Boeing is putting the final touches on the first 747-8 and has begun a final phase of indoor tests as it prepares to roll the aircraft out to the flight line in mid October.
Earlier this week Boeing began low and high pressure blow tests on the first 747-8, which is now positioned in the fourth and final spot on the 747 assembly line at Everett. Programme vice president and general manager Mo Yahyavi says his team also has been busy this week conducting fuel functional tests on the first aircraft and "completing some of the final touches" in the manufacturing process.
Speaking to Flightglobal following a tour of the 747-8 line, Yahyavi says the next steps will be to test the flap cable and perform a ground vibration test. Preparations also have begun for the factory gauntlet test, which is the last test done before the aircraft is moved outside and serves as a final check of all the systems prior to roll out.
Yahyavi estimates the aircraft will be ready to leave the factory for the flight line in three-to-four weeks. The aircraft, after it comes out of the paint hangar, will then go through a series of functional, taxi and engine tests plus another gauntlet test - this time with the aircraft fueled - before it is finally ready for first flight. Yahyavi declines to estimate when the aircraft would fly other than to say the programme is on schedule to have all three test aircraft flying by the end of the year.
"That's the goal and objective. They [the three aircraft] will be ready to fly and obviously we need to fly the first one first and clear the flutter. That's rule number one. Once you clear low speed and high speed flutter then you can fly the second and third airplane," he says. "The second airplane is really important in our flight test programme - it's the one that really measures the fuel burn and the performance of the airplane at the cruise speed."
He points out that for the first time in Boeing history all three test aircraft have been built fully instrumented. He says this will save time and resources and allow the aircraft to go to flight test immediately after roll out.
The 747-8 is scheduled to enter service as a freighter with launch customer Cargolux in the third quarter of next year. The passenger variant is still under development and, following a separate flight test programme involving two aircraft, is scheduled to enter service in the fourth quarter of 2011.
Yahyavi says Boeing is making "good progress" with the passenger variant, known as the 747-8 Intercontinental, and the engineering is now 78% complete. "Our goal is to get to 90% in October, which is better than planned," he says.
Delivery of the first Intercontinental, which will go to a VIP customer with Lufthansa also taking its first aircraft in the fourth quarter of 2011, could even be early if the programme stays on its current course. Yahyavi says preliminary data also indicates the 747-8 potentially exceeding performance specs. "We really think the results of both airplanes - freighter and passenger - will be better than planned," he says.