The Boeing chase planes
With the 787 Dreamliner's first flight fast approaching, I thought I'd shed some light on one of the key components of the day - the cool chase planes!
Boeing Commercial Airplanes, unlike rival Airbus, has three airworthy chase planes in their inventory located at Boeing Seattle (BFI). Two of the planes are ex-RCAF Canadair CT-33's, registered N109X (red) and N416X (blue). The other plane is a Northrop T-38A (with an F-5B tail), registered as N38FT. These planes are somewhat regularly used for various purposes including air to air photo shoots and for AEW&C flight testing missions. However, on the 787's big day they'll be used to keep a close watchful eye on the 787 throughout the duration of it's maiden flight.
On the day of the 787's first flight, the two CT-33's will be performing an airborne pickup during the 787's departure roll. The control tower at Paine Field will clear "Boeing 001 Heavy Experimental" to takeoff at their chase planes call. When in position and ready, the lead CT-33 will then communicate to BOE001 on 123.325 mhz on when to start their departure roll. The CT-33's will be in formation with the 787 during climb out watching the control surfaces making sure all is well. The Boeing T-38 will also get to play with the 787 on it's first day of flying, but will do so at cruise altitude as it's not what you would call a "Slow and Low" type of airplane.
Earlier in April of this year, I had the pleasure of witnessing the P-8A Poseidon's first flight out of Boeing Renton (RNT). The Boeing CT-33's performed an airborne pick up of "Boeing Zero-Papa-Eight" that day and they flew with it for the duration of the four and a half hour flight. Upon landing at Boeing Field, one CT-33 flew along side BOE0P8 all the way to landing, which is what will be done with the 787 as well.