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Pilots push 787 Dreamliner to the limit

Captain Mike Carriker walks into his office in Everett, Wash for the first time in weeks and turns on his laptop. He has a lot of catching up to do.

On the way to his desk, he walked by a sign that describes exactly why the 787 Chief Test Pilot had been out of the office: ‘Gone Flying’

“It’s tiring because we have to have very specific conditions. We need dry runways, then wet runways. We want wind, then no wind and so on.”

In the past month, Capt. Carriker and a team of Boeing pilots have logged thousands of miles chasing the perfect conditions as they continue to test the all-new 787 Dreamliner.

“It’s tiring because we have to have very specific conditions. We need dry runways, then wet runways. We want wind, then no wind and so on.”

787 taking off

Boeing photo

To test the 787 Dreamliner's takeoff performance, pilots perform multiple takeoffs at varying speeds and conditions.

Captain Carriker sat down to describe some of the recent tests he and the team have conducted.

Takeoff Performance:

“You start with regular takeoff like we recommend the airline crews do all the time and then what we do is we go around and look at how much you can vary from it. You rotate before the predicted air speed. You rotate after the air speed. You rotate too fast. You rotate too slow. It’s all to define there’s a tolerance for error.”

Velocity Minimum Unstick:

787 tail drag test

Boeing photo

In the velocity minimum unstick test or VMU, pilots carefully drag the 787's tail on the runway to determine the lowest speed needed to leave the ground.

This test establishes the lowest speed the airplane can leave the ground and requires putting the tail on the runway. “You don’t want to hold the tail on the ground because that’s actually a big brake. It will slow the airplane down and you’ll never get up to take-off speed but then again you can’t let the tail come up because then you’re missing your data. So the idea is to get the tail down quickly, smoothly and just hold it on the ground, just, just hold it on the ground and then hold that altitude and then you have to fly away.”

Wet Runway:

“We run two trucks down the runway to do nothing more than to put water on the runway to cool it off and then we run five trucks down the runway and we dump about 50,000 gallons of water on an ungrooved runway to get a good covering to similate the rain. We do two landings, one with manual brakes and then we do one with the plane’s automatic braking system. And we demonstrate that the tires spin up…that the anti-skid system works as designed. We do a normal technique for the pilots so they don’t have to do anything different.”

787 tail drag test

Boeing photo

Crews dumped more than 50,000 gallons of water on an ungrooved runway to simulate the situation when pilots have land on a wet runway.

Carriker says while the grueling schedule of tests can be tough on the team, it is paying off as the program closes in on certifying the new airplane.

“We’re really doing well on the airplane part and it’s very exciting to see all these individual parts starting to be added up,” he said.

After a brief break to catch up, Capt. Carriker will head back to his other office, the 787 flight deck, to test the airplane some more.