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A Closer Look: First Flight of the Boeing 787

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Mike Carriker and Randy Neville were alone on the flight deck of ZA001 when the air stairs were retracted at 10 minutes past 10 on Tuesday, December 15.

The two men read through their final pre-taxi items on the electronic checklist. 

"Anti-Ice?" asked Neville.
"On," replied Carriker. 
"Recall?" 
"Checked" 
"Autobrake?"
"RTO."
"Flight Controls?"
"Checked."
"Ground equipment?"
"Clear."

ZA001 was ready to taxi. 

"Boeing 001 Heavy Experimental, ground, taxi runway 16R," called Paine Ground.

Carriker eased the throttles forward and the twin Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines responded with a slow roll forward out of stall 105, where ZA001 had been parked since Saturday morning's high speed taxi tests. ZA001 turned left and headed toward the north gate of the Boeing flight line. Carriker and Neville ran through the Before Takeoff checklist, setting the aircraft's flaps to 20.

ZA001 taxied down runway 16R past the crowd of thousands watching along either side of the 9010-foot runway. The slowly taxiing 787 turned off of the runway at taxiway A6 before proceeding further on alpha southbound past the Paine Field Fire Station.

ZA001 was cleared for takeoff before it took to runway 34L as it waited for the chase planes to position for the aircraft's takeoff roll. 

The twin Lockheed T-33 overflew 34L as ZA001 positioned short of 34L.

The twin-engine airliner moved into position on 34L and waited as the engines idled over the numbers of runway. The aircraft had spent 944 days in final assembly in Everett; worked, reworked, rebuilt, redesigned and reinforced. All that was passed now, it was finally time to fly.
"09X is coming up abeam you on the left downwind for the overhead."
"TM's a go 001, you're cleared for takeoff."
"Okay, we'll tell the chase."
"Whenever you want to go you can do the brake and we can report on downwind," said the chase planes.
"Okay TM, we've been cleared to roll we're just waiting for [chase's] call," said Carriker.
"TM's ready."
"Be there in about three minutes," called chase.

ZA001 was instructed to squawk 4717.

"Okay, TM, we're on chase's call," said Carriker.

The twin T-33s were on a mile final approach to runway 34L, their gear down and locked, noses angled up for the slow speed approach to escort ZA001 to the sky. 

The call came ten seconds later: "Ready, ready, now."

Carriker pushed the throttle levers forward as the engines spooled automatically to the De-Rate-1 position on the EICAS. ZA001's nose moved right for a moment as ZA001 began to accelerate, the rudder flipped left to keep the nose on the centerline. The Trent 1000s responded accordingly, kicking up a spray behind the quickly accelerating 390,000-lb 787. Neville kept a close watch on the airspeed watching for the approximately 136 kt V1 speed, the point before which ZA001 could safely stop on 34L, beyond that, the aircraft was committed to flying.

With the T-33s now aligned at the quickly rising wing tips, the aircraft accelerated to (Vr) rotation speed of 140 kts. Carriker eased the the yoke back with the expected 28 lbs of back pressure, and ZA001's nosewheel left the pavement. The eight main landing gear wheels followed moments later as the aircraft passed the safe to fly V2 speed, about 145 kts. The 787 was airborne.

"Hot diggity dang, TM, it works!" Carriker reported in the telemetry frequency to the ground. 

"Boeing 001 heavy turn right your discretion, contact seattle center 130.5," said Paine Tower.
"Going to Seattle Center, thank you much, tower," Neville replied.

ZA001 maintained a shallow climb to about 1,500 feet at about 157 kts indicated. The aircraft climbed through 1800 feet over Possession Sound.

"Okay, chase is pushing to go level at about 1500 feet," said Carriker.

Within three minutes of takeoff, Carriker banked ZA001 to the left slightly to the south of Lake Goodwin taking the aircraft on a course west across Camano Island starting a 55 nm track of straight flight. 

As the aircraft accelerated toward 170 knots, the chase plane noted that ZA001's inboard spoilers were deployed about "an inch or two". 

"It's 'cause we're gear down in the landing configuration," replied Carriker.

ZA001 crossed 5000 feet just north of Holmes Harbor as Carriker sought to get the aircraft to better weather.

The chase planes reported that the aircraft was in a symmetrical configuration, an important all-clear for any first flight.

"Hey TM, it flies pretty dang good," Carriker reported. "I've got bank angle under control, I certainly have heading under control, and I've got velocity along the vector under control. Auto throttle worked on the takeoff, set the thrust right on them and we're VNAV and vertical speed on the way up, autoflight," he added.

Carriker continued reporting aircraft status: "[Engine anti-ice] is on, the vibration levels, seem to be, I mean with flaps 20 and [landing configuration] gear down the vibration levels seem to be okay, the cabin noise is fine, it's warm in here, the packs are working okay."

ZA001 climbed out of the overcast around 7000 feet to the east of Port Townsend. 
It had been only minutes since take off, but Carriker had a moment to stop and see what was off his left side: "I wish you were here bud, We just popped through the clouds, there's the Straits of San Juan there's the Olympics snow covered framed in the seven-eighty-seven's front left window."

"That image will be in my mind for the rest of my life," Carrker later remarked.

ZA001 continued to climb through 10,000 feet as it flew over Port Townsend. The aircraft was photographed as it flew from Fort Flagler on one end to the city of Port Townsend on the other, Jefferson County airport was visible out the left window of ZA001 as it climbed.

Passing 11,200, the overcast skies provided a murky backdrop as ZA001 flew over Sequim on the southern coast of the strait. Dreamliner One was spotted from the ground with chase planes in pursuit as it transited from east to west.

Carriker reported that "the straits are great. Looks like we've got, we can go up to at least 11 or 12,000 feet, I think we'll proceed up this way until we drop TM and then we'll come back inbound for then first block."

"Copy that, and let us know when you want to put the cone out at 180 [kts]," called TM.

The nearly three-hour and five-minute flight encountered two minor, and ultimately inconsequential, technical issues.

As ZA001 approached 180 kts, Neville left his seat on the flight deck and headed for the rear of the cabin to manually extend the trailing cone to measure static pressure, as nether automatic locations on the flight deck and the rear of the aircraft were cooperating during the flight. 

The second came as ZA001 continued its westbound track:
"001, TM."
"Go Ahead," replied Carriker.
"We show both ice detectors failed, so you'll need to be manual operation for wing and engine anti-ice."

Carriker was ahead of the ground, "Yeah, ha, thanks, I already read that checklist."

Little more than six miles after passing Port Angeles off the coast, ZA001 began climbing from 11,200 to 12,200 feet.

ZA001 made its next turn just north of the east end of Lake Crescent to put the aircraft heading east on a slightly curved track of 64 nm, that was a 55nm point directly in front of the aircraft.

Neville, with instruction from the ground, ultimately had to cycle the circuit breakers on the system to extend the cone. ZA001 had departed Paine Field with the primary flight deck system inoperable.

ZA001 crossed to the south of Whidbey Island at 12,600 feet, Neville conducted another set of systems checks on the engines. Neville reported the pack temperatures, generator loads, fuel quantities, fuel system status, fuel flow, cabin altitude, engine oil quantities and temperatures, and turbine pressure ratio on the Trent 1000 engines.

The aircraft turned left and made a U-turn after passing Whidbey Island, and flew directly over Oak Harbor, where ZA001 reached its maximum altitude of 13,200 feet during the flight at around 11:11 AM. ZA001 proceeded on a 43 nm track WSW across the Strait before turning east again near Port Angeles.

About five miles north east of Dungess Bay, ZA001 had descended down to 11,200 feet and turned north east toward Rosario Strait. The aircraft continued to descend down to 10,900 as the aircraft passed to the south east of Lopez Island a few minutes after 11:30 around when ZA001 swung its landing gear in flight.

"We ultimately got to flaps 30 and cycled the landing gear, that was an important point.  Brought the gear up and breathed a big sigh of relief when we brought the gear down, and it came down properly. Then we checked out flaps 30, which is our landing configuration," said Neville during the post-flight press conference.

The aircraft flew to the south of Anacortes before making its first right turn during about 1-hour 10-minutes into the flight. While it is not specifically known why ZA001 spent its first 70 minutes making left turns only, one can surmise that with Carriker flying in the left seat, his visibility was maximized during left turns. This is the same reason why most airport traffic patterns are left turns.

ZA001 crossed Fidalgo Island south of Anacortes on a 16 nm track, then turned north toward Lopez Island before crossing northwest again toward Guemes Island, followed by a figure-eight turn as the aircraft crossed over I-5 inland pointing the 787 south west to pass over Anacortes for the third and final time of the flight just after noon.

Carriker and Neville had hoped to reach 15,000 feet on this first flight, but the overcast skies stifled the climb, forcing ZA001 lower and lower over the straits.

"The only thing that stopped us today was the descending cloud deck over the Straits of San Juan de Fuca," said Carriker following the first flight.

After noon, the aircraft was already flying at roughly 8,400 feet and continued to descend as the weather worsened over Western Washington. The decision was made to fly west instead of east towards Idaho, after a T-38 flew weather reconnaissance over the planned track and determined that the poor weather conditions were unacceptable for ZA001.

ZA001's track began reflecting quickly falling ceilings as the aircraft descended to around 5,000 feet by 12:45. However, the lower flight path did not deter Carriker and Neville from making frequent turns over the Strait as aircraft continued to work through its Initial Airworthiness Trials.

By 1:00 PM, ZA001 was orbiting over Dungess Bay making tight left turns. It was reported that Carriker called the ground and informed TM that because of the decreasing visibility and potential icing issues, ZA001 would abbreviate its first flight and head to Boeing Field. Carriker checked the time of departure from Paine Field, and reportedly responded, "OK, we'll aim for a 1:30PM touchdown and that will make it at least three hours."

Carriker remarked after the flight: "We took off with a very, very, very aggressive plan. We were going to take off and fly for five and a half hours, and do many many points that actually count for the final score, the final certification of the airplane. We achieved about half of those, we achieved the ones we really wanted to do. And then because of the weather we expected to be able to fly very long, very straight flight path and we had to turn around every 15 minutes."

ZA001 did one final lap between Sequim and Port Townsend before tracking south back toward Seattle. The ceilings in the area had dropped to just 5,000 feet and the soggy conditions required an instrument approach landing at BFI.

Carriker later joked that he was able to cross an additional functional test off of his to-do list for the day with the use of the winshield wipers on approach.


Carriker and Neville continued to descend down to 2,200 feet north of Kingston as called for in the approach procedure for runway 13R at Boeing Field. ZA001 held steady at 2,200 feet before capturing the glideslope at outer marker at the initial approach fix at NOLLA, a point 8.1 nm from runway 13R just over the Seattle neighborhood of Briarcliff.

ZA001 was spotted from the nearby downtown sky scrapers as it descended on approach to BFI, chase planes positioned off of the right wing tip. 

The crew ran through the approach and landing checklist setting the altimeter to 29.71 inches of Hg, armed the speed brakes and set the flaps to 30. 

"Boeing 001 heavy, Boeing Tower, runway 13R cleared to land, winds 140 at 4, altimeter 29.71, report the airport in sight."

The six mile visibility allowed only the landing light and red flashing LED strobe light to be seen from a distance. Carriker flew the ILS right down to the threshold of 13R and touched the main gear down with a calm 4 kt head wind at 1:35 PM. ZA001's spoilers extended, dumping the lift off of the wing shifting the weight of the aircraft to the wheels, immediately followed by nose gear contact with the pavement. 

The T-33 roared past ZA001 at 100 feet as the 787 slowed below, each of the Lockheed trainers peeling off to make left traffic at Boeing Field. 

Reverse thrust and braking helped to further slow ZA001 on what was expected to be about 7,000 feet of the 10,000 available to Carriker and Neville.

"Boeing 001 heavy, turn right at the end, contact ground .9 off the runway."

An unidentified radio call moments later broke a brief radio silence: "Congratulations."

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