Boeing's latest and largest passenger plane landed at Seattle's Boeing Field at 2:24 Sunday afternoon after a first flight of about 4 and a half hours. It took off for the first time from Everett's Paine Field this morning at 9:58 a.m., flanked by a chase plane on each wing.
The initial test flight of the 747-8 Intercontinental first headed north and west toward the strait of Juan de Fuca.
As the plane rolled down the runway prior to take-off, the initials JFS were clearly visible on the nose landing gear door.
That’s in honor of Joe Sutter (middle name Frederick), the famed chief engineer on the original 747, which first flew in 1969.
Sutter, who turns 90 today, was alongside the runway watching the take-off along with other VIPs, including Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh.
Although the 467-seat jet has sold slowly so far, its first flight sets the stage for what Boeing believes will be a successful sales year. Earlier this month Air China ordered five 747-8s, bringing the total to 38 orders for the passenger model and 76 for a freighter version.
Albaugh told industry executives last week that this year will bring significant momentum for the plane.
Fully half of Boeing’s orders this year are expected to be for widebody jets – including the jumbo jet, Albaugh said at the annual conference of the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading (ISTAT) in Phoenix. By contrast, last year 80 percent of Boeing’s orders were for the small 737 narrowbody jets.
The 747-8 Intercontinental has a list price of $317 million. But large discounts are standard and aircraft valuation firm Avitas estimates that the real market price is about $166 milllion.
It’s the longest airliner in the sky at 250 feet, with a 224-foot wingspan.
The plane has an extended forward fuselage hump with a row of upper-deck windows that stretch all the way back to the wings. The wings are new, as are the engines and the advanced flight deck.
The first freighter version of the 747-8 is due to be delivered this summer. The passenger version is scheduled to complete flight tests and be certified and delivered by year-end.
In flight tests of the freighter model, some problems emerged: barely perceptible vibration at the wingtips and in a movable control surface on the wing during extreme flight conditions.
747-8 deputy test program manager Brian Johnson said Sunday that because the upper deck of the passenger jet is so much longer than the cargo version, the plane is structurally and aerodynamically different. So the vibration problem that occurred on the freighter version may or may not materialize.
“We need to get it up in the air and fly it to see,” he said.
As for the freighter version’s vibration, he said, “we’re essentially done with that.”
Todd Zarfos, 747-8 engineering vice president, said earlier that Boeing has devised and tested software solutions, but these must still be proved to the Federal Aviation Administration in flight tests over the next couple months.
Eleven of the 747-8 freighters were parked behind the Intercontinental, including the first one scheduled to be delivered, which will go to Cargolux.
The plane that took off Sunday will be the first passenger model delivered. Industry buzz suggests it will go to the government of Kuwait, one of two VIP versions of the jet the Kuwaitis have ordered.
VIP customers typically take their airplanes to outside designers to be fitted with lavish customized interiors, at an added cost that can easily top $20 million.
On this maiden trip, however, the jet was prepped not for royal luxury but for serious flight testing.
Inside, orange wiring snakes along the floor to racks of electronic boxes and computers in the center of what will be the passenger cabin. The cavernous interior space is otherwise largely empty except for dozens of squat, black water barrels fore and aft, connected by tubes.
During the upcoming flight tests, water that serves as ballast will be pumped around these barrels to simulate various loads.
A second test plane will debut next month. About 600 hours of flight tests are planned.