Updated at 4:28 p.m. PST with additional details about the 747-8F.
EVERETT, Wash.--With all the recent hoopla about the first flight of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, true aviation buffs may be the only ones aware that the most iconic jumbo jet of all time was also preparing for a crucial step forward.
And on Monday, it happened: the 747-8 Freighter, the next generation of Boeing's 40-year-old flagship jet, took off from Paine Field here, the first flight of the cargo version of what will be the longest commercial plane in the company's history, a very important advancement for the venerable 747 program.
The 747-8 is considered an essential airplane for Boeing, even as it proceeds with the 787 Dreamliner, because the former will be the aviation giant's entry in the more energy-efficient roster of planes that airlines and freight carriers are demanding for long-haul flights with high capacity for passengers and cargo. (The passenger version of the plane is set to arrive about a year after the cargo model.)
And while the passenger version of the 747-8 is perhaps sexier than the freighter that took off at 12:39 p.m. PST on Monday, the 747-8F's first flight is vital evidence that the 747 program is alive and well, and ready to move solidly into the 21st century.
Boeing says that the 747-8 will be quieter and far more fuel-efficient than the existing 747-400 series. It is thought that the passenger version will hold as many as 467 passengers, 51 more than on a current 747-400. The freighter version will offer 21 percent more lower-hold revenue cargo volume than the 747-400 and cost about 8 percent less per seat mile to operate, the company says.
A big part of the plane's improved efficiency comes from an innovative wing design which features double-slotted flaps inboard, and single-slotted flaps outboard, fly-by-wire spoilers and outboard ailerons. The plane also features GEnx-2B67 engines, similar to the GEnx engines that will power the 787 Dreamliner. The engine features a high-pressure compressor that is the most efficient and compact GE has yet produced, Boeing says. The result is said to be high fuel efficiency and low noise.
Boeing said the 747-8F will offer the lowest cargo cost-per-mile in the business. It weighs 154 tons, has a range of 4,390 nautical miles, a height of 63 feet, 6 inches, a wing span of 224 feet, 7 inches, and a length of 250 feet, 2 inches. It can reach Mach 0.85
The Monday takeoff was delayed by nearly three hours by low cloud cover, and the flight was scheduled for about four hours in the air, with a series of initial tests intended to demonstrate the plane's airworthiness.
But as Boeing deputy test program manager Brian Johnson said, Monday's flight was much more "a chief pilot time," as it marked the first opportunity for Capt. Mark Feuerstein, the man in that role in the 747 program, to have "four hours in the cockpit to just get comfortable with" the plane. … Read more