Sure, it is a couple years behind schedule, but better late than never, right? Over the past week there has been a ton of activity at Boeing’s Everett assembly facility, all focused on getting the 787 Dreamliner out of the hangar and into the air for its first flight. That flight is now expected to occur within the next week according to the rumors flying around Seattle’s northern suburbs.
In the past week the stress test plane (ZY997) has gone through the last of its static tests, deflecting the wings almost 20 feet from normal. In normal flight operations the deflection is only about 5 feet and the 20 foot deflection is actually beyond the max that the plane is rated for. Still, there is likely to be yet another test that goes even further, though Boeing still has not stated whether they will test deflection to failure. They did that for the 777 and the video of the wings bending and then shattering is truly phenomenal.
In addition to the static stress tests Boeing has also been putting the first plane to fly (ZA001) through its paces with software tests designed to simulate all aspects of flight without actually starting the engines or getting the plane off the ground. The so-called “gauntlet test” was completed successfully and was the last step necessary to complete before the plane rolls out of the hangar and onto the taxi-way of Everett Field and then, shortly thereafter, into the skies over Washington.
There are a few other test cycles that will need to be completed before the plane is truly ready to head airborne, but those mostly involve the engines and other systems that cannot be run while the plane is inside the building. Scuttlebutt in the area says that Rolls Royce, the engine provider of the initial test & delivery planes, was in Everett last weekend very quietly installing their final test rigs on ZA001. With those in place there is basically nothing stopping Boeing from putting the bird in the sky as soon as they are ready.
It will almost certainly roll from the hangar to the parking position on the field under the cover of darkness – Boeing does that for all their planes so that they don’t freak out drivers on the highway that the ramp crosses just outside the hangar. But I’d expect that first flight will happen in daylight hours. It appears from everything I’ve heard that Boeing does not intend to issue a press release in advance of the flight so there won’t really be any true warning that it is going to happen. At this point I expect that a number of plane spotters and photographers are just setting up camp outside the Everett facility. I know I would be if I lived out that way.
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