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Feature Story

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747-8 Intercontinental is joined together

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Boeing test pilots "fly" the new Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental inside the factory in Everett, Wash. to test all of the systems onboard for the first time.

Video: Flying the 747-8 Intercontinental's first "flight"

Like a star performer preparing to take center stage, the new 747-8 Intercontinental's cast and crew conducted their first systematic walk-through rehearsal on January 8th.

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RC501, the first 747-8 Intercontinental, is hooked up to a flight simulator so the test pilots can see the same motion data the airplane would receive during a normal flight.

With the airplane stationary inside its Everett, Wash. factory, the troupe of test pilots and engineers worked onboard for hours, conducting extensive flight simulation exercises called "factory gauntlet testing."

The testing, designed to affirm readiness, is a major milestone for the passenger version of the 747-8; it's the first time all onboard systems are tested together. Passing the gauntlet paves the way for the airplane to rollout of the factory and make its first real flight.

Take an interactive tour to learn more about the 747-8 Intercontinental's advanced systems

"It gives us as a flight test team a lot of confidence that the systems as they come together are working properly." Capt. Stu Farmer, Boeing test pilot

"It gives us as a flight test team a lot of confidence that the systems as they come together are working properly" said Captain Stu Farmer, one of four Boeing test pilots who put the airplane through its paces, culminating in a simulated first flight.

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Captain Mark Feuerstein, chief test pilot for the 747-8, is in the pilot seat during a series of ground checks that prepared the airplane for its first simulated flight.

"(We made) sure that the airplane was turning, climbing, leveling off, capturing altitudes. And we flew a series of approaches to make sure the airplane would capture approach," Capt. Farmer said. "It behaved very well, it was very clean."

To mimic motion, a simulator in a van was hooked up to the airplane's computer network, allowing the airplane to receive the same sensor data it would see during a normal flight.

In one scenario, the simulator made the airplane sense it was flying too fast for conditions. As designed, the airplane's computer automatically retracted the trailing edge flaps to adjust the airspeed.

"It's rewarding to see it actually together working as a whole, as a full system on the airplane." James Craig, Boeing systems engineer.

In the cabin, a team of engineers measured and monitored hundreds of real-time measurements at computer stations. With new cabin sidewalls as a backdrop, hinting at what will be the Intercontinental's attractive new interior, Danielle Crocker, Boeing instrumentation engineer, helped track the airplane's performance.

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The elevator on the horizontal stabilizer lifts up during a pre-flight check. During the course of factory gauntlet testing, the 747-8 Intercontinental's flight control surfaces are moved and tested multiple times.

"We're making sure that everything is running the way it should. Sometimes, the data we get shows things are performing better. Sometimes, it shows we have an anomaly that we actually need to investigate," she said.

Engineers will take several days to sift through the data to see if the airplane system reacted properly and hit all of its cues.

James Craig, a Boeing engineer who worked on integrating the Intercontinental's systems, liked what he saw during the dry run.

"It's rewarding to see it actually together working as a whole, as a full system on the airplane," Craig said.