Boeing 787 Dreamliner Finally Gets Off the Ground
“Boeing 001 Heavy Experimental” lifted off from Runway 34L at Paine Field (PAE), the airport adjacent to Boeing’s massive manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash., at approximately 10:30am Pacific time, soaring past thousands of cheering Boeing employees and aviation buffs. The flight had been expected to stay in the air for as long as five hours, but heavy rain and low visibility led Boeing to set her down at Boeing Field (BFI) in Seattle after about three hours of flying zig-zags over northern Washington. Today’s take-off marked Boeing’s first inaugural flight of a brand new commercial aircraft type since the aerospace giant launched the 777 wide-body airliner over 15 years ago.
Video by Andy Bokanev
Originally expected to enter airline service in 2008, the 787 program has been besieged by delays. The complex supply chain used to build 787 has been one major problem. Unlike previous Boeing aircraft, most of a Dreamliner’s parts—including large ones such as the fuselage and wings—are built by subcontractors as far away as South Carolina, Italy and Japan, and then transported to Boeing’s assembly facility in Washington for final construction. Setbacks were also encountered while creating the composite materials used in its construction, many of which had never before been used in a large commercial aircraft. Boeing has stated that most of these issues have been resolved.
Despite these hurdles and its untested, white sheet design, the airline industry has greeted the new 787 with extraordinary enthusiasm. Boeing racked up orders for nearly 600 copies of the 787 before it ever rolled out of the factory, a record for any new airliner. And with good reason: Boeing promises Dreamliner’s lightweight composite fuselage and newly designed engines will deliver 20% fuel cost savings compared to similarly sized aircraft currently on the market, such as the Airbus A330. A number of new concepts in cabin design, such as mood lighting and larger windows also promise a more inviting environment for passengers. (Check out our look inside the Boeing 787 showroom to see some of the bells and whistles airlines can choose when in the market for a new jet).
Today’s flight was piloted by the 787 program’s chief test pilot, Capt. Mike Carriker, and engineering pilot Capt. Randy Neville. Per FAA safety regulations, Carriker and Neville were the only humans on board, along with thousands of pounds of flight data computers recording over 10,000 channels of telemetry. Each man wore a parachute and six handheld radios, and one of the plane’s doors was rigged with an explosive charge in the event they had been forced to jump out due to a catastrophic failure. When asked about the risks of flying the world’s first plastic airliner by the Seattle Times, Carriker said, “Obviously, we think we’re OK, otherwise we wouldn’t go fly. But the proof is still in the pudding.”
While the first flight is a major step toward the aircraft’s FAA certification and deliveries to airline customers, it is only the beginning of an exhaustive flight test regimen which will last at least nine months. Problems encountered during the test program could mean further delivery delays. Should testing go swimmingly, the launch customer, All Nippon Airways of Japan, should receive its first 787 sometime in Fall 2010.