A pair of first flights last week carried big stakes for each of the respective airplanes’ North American airframe makers. But while the maiden mission of the Boeing 787-9 meant a return to “business as usual” in Everett, Washington, the first flight of the Bombardier CSeries outside Montreal, in Mirabel, Quebec, marked the climax of a project on which the Canadian company has bet its future.
Following some three years of delays to the 787-8 and a major service interruption early in that program’s operational history, Boeing welcomed the chance to fly the 787-9 in comparatively mundane fashion last Tuesday. Conversely, Bombardier president Mike Arcamone admitted to difficulty containing his emotions following Monday’s first flight of the CSeries.
“We have now convinced quite a few people–investors, suppliers, customers, potential customers–that the aircraft is delivering what we’ve said, and it’s going to be a game changer,” said Arcamone. “To see it fly was really something very emotional, very personal…and I’m still trying to calm down because I’m very excited about it.”
Last Monday’s milestone flight came some eight-and-a-half months after the date specified by the original program schedule and follows two more recent missed targets, one at the end of June and the other at the end of July. Still, Bombardier continues to cite plans for a one-year certification program, suggesting entry into service early in the fall of next year.
For Boeing, the 787-9 would blaze an uninterrupted path toward first flight, largely due to lessons learned during the development of the famously delay-prone 787-8. New production and testing processes have become more familiar, leading to more “discipline” in design and testing and a virtual elimination of delays to engineering releases. Meanwhile, Boeing resolved technical hitches associated with tooling and materials systems and, when necessary, retrieved design responsibility and fabrication from underperforming suppliers.
As one might expect, the 787-9’s first flight proceeded without much of the drama accompanying the Montreal event. As if to highlight the contrast, the CSeries’ flight deck flashed a “small advisory message” related to one of the airplane’s subsystems as chief test pilot Chuck Ellis prepared for takeoff. “The message that we saw, if you were aboard the airplane for a revenue flight as a passenger, would not have stopped [the flight],” said Ellis. “We didn’t stop either; we just made some small adjustments to what we planned on doing.”