A fiery red and orange 747-8 passenger plane lifted off at 9:59 Sunday morning from Everett's Paine Field into chilly but clear skies on its first flight. The latest version of Boeing's iconic 747 flew for nearly four and a half hours before landing at Boeing Field in Seattle.
"It was absolutely gorgeous," said Elizabeth Lund, vice president of the 747 program.
Boeing's new 747 jumbo jet, called the Intercontinental, is the company's largest plane and will seat up to 467 passengers. Boeing added nearly 20 feet to the Intercontinental, allowing the 747-8 to seat 51 more passengers than its predecessor, the 747-400. However, the 747-8 is smaller than its closest competitor, Airbus' A380 superjumbo jet.
The 747-8, "it flies farther, it flies faster and it flies more economically," Lund said. "It really is a fabulous airplane."
Boeing paid tribute to Joe Sutter, the chief engineer of Boeing's original 747 jumbo jet, by painting the doors of the nose landing gear with Sutter's initials. The Sunday flight was an early birthday gift to Sutter, who turns 90 today.
"The fellas are trying to make me feel like a part of the team," Sutter said, during Boeing's Web cast coverage of the landing. "It makes me feel real good."
In its marketing of the 747-8 Intercontinental, Boeing has called the plane "Incredible again" in reference to Sutter and his co-workers who built the first 747 and were dubbed The Incredibles. That original 747 brought Boeing to Everett more than 40 years ago.
Boeing plans to deliver the first 747-8 passenger plane later this year to a VIP customer. The first flight kicks off the 747-8 Intercontinental's flight test program, which will require 600 hours of testing.
"The airplane was ready; the weather was ready; it just went perfectly," said Mark Feuerstein, chief pilot for the 747-8, at a press conference after the Intercontinental landed.
The company could fly its 747-8 passenger plane again later this week, Feuerstein said. A second 747-8 passenger plane will join flight testing in the next few weeks.
Boeing already is flight testing the freighter version of the 747-8 and hopes to deliver the first of that airplane mid-2011.
The Intercontinental's flight test program gains some advantages from flight testing already done on the 747-8 Freighter, which took its first flight in February 2010. The freighter test program has made more than 800 flights, Feuerstein said.
"Obviously we've benefited from almost a year of work," he said.
While hundreds of Boeing employees, journalists and onlookers waited for the 747-8's flight Sunday morning, the crowd was treated to several looks at its new 787 Dreamliner. One of the 787 test planes did several passes over Paine Field.
Boeing incorporated some of the technology of its latest widebody jet, the 787, in its newest version of its 40-year-old jumbo jet. To distinguish the Intercontinental from the 747s that have come before it, Boeing painted its Intercontinental red and orange, colors of the sunrise. Company executives say the color scheme symbolizes vibrance and success.
Boeing executives hope the Intercontinental's first flight and delivery later this year will usher in more success for the program. The company has won 38 orders for its 747-8 passenger plane, including an order from Air China that still needs government approval.
"2011 truly is a great year and it is the year of the 747," Lund said.
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