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In a small room next to the lower cargo hold, beneath where first-class passengers would sit, Boeing technician Al Swenson checked the maze of wires, circuits and buttons that make up the nerve center of the new 747-8 Intercontinental.
"It can get pretty complicated," said the veteran electrician inside the airplane's electronics bay. "Everything is tripled and quadrupled redundant with a lot of systems backing up each other."
Swenson and his team had to ensure the main circuits were wired properly in order to energize and activate the systems onboard the Intercontinental for the first time.
"We had to cover every base and make sure it was lined up perfectly," he said.
While the 747-8 retains the familiar fašade of the iconic 747, a suite of new technologies is embedded inside, all of which need power to function. For example, the Intercontinental features a more powerful flight management computer, the option of dual electronic flight bags, and a new wing with control services that are fly-by-wire.
Meanwhile, a new cabin services system, including LED lights, will make the 747-8 Intercontinental a more comfortable space for passengers.
To power those and other systems, 133 miles (214 km) of wires snake through the airplane. If one these wires is not installed correctly, a system may not function properly.
The many hours Swenson and his team spent pouring over the circuitry paid off when mechanics connected the 747-8 to an external power cart. The flight deck display and other systems sparkled to life.
"This is a critical step in the assembly process for the new 747-8 Intercontinental," Elizabeth Lund, 747 deputy program manager. "The airplane's systems are now live. This milestone is a reflection of the focus and hard work of our engineers, mechanics and suppliers."
"We had to cover every base and make sure it was lined up perfectly." Al Swenson, Boeing technician
The mechanics also activated the airplane's hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Pressurized to 3,000 pounds per square inch (psi), the hydraulics power the flight control surfaces, landing gear, brakes and steering systems. The pneumatic system enables the airplane to operate the environmental control systems and the leading-edge flaps.
"We are very methodical in ensuring the integrity of the airplane's systems," said Todd Zarfos, vice president of 747 engineering. "This accomplishment is a key milestone in validating the design, installation and functionality of the electrical, hydraulic and pneumatic systems."
Many functional tests are head but passing the Power On sequence brings the 747-8 one step closer to entering service, which is scheduled for late 2011 following the flight test program.
For Al Swenson, who has brought many airplanes to life, the milestone brings relief more than anything else. He and his team will repeat the same process for the next 747-8 that comes down the production line.