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Boeing Dreamliner finally takes to the skies

The 787 passenger jet, more than two years behind schedule, promises to burn less fuel and last longer than current aircraft.

December 16, 2009|By W.J. Hennigan

At long last, Boeing Co.'s 787 passenger jet took to the skies Tuesday, making its maiden test flight and marking a major milestone in commercial aviation.

Thousands of Boeing workers and journalists were on hand at Paine Field just north of Seattle to witness the takeoff of the Dreamliner, a 250-seat jetliner that promises to burn less fuel and last longer than other aircraft flying today.

"This was a big step for Boeing," said aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia of Teal Group Corp. "The take-off was mundane and routine, which is what you want it to be."

The much anticipated plane is more than two years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget, making Tuesday's historic three-hour flight all the more significant.

Airlines have ordered 840 Dreamliners valued at about $140 billion, making it the fastest-selling new commercial jetliner in history.

With nine months of flight tests scheduled, passengers aren't likely to begin flying in a Dreamliner until late next year, when Boeing expects to deliver the first production aircraft to Japan's All Nippon Airways.

In a rare move, Boeing webcast the entire test flight in real time, including a post-flight news conference with the pilots. In the past, a plane's first test flight was typically a private affair in case something went wrong.

Aboulafia said he was impressed with the webcast, which included voices of air traffic control, an online flight tracker and even a commentator to add a little flavor to the streaming video.

The plane lifted off about 35 miles north of Seattle around 10:30 a.m. It had rained earlier in the day, and there were some concerns that the flight would be delayed, said Scott Hamilton, an aviation industry consultant in Issaquah, Wash.

In the end though, the event went on without a hitch, he said. The plane landed safely about three hours later.

"It's great to see the birth of a baby," Hamilton said. "This is history for Boeing, and it went extremely well. They really know how to put on a great show."

william.hennigan @latimes.com

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