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Feature Story

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A Boeing 787 Dreamliner performs a maneuver duing flight testing. The pilots and flight test engineers have subjected the airplane to all kinds of extreme conditions to prove that it is ready to serve travelers all around the world.

Boeing 787's extreme measures

The story of 787 flight test is largely a matter of perspective. Yes, the program has experienced many challenges. But it's also a story of perseverance and accomplishment.

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Ruben Dario Cuellar Lorini

A Boeing 787 soars over La Paz, Bolivia. Located more than 12,000 feet (3,660 meters) above sea level, La Paz is known as the world's highest capital city and provided a unique environment to demonstrate the 787's takeoff and landing performance at high field elevations.

"The challenges are real," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager the 787 program. "But so are the accomplishments. And at the end of the day, that's what the 787 program is all about.

"If we were intimidated by the challenges, we'd have thrown our hands up and walked away before we ever got to flight test," he said. "But that's not what we do. We work through the challenges with a focus on making this a great airplane. That ensures we do the right thing and that we keep moving forward."

Fancher acknowledged the 787 teamwork across the Boeing organization. "The 787 program, Boeing Test & Evaluation and our partners are working hard to make sure we do the testing right and get good data," he said.

"If we were intimidated by the challenges, we'd have thrown our hands up and walked away before we ever got to flight test," Scott Fancher, 787 Vice President and General Manager

Since an onboard fire that halted flight testing in November, the team has developed hardware and software improvements that make the 787's power control system more robust. Interim fixes have been deployed on the flight-test airplanes, and one by one, they have re-entered flight test.

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A Boeing 787 rests for a few hours overnight in Yuma, AZ, during a break in testing. The logistics of getting the airplane and team to a new location, setting up offices and coordinating test flights with the local air traffic authorities is a huge job.

Within the same time span, a seventh airplane made its first flight and joined the flight-test fleet on a temporary basis.

By the end of January, the fleet had logged more than 2600 hours of flying, nearly 900 flights and approximately 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers).

The team has pushed the 787 to prove that it is ready for the most extreme flight conditions it will ever experience in revenue service and many that it likely will never experience outside of testing.

The 787 has conducted testing in Iceland, Puerto Rico and Bolivia-demonstrating performance in high winds, and takeoff and landing performance at high- and low-field elevations.

"From very early on, we've told people that testing is a dynamic environment, and while the risk is lower, we're realistic about the possibility of new discoveries." Mike Sinnett, 787 Chief Project Engineer.

The team has been in the heat of the desert, the extreme cold of the McKinley Climatic Chamber at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, and even conducted polar navigation tests at the North Pole.

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ZA001, the 1st Boeing 787 Dreamliner, drags its tail on a California runway to determine the lowest speed the airplane can take off. Called the velocity minimum unstick test, the maneuver requires a delicate mix of strength and soft touch.

"We operate in the same environments that our customers do," said Mike Bryan, 787 project pilot, Boeing Test & Evaluation. "It takes us all over the world and while it may sound like fun, it's also a lot of work. The sheer logistics of getting the airplane and team to a new location, setting up our offices and coordinating our test flights with the local air traffic authorities is a huge job."

Perhaps the most difficult deployment concluded in February when the team on ZA005 returned from high-altitude testing in La Paz, Bolivia. The airport's 13,300-foot (4,050-meter) altitude meant the ground crew was operating with only 60 percent of the oxygen found at sea level.

Continue reading to learn more about how the 787 faced another challenging test and details about the 787's aerodynamic performance.