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Feature Story

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Boeing 747-8 makes a big splash

Like a big kid dancing in mud puddles, the new Boeing 747-8 Freighter romps repeatedly through a shallow pond in the middle of the runway.

747 Water Spray test

Boeing photo

The pilots have to line up the 747-8 Freighter precisely to where the pool is set up in the middle of the runway.

Once at 30 knots, again at 40 knots and faster yet at 50 knots the jumbo jet powers through, splashing higher sheets of water onto its unusual pink underbelly.

What to an outside observer might seem gleeful play is really a simple yet serious trial called a water safety test. It is one of the many requirements the new Boeing 747-8 Freighter must plow through on the road to certification.

"We do the water spray test so we can tell whether or not -- if an airplane is going through standing water -- the water actually gets ingested into the engines because that would be bad," says 747-8 Flight Test manager Andy Hammer.

"It's a very simple, elegant way to do this test," Hammer says of the method.

"When you have an airplane coming right past you and spraying that much water is awesome." Nick Baker, Boeing engineer.

The Boeing team builds a temporary pool - 24-feet wide, 180-feet long and a few inches deep - by gluing foam blocks to the middle of the runway and filling it with water.

747 Water Spray test

Boeing photo

The ground operations team glues foam blocks to the runway and fill it with water to create the temporary pool.

Meanwhile, technicians paint sections of the airplane pink.

Nick Baker, one of the engineers who planned the test, explains the substance is pink dye mixed with a mild-cleanser. It washes right off when sprayed with water and does not harm the fuselage or skin.

"When we run through the trough and the water hits it we can tell where the water's hit the body," Baker says. "It's really just to demonstrate where the water has actually impacted the aircraft."

"We don't want possible water ingestion. We don't want it going it into the ports and clogging them," Baker adds.

The pilots maneuver the 747-8 Freighter down the runway, making sure to line the plane up just right for repeated passes through the pond at 30, 40 and 50 knots. Most of the water is ejected each time, requiring the pool to be refilled.

747 Water Spray test

Boeing photo

Technicians paint a mild cleanser that is mixed with pink dye to the underbelly of the airplane. The dye washes off when water hits it.

"Actually being that close to the taxiway when you have an airplane coming right past you and spraying that much water is awesome," says Baker.

Boeing photographers also take photos of the test to prove water is not ingested into the engines. The images are submitted as part of the certification process.

"We have to go through and demonstrate that in all of these circumstances that the aircraft is safe and flight worthy," Hammer says. "And as I always tell my wife, when you get on an airplane and you're flying commercially, you ought to see what we've already done to the airplane. And this is just one of those tests."