By David Wren / The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Boeing Co.’s pilots took the aerospace giant’s first 787-10 out for its initial test flight Friday, putting the largest member of the Dreamliner family through its paces during a nearly five-hour trek through the skies of South Carolina.
“We had a great flight today, this is a really great airplane,” said Tim Berg, the chief pilot for Boeing’s Dreamliner program. Berg and co-pilot Mike Bryan took the 787-10 to 20,000 feet and hit a top speed of 288 miles per hour during an excursion that started and ended at Charleston International Airport.
“Mike and I just enjoyed the whole day,” Berg said, adding the plane “performed exactly like we thought it would.”
Between 5,000 and 6,000 Boeing South Carolina employees watched the takeoff Friday. It marked the first time a Boeing plane has made its debut flight outside of the Seattle area.
Boeing will have three of the twin-aisle 787-10s in the test and certification program that is expected to last about a year. The second 787-10 is sitting on the flight line at Boeing’s North Charleston campus and the third is in final assembly. Two of the planes, including the one that flew Friday, will have Rolls Royce engines while the third will have engines built by General Electric.
Further flight testing will be conducted in Seattle, with the 787-10 that debuted Friday scheduled to head to the West Coast late next week. On Friday, Berg and Bryan went through a roughly 50-page checklist of items they wanted to test while in flight.
“We pushed our plan a little bit because we took off a little early to get more testing done, and the weather cooperated,” Berg said.
Weather had been a concern early on, with thunderstorms predicted for early in the day. But takeoff occurred without a hitch at 9:38 a.m., as overcast skies never threatened to scuttle the debut, and the plane made a perfect touchdown at 2:35 p.m.
“It was fantastic,” Bryan said of the flight.
Boeing’s North Charleston campus will be the exclusive assembly site for the 787-10, because the plane’s mid-body is too large to fit into the modified 747s — called Dreamlifters — that transport plane sections between the local campus and a second Dreamliner facility in Everett. The North Charleston campus also builds the program’s 787-8, the smallest member of the family of planes, and the mid-size 787-9.
“Not only does this make Boeing’s South Carolina campus the only site which is home to all three 787 models, it demonstrates that the site has the production flexibility to meet demand from customers,” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at London-based Strategic Aero Research.
Ahmad said he expects there will be “a revival in interest from other carriers” once the 787-10 enters service in the first half of 2018. Airlines will “look to both lock in positions for future deliveries and also as replacements for aging (Airbus) A330s, which are long in the tooth across the world,” he said.
Singapore Airlines will be the first recipient of Boeing’s 787-10 in the first half of 2018. The airline has committed to buying 49 of the jets. United Airlines will be the first U.S. customer to get a 787-10, to be delivered during the second half of next year.
Ahmad said he expects the plane to have “a boring but straightforward flight test program, thanks in large part to Boeing’s experience garnered from the 787-8 and 787-9 programs.”
To date, Boeing has orders for 149 Dash-10s from nine buyers.
At 224 feet in length, the 787-10 has enough capacity to seat 330 passengers. It is a simple stretch of the Dreamliner’s best-selling 787-9 model, and the two airplanes have 95 percent commonality.
“We had a strategy of making the Dash-10 as common as possible with the Dash-9, and the reason was to make for a very produceable airplane and a low-risk development program. I think we nailed it,” said Ken Sanger, Boeing’s vice president and general manager of 787 airplane development.
Boeing markets the 787-10 as having 25 percent better fuel efficiency and lower emissions than the airplanes it will replace.
It is the most expensive Dreamliner at a list price of $312.8 million following a recent 2.2 percent price increase. Boeing is counting on sales of the more expensive wide-body to help chip away at the Dreamliner program’s roughly $27 billion in deferred production costs.
“Boeing’s challenge going forward will be to ensure that future pricing, on the back of its recent upward price changes, allows for better margins to eat into its deferred production costs,” Ahmad said.
Work on the first 787-10 began off International Boulevard last year, and the first plane left the final assembly plant in January. It is comprised of more than 2.3 million parts made around the world and is capable of flying long-range routes that previously weren’t possible. The planes in the Dreamliner family currently fly 560 routes worldwide.
All told, there have been 1,207 orders for Dreamliners, with the 787-9 accounting for more than half of them.
Boeing, which chose North Charleston for its second Dreamliner facility in 2009, is one of the area’s largest employers, with more than 7,500 workers.