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When the new Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental makes its first flight, which could come as early as March 20, the Boeing pilots and test team pretty much know exactly what will happen because they've already flown the flight.
Over the weekend, the team wrapped up flight line gauntlet testing, a thorough and exhaustive two-day check of the airplane's systems, followed by a simulation of the first flight profile.
"We literally looked at every button, every switch, every system to make sure we have an uneventful first flight," said Captain Mark Feuerstein, chief pilot for the 747-8.
While the engines were running, the 747-8 never left the ground. Instead, a powerful simulator provided real-life inputs, forcing the airplane to operate as if it were flying. And the flight test team threw a series of systems failures at the airplane, including shutting down three of the four airplane engines and turning off the airplane's power.
"Some of the conditions that we're looking at might be cause to keep people up at night but in fact it gives us a lot of confidence that the airplane can handle whatever is thrown at it." Capt. Mark Feuerstein, 747-8 Chief Pilot
"We actually go look at these conditions of what we consider to be exceptionally rare to make sure the airplane performs as expected," Capt. Feuerstein said.
The 747-8 Intercontinental is the new, high-capacity 747 that offers airlines the lowest operating costs and best economics of any large passenger airplane. It is stretched 5.6 m (18.3 ft) from the 747-400 and is the only jetliner in the 400- to 500-seat market.
After a quick warm-up flight, the team launched into the first of many induced failures by taking out the first officer's flight instrumentation. When the airplane handled that with no issue, the team turned off all four generators.
Again, the airplane handled the challenge just fine with its layers of built-in backups. Then, the pilots tackled an even more difficult challenge: cutting off fuel to three of the airplane's four engines.
"We are really pushing the envelope of testing and ensuring that the extreme cases are taken care of." Kevin Thomazios, 747-8 Flight Test Director
Through it all, Capt. Feuerstein was able to maintain control and maneuvered the airplane safely with just one functioning engine.
"We are really pushing the envelope of testing and ensuring that the extreme cases are taken care of," said Kevin Thomazios, one of the flight test directors for RC001, the first 747-8 Intercontinental.
"Some of the conditions that we're looking at might be cause to keep people up at night but in fact it gives us a lot of confidence that the airplane can handle whatever is thrown at it," said Capt. Feuerstein.
First flight of the 747-8 Intercontinental will occur after final flight readiness reviews, receipt of documentation from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and taxi testing. Both taxi testing and first flight are subject to weather conditions.
Boeing will provide a live webcast of the event. You can track the progress at our first flight website.