EVERETT, Wash. - Boeing pilots taxied the aerospace giant's new 787 jetliner down a runway at low and high speeds and simulated a rejected takeoff, lifting the much anticipated plane's nose off the ground, as the last tests were performed before the jet's first flight.
(Editor's note: KING 5 News plans to air the first flight of the 787 live on KING 5 and on KING5.com).
The original plan was to fly the very first 787 in the last half of 2007. Finally, two years later, that's about to happen.
If all goes according to schedule, at 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Dreamliner heads skyward. That's if the weather doesn't interfere.
What could cause a delay? First, visibility. Boeing's pilots want to be able to see about 5 miles in any direction.
A low cloud ceiling could also force a delay, as could a lot of standing water on the runway.
If there is a delay, it could be brief, or force the flight to Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, but that seems unlikely.
Tuesday's test will be flown by Chief 787 Pilot Mike Carriker and Capt. Randy Neville. They are given a lot of discretion, not only when to take off but where they'll take the plane during its first tests.
The first flight is scheduled to last about 5 hours, landing at Seattle's Boeing Field. But they could take their airplane to different zones where Boeing conducts a lot of its test flying, away from populated Puget Sound.
One of those locations includes Tatoosh Island at the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula and along the Washington coast.
Another zone is over unpopulated areas of Eastern Washington.
"Our pilots are spending all the time in the simulator practicing," Boeing's chief test pilot Frank Santoni said as the plane was being readied for a test six months ago. That test was put on hold after engineers discovered a weak series of joints in the wing-to-body joints. That problem is now fixed.
Tomorrow's testing will be quite tame. There are no plans to stall the jet. The plane will be flown by hand, autopilots are not expected to be used. The plane will fly with its landing gear down most if not all the time.
Only the pilots will be on board, but special instruments will feed data to the ground electronically. Those instruments and engineers on the ground will keep tabs on the structural stresses the plane will experience even under these mile-flying conditions.
But after tomorrow, the flight test program will ramp up quickly, slated to complete over 3,000 hours of flight testing split between six Dreamliners. These tests will include stalls, where the plane is slowed down to the point where it starts falling. This test can put a lot of stress on the plane's tail.
Dreamliners will have to endure tests where their tails are dragged along the ground during takeoff, land in severe cross-winds, take off on one engine, and endure extreme cold and extreme heat.
But there's also another series of ground tests that include driving the plane's wheels through troughs of water to make sure that water doesn't get splashed into the engines in large enough quantities to stop the engines during a takeoff. The plane's brakes will be slammed on at high speed.
The bottom line is to make sure the 787 is safe for you to fly on and to make sure that even in the toughest conditions the plane will come through intact, no matter what weather and the airlines might throw at it.