All photos courtesy of Boeing
Boeing's enlarged version of their iconic widebody, the 747-8I, took to the skies on March 20th at exactly the time that Boeing said it would fly. The test flight crew of Mark Feuerstein and Paul Stemer took it up for a four plus hour test flight which exceeded all expectations and allowed Boeing to proceed with test that normally would wait until well after first flight like testing stability and control conditions. The 747-8I that flew, RC001, landed at a little at 2 pm local time at Boeing Field where the two plane test flight fleet will be based. RC021, the next 747-8I to fly is already starting preparation for ground testing and has already had its first APU start at the Everett fuel dock. The 747-8I test program will take about 600 flight hours and should be done in about 8 to 9 months at the outside. Boeing is expecting to deliver the first couple at the end of the year after the aircraft is certified. Meanwhile the 747-8F test program continues apace as that program continues to tick off more certification milestones as it aims for certification and delivery in about 3 to 4 months.
787 program is now aiming for first delivery for late July to ANA, according to Flightblogger, which is within Boeing's delivery guidance but is much earlier than expected and may reflect the conservative estimates that Boeing had put out when they announced the latest delivery schedule.
Test flight testing pace has slowed since the January-February time frame indicating that much of the certification testing is already complete and Boeing is ready to move into the final phase of flight test: functionality and reliability testing and ETOPs flight tests. It is expected that this testing should start around May and conclude around mid July. The Trent powered 787s have completed 85% of the certification test points that it needs to achieve while the GEnx equipped 787s are about 70% complete with their certification testing.
Additionally, ZA004 is now expected to switch out it's Trent-1000 "A" package engines for the improved package "B" engines around the first week on April. All the while, Boeing will continue to churn out 787s in Everett. Already Boeing is working on airplane 36 and will start on airplane 37 sometime tomorrow. Boeing is well on it's way to implementing the change incorporation program with many of the 787s at Everett already going through the re-work process in order to be in compliance with the expected FAA type certification expected in July. Boeing is expecting to deliver the first 787 to ANA in July followed by JAL and Air India in October and China Southern probably around the November-December time frame. All in all Boeing will probably deliver about 20 787s this year and I expect that most of those delivered will be the the aircraft requiring less rework though I would think that the earlier build 787s all should be delivered by around February of 2012 at the latest.
A big unknown that has crept into Boeing's plans is the effects of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan will have on not just 787 production but indeed on the production of all Boeing jets. Boeing uses the just in time method of operations to keep inventories (and thus costs) low. However with this potential disruption caused by the earthquake, tsunami and problems at the Fukushima nuclear plant Boeing has admitted that they may have just a few weeks of parts for their airplane programs. For the 787, the major tier 1 suppliers are in Nagoya which is south of the affected zone. However other minor suppliers are situated in the areas that were hit. As it stands Boeing is still saying that as of right now, 787 production is unaffected but long term we will have to watch. Boeing is planning to increase production to 2.5 airplanes per month later this summer (June according to Flightblogger) and with the start of production at Charleston in July will go higher still meaning that the Japanese suppliers will be needed to make sure they have the infrastructure and electrical needs in order to meet the higher output milestones this summer.
Speaking of Charleston, that plant is practically done and I think they may start production on time in July. They are going to be done with the interiors production facility in December and should be in a great position to contribute to the 787 production increase to 10/month.