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Boeing is poised to deliver a new member of the 747 family and the company's largest-ever airplane after receiving the official stamps of approval from the U.S. and European regulatory authorities.
"That's wonderful news. I mean that's what we're after," said mechanic Dale Smith during a break from putting the final touches on the latest 747-8 Freighter in Boeing's factory in Everett, Wash.
Smith is among the thousands at Boeing and its global partners who have been on a long journey to design, build and test the new cargo jetliner.
The journey began as a simple stretch of the iconic Boeing 747 but evolved into essentially a new airplane as engineers designed a more advanced wing and put the latest systems on board. It added up to a more capable airplane but also very long hours over several years.
"The importance of having a safe airplane, a compliant airplane, and a reliable airplane never waived. That's what it's all about." Todd Zarfos, 747-8 Vice President of Engineering
"My average was over 13 hours a day for a 40-hour week," said John Hale, a manufacturing engineer on the 747 program. "There's lots of people who've done more hours than that and that's what it takes."
Through it all, Hale, Smith and others kept their eye on the major milestone of certification.
"That's the goal, that's the light at the end of the tunnel," said Smith. "That's why we started this project."
That light is now shining on the 747-8 program. After an extensive flight test program, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) granted the 747-8 Freighter an Amended Type Certificate.
The 747-8 Freighter is 250 feet, 2 inches (76.3 m) long, which is 18 feet and 4 inches (5.6 m) longer than the 747-400 Freighter. The stretch provides customers with 16 percent more revenue cargo volume compared to its predecessor. That translates to four additional main-deck pallets and three additional lower-hold pallets.
The type certificates acknowledge that the FAA and EASA found the airplane's design to be compliant with all aviation regulatory requirements and will produce a safe and reliable airplane.
"This is an incredible day," said Elizabeth Lund, vice president and general manager of the 747 program, after accepting the certificates at a private ceremony. "The people on the 747 program have worked long and hard and this has been a long journey and it really sort of culminates today when our airplane is finally certified."
"Over the last several years, this team has overcome challenge after challenge. Through their hard work and dedication, they have ensured that the 747, the Queen of the Skies, will fly for decades to come," said Jim Albaugh, president and CEO, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
The 747-8 Freighter test fleet logged more than 3,400 flight hours thousands of ground, component, and materials tests on the road to certification.
The 747-8 program also earned an amended production certificate which validates that Boeing's production system can reliably build airplanes according to the design.
"The importance of having a safe airplane, a compliant airplane, and a reliable airplane never waivers," said Todd Zarfos, vice president of engineering on the 747 program. "That's what it's all about."
Now the team turns its attention to delivering the first 747-8 Freighter to the launch customer, Luxembourg-based Cargolux Airlines, in early September. It is the first of 78 orders to date for the cargo airplane.
"Now we're in business you know," said Hale, the manufacturing engineer. "Now we're affecting the economy of the world for the better. We're helping other people do what they want to do. And when you help other people do what they want to do, then your job is worth it."