On December 15 at 10:27 a.m., under a gray 2,500-foot broken cloud layer, Boeing’s big bet on the company’s future–the mostly composite 787 Dreamliner–finally made its maiden flight, two years and four months after the originally planned date. At the controls were 787 chief test pilot Mike Carriker and engineering test pilot Randy Neville.
The Rolls-Royce Trent 1000-powered 787-8–dubbed ZA001– lifted off smoothly from Paine Field’s Runway 34L in Everett, Wash., the twinjet’s signature slender composite wings flexing upward as they generated the necessary lift, flanked by a pair of T-33 chase airplanes. A six-mph breeze blew about 90 degrees across the runway in the 40-degree temperatures. More than 12,000 Boeing employees, worldwide media and members of the public were on hand to witness the historic first flight.
After taking off, Carriker and Neville kept 787 ZA001 below the overcast as they flew north, then eventually climbed through the cloud layer and flew a circuitous route over the east end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The airplane reached a maximum altitude of 13,200 feet and airspeed of 180 knots. The landing gear was retracted once, and anti-icing systems had to be operated due to the weather.
The first flight was supposed to last for about five hours, but Carriker and Neville cut it short due to deteriorating weather and landed at 1:33 p.m. at Boeing Field in Seattle. “I thought the landing was rather good,” Carriker joked, then added that if the weather was better, he would like to take on another load of fuel and fly some more. The pilots were able to cross off about half of the planned points on their flight-test card. Boeing did not release any numbers for takeoff weight, landing weight or fuel burn for the first flight.
Both pilots reported that the fly-by-wire 787 flew exactly as expected, although it was easier to fly than the engineering simulator they had practiced flying. “There were no surprises and no major issues,” Neville said.
“We popped out of the top of the clouds at about 7,000 feet,” Carriker said, “and there were the snow-capped Olympics, the Strait of San Juan all framed in the front left window of the 787 at 10,000 feet. That image will be in my mind for the rest of my life.”
Boeing plans to field six 787s in the flight-test program and all will be flying by June. The first GEnx-powered 787 will be number five. Number two was expected to fly by the end of last month, depending on weather conditions. Orders for the three 787 variants, which offer range from 3,000 to 8,500 nm, stood at 840 at the time of the first flight. Thirteen of those aircraft on order are executive versions of the 787, and test articles numbers four, five and six will be executive 787s.