If Boeing’s new 737 Max 8 proved anything at all during its first flight, it was that the company’s narrowbody mainstay can operate without a single flinch in bad weather. Aircraft 1A001 successfully navigated the inclement conditions as it took off smoothly from Runway 34 at Renton Municipal Airport near Seattle Friday. The crew of the 737 Max, Boeing 737 Chief Pilot Ed Wilson and Craig Bomben, chief test pilot and the company’s vice president of flight operations, said the only complications they encountered related to the weather. Consequently, they conducted their tests to the west, over the Olympia Peninsula and Puget Sound, rather than over eastern Washington as they had initially planned.
“In places it was a little tough up there,” said Wilson at a news conference after N7801Q touched down without a hiccup. “The weather wasn’t real kind to us over eastern Washington but it was great over in the west, so we stayed over there on the west side and got everything we needed to get done today.”
The 737 Max took off on a northward track, circled and headed west-northwest over Puget Sound and Olympic National Park until it turned east toward Port Angeles and the Straight of Juan de Fuca. At the time cruising at 14,800 feet, it turned south-southwest after flying to the east of Port Angeles and crossed its original northwesterly path until it reached the southern end of the Olympic Peninsula. From there it turned around and flew north-northeast toward Canada before flying a pair of oval patterns west of Puget Sound, heading back toward the northernmost reaches of Washington state, turning east and then south, taking it past Boeing’s Everett widebody plant and into the Seattle area for landing at Boeing Field. The 737 Max, call sign BOE1, reached a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet and flew at a top speed of 250 knots during its first journey, which lasted 2 hours 47 minutes.
Marking the start of a four-airplane, nine-month flight test campaign expected to culminate in FAA certification and delivery to launch customer Southwest Airlines in the third quarter of 2017, the first flight appeared to pay testimony to Boeing’s new philosophy of “Right at First Flight,” a mantra that took shape in the aftermath of the 787 Dreamliner’s shaky rollout in July 2007. Boeing had to delay the 787 program repeatedly as it battled myriad problems ranging from kinks in the supply chain to software glitches.
So far, the 737 Max has suffered no delay-causing problems. The premier version, “Spirit of Renton,” rolled off the assembly line and into the paint booth days early. In fact, the Max took off early on Friday’s first flight, as Boeing moved up its departure 14 minutes to stay ahead of the worsening weather.
The airplane’s new CFM Leap-1B engines, whose efficiency improvements account for most of the 14-percent fuel burn reduction Boeing cites for the Max 8 variant over the today’s 737NG, spooled up with a distinctive whine Friday as the airplane prepared to roll down the runway for its first take-off.
But once underway, test pilot Wilson reported a noticeable lack of noise.
“We were amazed at how quiet the cabin was,” he told reporters.
Apart from the new designed engines and major avionics upgrades, several aerodynamic changes including the addition of a pair of “dual feather” winglets expected to deliver up to a 1.8-percent fuel efficiency improvement over the current “in line” design.
Having now collected orders for more than 3,072 Max jets, Boeing will build the first airplanes exclusively on a new production line in its Renton, Washington factory. The new line will allow the team to isolate assembly of the first 737 Max from the rest of production to help it learn and perfect the new build process while the Renton factory continues to turn out airplanes at rate of 42 a month. Once mechanics validate the production process, the company will extend Max production to the other two final assembly lines in Renton.
Since last year Boeing has restructured the factory floor in Renton yet again and installed the wing-to-body join tool that the two current production lines use, ensuring its production readiness by the time the company loads the Max. Meanwhile, the company has consolidated fuselage systems installation from two parts, each serving one assembly line, into a single new three-level, moving design tool, allowing the company to more efficiently use the available space in Renton.
Using the reworked floor plan, Boeing plans to increase production three times by 2019, when the rate reaches 57 airplanes a month.