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Feature Story

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Boeing/Gail Hanusa

The new 747-8 Intercontinental ran all four engines for the first time on March 8, 2011, completing a key milestone in preparing Boeing's largest-ever passenger jet for its maiden flight.

Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental starts its engines (Video)

One started spinning, then the other three followed suit. Soon, all four roared to life, effortlessly displaying its powerful 67,000-lb thrust rating.

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Boeing/Eric Olson

The General Electric GEnx-2B engine is optimized for the Boeing 747-8. The new engine contributes to a reduction in fuel burn, emissions and noise, which gives customers the lowest operating costs and best economics of any large passenger airplane while providing enhanced environmental performance.

"These are the most technologically-advanced engines produced today," said 747-8 Propulsion Director Jim Petersen as he watched the General Electric engines operate for the first time while attached to Boeing's largest-ever passenger airplane.

The "engine runs" test is a key milestone in preparing the 747-8 Intercontinental to take its inaugural flight.

"We get to check out all the computing systems, the backup systems, pneumatics, electric systems," Petersen said.

"The engines will be easier to maintain, more fuel-efficient, quieter and they'll be able to fly more passengers and packages around the world." Jim Petersen, 747-8 Propulsion Director

As the test progressed, Boeing technicians raised the power settings, allowing the GEnx-2B engine to show off its raw power. The performance came as no surprise. Over the last year, the same engines have powered the Intercontinental's sibling, the 747-8 Freighter, providing the thrust for a series of extreme flight tests, including a one-million-pound takeoff.

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Boeing/Eric Olson

Inside the flight deck, Boeing technicians commanded the four engines to run at different power settings to ensure all systems perform as expected.

But the power output is just one part of the story. The GEnx has 30% fewer parts, so it's lighter and requires less maintenance. More importantly, the GEnx will use 15% less fuel than the engine it replaces, which also means 15% lower emissions.

"It'll be easier to maintain, more fuel-efficient, quieter and they'll be able to fly more passengers and packages around the world," said Petersen.

The GEnx-2B's big leap in propulsion technology is a big reason why the 747-8 Intercontinental can accommodate 467 seats in a 3-class configuration, 51 more than its predecessor, while offering airlines the lowest operating costs and best economics of any large passenger airplane.

"This result allows us to continue moving forward to first flight." Elizabeth Lund, 747-8 Vice President and Deputy Program Manager

After nearly three hours of running through systems checks, technicians powered down the engines. Initial data show the test went according to plan.

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Boeing/Eric Olson

Boeing flight test engineers tracked the engines' performance as real-time test data flowed into monitoring stations inside the airplane cabin.

"The integrated airplane systems and engines performed as expected," said Elizabeth Lund, vice president and deputy program manager of the 747 program. "This result allows us to continue moving forward to first flight."

Boeing engineers will now perform a technical review and prepare for the next milestone, which involves a simulated flight out on the flight line in Everett, Wash.