric cars aren't clogging the roads and why Boeing's new ultra-efficient 787 Dreamliners aren't flying high. (AP Photo/National Transportation Safety Board)

PHOENIX -- The most sophisticated aircraft ever built remains grounded because of a battery problem but a Valley aviation consultant is confident the Boeing 787 Dreamliner will be back in the air soon.

Dreamliners were grounded because of battery fire and now National Transportation Safety Board investigators have come to Arizona to test chargers for the airliner batteries made by Securaplane Technologies in Oro Valley.

Longtime American Airlines pilot Jim Tilmon said this is the first time that batteries of this type -- lithium ion -- have been used on a commercial aircraft. The challenge is unexpected but it's not the first time that battery technology has been an issue.

"They (investigators) will find the problem just like the found problems with laptop computer batteries, auto batteries, even cellphone batteries. We're talking billions of dollars that are stake here. I mean billions with a B."

Tilmon said the Dreamliner is not Grandpa's airplane. About the only thing it has in common with older aircraft is that the wheels are round.

"The airplane lives and breathes on its electrical system and that means the batteries are extremely important. This is the first time batteries of this type have ever been used on a commercial airplane and this is groundbreaking in many ways and we're learning as we go along.

"Fire is one thing we don't like to think about on an airplane because you can't just pull over and wait for the fire department," Tilmon said.

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About the Author


Position: Senior News Reporter. Started with KTAR July 4, 1999.

Favorite spots in Arizona: Pinetop-Lakeside, Alpine, Greer.

Have covered some of the biggest stories in Arizona including nine of the top 10 largest wildfires in state history. The Wallow Fire in 2011 became the largest fire in state history. Rodeo-Chediski Fire in June 2002, which is the second largest fire in Arizona. Covered the Yarnell Hill Tragedy in June 2013 that left 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots dead.

Favorite movies: True Grit, both 1969 John Wayne classic and the remake with Jeff Bridges and Lonesome Dove.

Sports Teams: Washington State University Cougars, Texas Longhorns, The University of Montana Grizzlies.

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