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Inaugural Flight of the B787

NOTE: This article was originally written for the maiden flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in December 2009. I’ve republished it here since the Dreamliner has been become one of the mainstream aircraft for long haul passenger flights.



Original date: December 2009

A few short years ago, the Airbus A380 was the object of an extraordinary amount of excitement. During its years of development the A380 was the talk of the industry. I recall my first sighting of the whale-like A380. It appeared to float in the sky as it made its first landing at Chicago O’Hare. A few short months afterwards, I watched as the A380 landed in Sydney, Australia after completing the first commercial flight from Singapore. Here’s a short story about the first A380 commercial flight. In both cases, I was a lucky camper to be able to capture these moments on digital film.

Fast forward a few years and the object of excitement is changed. On Monday December 14th (2009) I arrive at the office in Grand Rapids about 7AM and open an email message telling me that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is about to make its first flight the next day from Paine Field near Seattle, Washington. During preceding months I had been planning to witness this event, but its date was postponed several times. To put it mildly, I am totally unprepared for Tuesday’s event and start to panic.



Using the computer, I check for flights from Grand Rapids to Seattle for later in the day. I spot a $520 fare on United Airlines. However, without additional verbal confirmation of the first 787 flight I decide to wait to book the United flight. Owing to the three hour time zone difference between GRR and SEA, I have to wait until noon to confirm that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is indeed scheduled to fly on Tuesday at 10AM, weather permitting.

Back to airline reservations. Wouldn’t you know that the earlier $520 fare is long gone leaving me with a much more expensive $950 flight. Oh well, that’s the cost of procrastination. Next I make hotel and car reservations and a call to my wife to let her know of my sudden excursion to Seattle. By 1PM I head home to pack my bags and photo equipment to arrive at the airport by 3PM.

Travel from Grand Rapids to Seattle by way of Denver is uneventful and I arrive about 8PM. The one hour drive from Seatac Airport in Seattle to the hotel near Paine Field is in heavy rain. Owing to my late arrival, I have to settle for some elegant fast food for dinner. Back at the hotel as I set my alarm for 7AM, I am wondering if the rain will interfere with tomorrow’s flight.

Bzzzzzzzz! Time to awaken. I draw back the window shades and see that it’s dark, cloudy and drizzly ourdoors. I quickly dress, prepare my cameras and drive to the nearby Future of Flight Museum that sits at the north end of Paine Field. There Mary Brueggeman hurriedly prepares me a parking pass and entry ticket to rooftop viewing area that overlooks the airport. Inside of the museum things are setup for this special “787 First Flight Event“, complete with champagne, continental breakfast and informative Boeing 787 Dreamliner displays.

I take a quick trip up to the rooftop to determine the best spot from which to photograph the takeoff. Once outdoors, I can feel the cold drizzle and strong breeze. I’m still wondering if the flight will take place. Although it’s still quite dark, the 787 is sitting next to a lighted building across the field about a half mile away. At 7:45 there are only a handful of others outdoors, mostly from local television stations doing their broadcasts of the event. Satisfied that I’ll have a good shooting location on the roof, I head back inside to grab some hot coffee and breakfast pastry.

By 8:30, the museum is a beehive of activity with about two hundred guests. You can hear the excitement in their voices. I bundle my coat and head outside again, this time to stake out my shooting position. By now three dozen others have already done the same. Across the field, we can see hundreds of Boeing employees streaming along the tarmac parallel the the taxiway. They too are here to see their new “baby” make its first flight.

After standing outside where it’s a damp 40-degrees for almost an hour, my feet and hands are cold. As the clock draws closer to 10AM, the rooftop viewing area is now jammed with about 400 onlookers with cameras staring at the motionless Dreamliner across the field. The strobe lights atop the aircraft have been flashing, but the aircraft shows no movement at all. Although it’s a half-mile away, I can hear its engines spool up. The 787 is finally moving and the crowd lets out a collective cheer. The sleek blue and silver aircraft follows a pilot card to runway 14R and then slowly parades 6000 feet along the taxiway as if it strutting its stuff for the Boeing employees and executives. Next it taxis to the far end of the airport just off of runway 34L. It sits there for a few minutes and then taxis into position on the runway. Everyone is now anxiously anticipating the takeoff.

Approaching from the south I see two small, low flying jet aircraft heading directly for runway 34L. These are the chase planes. Everyone knows that it’s now show time. Like a perfectly co-ordinated dance, the 787 engines spool up and the aircraft is finally rushing down the runway with the chase planes appearing to hang just overhead. The timing of the chase planes is exacting. The guests are now cheering loudly as the 787 races forward. At about the 5000 foot marker, the nose wheel comes off the ground. A few seconds go by and finally it’s airborne. The cheers are even louder now with lots of applause.

As it flies passes us, the Dreamliner is only a two hundred feet off the ground. The myriad of camera shutters are still snapping away and heads are turning to follow its path. As it slowly departs to the north, you can clearly see the distinctive bow of its wings as if they’re flexing. What a great looking aircraft.

Congratulations to all of the Boeing employees and subcontractors who have made it happen.

Click on any of the photos to enlarge

Boeing workers lined up on the tarmac

following the pilot car

a head on shot of the 787

crossing over runway 16R

first the nose wheel is off the runway

now all three wheels are off ground – it’s flying

the 787 is now airborne

ready for the climb

The Dreamliner passes by at 200ft

You can see wings bow on the Dreamliner

 

 

Written by Arnie Lee