Boeing’s Dreamliner, ‘Fifi’ unite

July 29, 2011

Boeing's first 787 Dreamliner—the largest Experimental aircraft at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis.—got a warm reception from the airshow crowd on July 29.

The futuristic, highly efficient passenger airliner orbited the airport, and then made a low pass before landing and taxiing to a crowd of several thousand people that awaited at the center of the ramp. There, it parked tail-to-tail with a Boeing of another generation, Fifi, the world's only flying B-29 of World War II fame.

The 787 is one of more than a half-dozen twinjets currently flying in an FAA certification program that is expected to end in the next month. The often-delayed aircraft is years behind schedule from a production standpoint, but aviation fans greeted it with enthusiasm and lined up for tours.

The inside of the test aircraft is loaded with data-collecting computers, and its floor is entwined in wires. Large metal cylinders used to pump water fore and aft for center-of-gravity tests also gave the interior a laboratory look. More than 40 Boeing employees made the three-hour flight from Seattle to attend AirVenture, leaving about 4 a.m. from the West Coast.

"It was a beautiful flight out at 39,000 feet and Mach .85," said Tony Pence, Boeing's test director for the 787 program. "It couldn't have gone more smoothly."

The airplane burned about 20 percent less fuel than a similar-sized Boeing 767, and it has far greater range.

Michael Sinnett, Boeing's chief project engineer, said passengers will appreciate two more features, one obvious and one subtle. The obvious one is tall picture windows to provide passengers a far greater view of the world outside. The invisible one is cabin pressurization. Instead of cabin altitudes of 8,000 feet as on today's airliners, the Dreamliner lowers it to 6,000 feet—a feature that will reduce fatigue on long trips.

"We fly this airplane all day long at 43,000 feet with a 6,000-foot cabin," Sinett said. "Passengers are going to like that change."

Several thousand airshow visitors were expected to tour the 787 before it is scheduled to leave at the end of the day.