SEATTLE -- While no official confirmation exists beyond a very telling Qatari registration, the Government of Qatar Amiri Flight will take delivery of the first Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental today.
The aircraft, registered A7-HHE, the prefix denoting a Qatar registered aircraft, will depart Paine Field in Everett, Washington around noon pacific time enroute to a business jet completion facility.
Currently, Jet Aviation's Basel, Switzerland facility is the most likely candidate to host RC002 for the 24-month completion process, as it was the first completion center selected by an undisclosed Middle East in December 2010.
Sources point to all of the first three 747-8 VIP transports as intended for Middle Eastern customers. RC001, Boeing's Sunrise-liveried jumbo flight test aircraft, destined for the Government of Qatar, while RC003, wearing an A6-PFA United Arab Emirates registration, will fly with the Abu Dhabi Amiri Flight.
Lufthansa Technik has signed up customers for completion of a further two 747-8 aircraft. It's first is speculated to be the Kuwaiti VIP transport and the second for the UAE.
Boeing holds orders for a total of nine VIP configured 747-8s.
I'll be up in Everett for the pre-flyaway press conference with program leaders starting at 11 AM PT, and will be posting photos and updates by way of Flickr and Twitter.
UPDATE 11:14 AM PT: Boeing has officially delivered the first 747-8 Intercontinental to an officially undisclosed VIP customer. RC002 will fly to Vancouver for export then to McConnell Air Force Base at Boeing's Global Transport & Executive Systems for Greenpoint Technologies' outfitting of the Aeroloft. Then later to Hamburg, Germany for full completion at Lufthansa Technik. The date of first 747-8 delivery to Lufthansa has not yet been officially set, but it rapidly approaching.
UPDATE 11:17 AM PT: Boeing will deliver eight 747-8 VIP aircraft in 2012 and its production system is advancing to two 747-8s per month in the middle of this year. 747 vice president and general manager Elizabeth Lund says the back end of the factory (wing and structures) has already "broken rate" accelerating to two per month and the forward part of the factory for final body join will join soon.
UPDATE 11:27 AM PT: Boeing's 747-8 performance improvement package (engine and airframe) will fly on the aircraft on 2013 and will bring the aircraft within 1% of the originally planned specification, says Bruce Dickinson, 747-8 chief project engineer. Boeing is continuing its analysis of the flutter condition found on the 747-8's tail fuel tanks, and aims to have the system reactivated in 2013.
UPDATE 11:41 AM PT: The 747-8Fs since service entry have served 55 airports to date, roughly twice as many as the A380. Operators have found performance to be about 1% better than first though despite the initial shortfall. Boeing is also "on track" to roll out updates to the 747-8's avionics in 2012. To get within 1% of final specification, the airframe weight will be reduced by about 5,000lbs, paired with aerodynamic and General Electric GEnx-2B engine updates.
Video Courtesy Matt Cawby