The 747-8's maiden flight starts the campaign to obtain the federal approval that will allow the company to deliver the jet to customers this year.
But Boeing already has a jet, the 787 Dreamliner, undergoing flight tests. And the company says it will need to fly the six test 787s around the clock to certify and deliver that aircraft late this year, more than two years behind schedule.
Boeing's 747-8 Freighter isn't an all-new airplane like the 787. Therefore, Boeing has a little less to do to show the Federal Aviation Administration that its jumbo jet is safe for commercial flight.
The company will use three aircraft for the 747 flight tests. The program will be based out of Moses Lake, rather than Seattle, where Boeing usually runs its test programs. That's because the 787 program is already using Seattle's Boeing Field.
On a tour of the first two 747-8s in January, Mo Yahyavi, vice president of the 747 program, said he wasn't concerned that the company is testing two different jets at the same time.
For the latest 747 model, engineers will examine the new engines to determine what role they play in what's expected to be a significant reduction in fuel consumption.
Another test airplane will allow Boeing to see how the 747-8 performs when weight shifts to the worst center of gravity for the aircraft, said Andy Hammer, 747 chief flight test engineer.
A second plane is equipped with a system of barrels and tubing. Flight test engineers can shift water from barrel to barrel to simulate the potential movement of cargo inside the freighter.
The issue of weight is always a sensitive one around a new aircraft. The first several new airplanes tend to be heavier than envisioned, and the 747-8 Freighter program is no exception.
“We have a very aggressive weight reduction program,” Yahyavi said, noting that much of the weight will be cut through a redesign.
Weight isn't so severe an issue to prevent Boeing from finding customers for its 747-8 test airplanes. All three have already been sold to customers, Yahyavi said.
Boeing will refurbish the jets before delivering them.
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