Boeing 787 Dreamliner makes flawless first flight

The Boeing Co.'s composites-intensive 787 Dreamliner took its first flight on Tuesday, Dec. 15, marking a major milestone for this next-generation aircraft.

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After more than two years of delays, The Boeing Co.’s 787 Dreamliner — the first large commercial aircraft built with all-composite wings and fuselage — finally lifted off on its maiden flight, Dec. 15, 2009, at 10:27 a.m., in front of a crowd of more than 10,000 cheering Boeing employees and dignitaries from the U.S. and around the world. Under cloudy skies at Paine Field Airport in Everett, Wash., test pilots Michael Carriker and Randy Neville piloted ZA001, painted in special Dreamliner livery, to Boeing Field in Seattle. The flight path remained in close proximity to Boeing Field in order to permit uninterrupted radio transfer of test data from rows of computers aboard the aircraft to the company’s flight-test monitoring center, said a spokesman.

Although steady rain and decreasing visibility at the landing site prompted Boeing to truncate the first flight from five hours to three, Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter reported that the flight went well and the crew was able to conduct the desired tests of the landing gear, flaps and other equipment. The 787 touched down at Boeing Field at 1:35 p.m. (PST), underwent a 20-minute visual inspection, then was towed to a hangar for a postflight press conference. There, Boeing’s VP and 787 program general manger Scott Fancher declared the Dreamliner a “game-changing” aircraft that will set a new fuel-efficiency standard, thanks to its composite construction, and will generate 20 percent fewer carbon emissions than comparable metal aircraft.

Originally scheduled for first flight in August 2007, with first delivery in May 2008, the aircraft’s development was slowed by workflow difficulties within Boeing’s worldwide outsourcing system, a fastener shortage, a fuselage section misfit and, most recently, the need to strengthen the side-of-body, which required reinforcement at 34 stringer locations where the wings attach to the fuselage. On Nov. 30, 2009, Boeing completed the static test necessary to validate the side-of-body modifications made to the 787, and received an experimental ticket from the U.S. Federal Aviation Admin. (FAA), clearing the way for first flight.

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