Boeing 787 completes anticipated test flight

The New York TimesFebruary 10, 2013 

A Boeing 787 test plane flew for more than two hours Saturday to gather information about the problems with the batteries that led to a worldwide grounding of the new jets more than three weeks ago.

The flight was the first since the Federal Aviation Administration gave Boeing permission Thursday to conduct in-flight tests. Federal investigators and the company are trying to determine what caused one of the new lithium ion batteries to catch fire and how to fix the problems.

The plane took off from Boeing Field in Seattle heading mostly east and then looped around to the south before flying back past the airport. According to flight-tracking website FlightAware, the aircraft flew for 1,131 miles, more than the 919 miles planned. It landed at 2:51 p.m.

Marc Birtel, a Boeing spokesman, said the flight was conducted to monitor the performance of the plane’s batteries. He said the crew, which included 13 pilots and test personnel, said the flight was uneventful.

He said special equipment let the crew check status messages involving the batteries and their chargers, as well as data about battery temperature and voltage.

Each 787 has two of the 63-pound blue power bricks — one near the front to provide power to the cockpit if the engines stop, and one near the back to start up the auxiliary power unit, which is essentially a backup generator.

The jet reached 36,000 feet, with a speed range of 435 to 626 mph, according to FlightAware.

All 50 of the 787s delivered so far were grounded after a battery on one of the jets caught fire at a Boston airport on Jan. 7 and another jet made an emergency landing in Japan with smoke coming from the battery.

The new 787s are the most technically advanced commercial airplanes, and Boeing has a lot riding on their success. Half the planes’ structural parts are made of lightweight carbon composites to save fuel.

Boeing also decided to switch from conventional nickel cadmium batteries to the lighter lithium ion ones. But they are more volatile, and federal investigators said Thursday that Boeing had underestimated the risks.

The FAA has set strict operating conditions on the test flights. The flights are expected to resume early this week, Birtel said.

Battery experts have said it could take weeks for Boeing to fix the problems.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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