Feature Story

Chasing the wind

As it progressed through its flight test certification process, the 787-9 Dreamliner was put through a unique type of testing that required teams to scout airport locations around the globe. “We’re trying to find a really high crosswind to demonstrate the capabilities of the 787-9,” said Boeing flight test engineer Noah Aaron.

In order to find a location for testing, the team relies on Boeing meteorologist Mike Patnoe as he monitors weather conditions in various locations. “Crosswinds are difficult because they are rare… usually they are looking for 25 knots. Sometimes they want even higher,” said Patnoe. “We can forecast for 3 or 4 weeks straight before there is even a chance. We’re talking about sustained winds, not gusts, and we may only see that a few times a year.”

Boeing flight test director Tyler Finn leads the team’s detailed efforts. “Typically it’s very short fused,” said Finn. “You obtain a weather forecast 3 or so days out, and you have to make a quick decision whether or not you’re going.”

“Crosswinds are difficult because they are rare… usually they are looking for 25 knots. Sometimes they want even higher.”

Once on location, the team fights the elements to set-up quickly, taking advantage of the high winds while they last. Crosswind landings are one of the most challenging precision landings that the Boeing test pilots manage. Faced with an unknown period of duration for sustained winds to complete test conditions, each approach and landing is critical.

“With the crosswind landing, with a large aircraft like the 787, you come in with a sideways crab angle,” said Boeing’s 787-9 Senior Project Pilot, Mike Bryan. “You’ll see us kind of flying sideways, and then we kick that crab out and then land and touchdown straight in the center of the runway.”

Touchdown represents the culmination of weeks of planning, scouting locations and tracking weather conditions. The 787-9 flight test team successfully conducts an efficient and safe crosswind test, bringing the 787-9 one step closer to certification.