Inside its cavernous Everett facility, Boeing is busily preparing Dreamliner One for its first flight before the end of June as the company prepares for assembly of the sixth and final flight test aircraft.
First flight, which was originally intended for late April still remains designated internally as "To Be Determined." However, key systems testing has shifted roughly two months, potentially pushing the expectation of 787 first flight to the June time frame according to several program sources. Late June still falls within Boeing's 2nd quarter target for flying the 787, though it appears the remaining margin is shrinking before potentially eating into the flight test certification program.
Factory gauntlet testing, the first of three extensive systems testing phases, is now designated for early April. Initially, the factory gauntlet was targeted for early February.
Boeing's first 787, ZA001, remains on a slant assembly position on the 767 line until the second week of March when it will make its second trip over the Boeing Freeway to the paint hangars.
The trip to the paint hangar will follow the medium blow pressure test, which is planned for later this week. The test will see the differential cabin pressure raised to 9.43 PSIg.
During the middle of this month, Boeing will make way for the sixth 787 flight test aircraft to begin final assembly. To do so, this requires relocating Dreamliner Three to a slant position on the 747 line which is currently in a lull as it transitions to 747-8F production.
ZA003, which recently received its twin Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines is regarded as the lowest priority of the six flight test aircraft. The eventual ownership of the aircraft has publicly become an open question with Delta Air Lines having appeared to abandon the early build 787s and its place as the North American launch customer for the 787.
When it enters the flight test campaign, Dreamliner Three will demonstrate the passenger environment by testing features like the cabin air system, passenger noise levels and the behavior of the interior structure.
The shift in priority away from Dreamliner Three to Airplanes One, Two and Five, the first General Electric GEnx powered 787, has opened the door for the reshuffling of its flight test aircraft sequence.
"We are approaching the flight test program with flexibility in mind," said Boeing. "We will share more about that sequence at the appropriate time."
The airframer originally intended to have the six flight test aircraft enter the test campaign in the order they were assembled, though a higher level of completion of later shipsets arriving to Everett could see later flight test aircraft flying out of the original sequence.
Boeing added that flexibility encompasses all six of the flight test aircraft, including Dreamliner One.
Following the line move of ZA003-ZA005, Dreamliner Two, which will remain at the fourth assembly position inside the 787 Final Assembly Line, is expected to undergo first power-on.
In addition, the forward and center fuselage for Dreamliner Six will arrive in Everett as the last structural sections for flight test aircraft are delivered.
Those parts will join the wings, horizontal and vertical stabilizers, as well as the aft fuselage which departed Charleston on Feb 15. According to program sources, the aft fuselage took place in a planned FAA audit to sign off on the current return network giving a green-light for future standardized type conformity on this feature.
The delivered barrel section also sports an already painted blue and white passenger door in The Boeing Company colors. The door, an Everett-based source says, was originally used in the July 2007 rollout but returned to Latecoere for completion and then reinstalled completed for Dreamliner Six.
For the two static and fatigue test airframes work continues to progress as ZY997 was handed back over to the Boeing test lab in mid-February. The fatigue airframe, ZY998, which occupies a spot on the Everett flight line, is currently undergoing airframe rework stemming from improperly installed fasteners. According to one source familiar with the rework, more than one hundred staff are tackling the fastener replacement before full-scale fatigue testing can get underway.
Photo Credit Tolga Ozbek