In two days the annual Paris Air Show opens at Le Bourget Airport just outside the French capital. Aviation geeks of all stripes know the event is the biggest and best air show in the world, with just about every airplane you can imagine. And as it has always done, Boeing will be making the flight from Seattle to Paris to show off its newest aircraft, like the 747-8 and the 787 Dreamliner. There, the company will face off with rival Airbus and a number of smaller manufacturers like Bombardier and Embraer.
As part of his Road Trip 2011 CNET's Daniel Terdiman will be on site in Paris early next week to bring you the sights of the show. As a confirmed aviation geek, I'm insanely jealous, much like I envied his trip to the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany, last week. Yet, Daniel's European trip also offered me the opportunity to attend Boeing's Paris Air Show Preview in Seattle earlier this month.
Boeing invited journalists to two days of briefings and tours at the company's factories in Everett and Renton, Wash. The tours showed the production lines for the company's 747, 737, 777, 767, and 787 aircraft (I even got to go inside a 747-8 under construction), while the briefings offered an advance scoop on the company's news for the coming week. Much of the information concerns aircraft production rates, delivery schedules, and airliner orders--Boeing is not expected to announce any new aircraft in Paris--but I'll offer a few highlights here. And of course, Daniel will have more insights after the show starts.
After more than three years of delays, Boeing's groundbreaking aircraft will finally be delivered to launch-customer All Nippon Airways in the third quarter of this year. The 787's composite materials, along with a sharper nose and curved, upswept wings, promise greater fuel efficiency, quieter engines, and longer range. It first took to the air in December 2009 and has been performing flight testing and pilot training in the subsequent months.
Currently, 10 test aircraft are undergoing "functionality and reliability" training, which is designed to simulate real-world commercial passenger use. Just as an airline would, Boeing conducts a series of flights within hours of each other. The company also is conducting longer-range "ETOPS" tests (extended twin engine operations) to ensure that the aircraft has enough time and fuel to divert to an airport if one of the engines needs to be shut down. Boeing says it has completed most of the tests necessary for certification by the Federal Aviation Administration. After everything is done, the FAA will then inspect the materials and decide whether to certify the 787 for passenger flights.
The company's newest member of the iconic 747 family made its first flight last March after an official unveiling weeks earlier. The 747-8 also is undergoing functional and reliability testing with five 747-8 Freighter models and two 747-8 Intercontinental passenger versions.
So far, Boeing has built a total of 20 aircraft and has completed more than 30 percent of flight tests on the Intercontinental model and more than 96 percent of flight tests on the Freighter. Earlier tests revealed some flutter and wing vibration, but the company says those issues have been addressed. Boeing has announced 114 orders, with the first delivery to launch-customer Lufthansa set for later this year.
Of course, I'm guessing you're really here to peruse the photo galleries from the factory tours (indeed, putting the galleries together was my main reason for being in Seattle). So, by all means, please take a look.