Boeing targets 14 December for 787 first flight

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While Boeing crunches the data from the latest volley of static tests to validate the side-of-body reinforcement, sources within the company are increasingly confident that the long-delayed 787 programme could fly not one, but potentially two aircraft later this month.

A static test yesterday, internally dubbed "2C", was a key hurdle on the now restarted path to 787 first flight. Boeing will review the data between now and 9 December to formally validate the side-of-body reinforcement and provide a green-light for first flight.

However, Boeing is actively preparing ZA001 for its first flight, which could come as early as December 14, according to several programme sources. The new date accelerates the internal schedule for first flight by about eight days, reflecting the company's rising confidence in the progrmme.

Boeing has publicly said that it is giving itself until the close of December to fly the 787 for the first time.

Boeing moved ZA001, the first flight test aircraft, back to the fuel dock early yesterday morning after completing restoration operations inside the factory. Early tasks for ZA001 included refuelling the aircraft for fuel systems cleanliness tests that culminated in auxiliary power unit runs and a move to Stall 105 on the flight line at Boeing's Everett facility.

Tentatively planned for today or tomorrow, ZA001 will conduct engine build verification testing with a variety of power runs of its twin Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, according to sources. Also planned for the near future is the calibration of ZA001's navigational equipment.

As the week progresses, ZA001 will go though additional hydraulic leak checks and other testing before heading into a flight test safety review, followed by the repeat of the closed-loop final gauntlet tests penciled in for early next week.

After the final gauntlet tests are completed, ZA001 will go through a pre-taxi test preparation. Heading into late next week, the aircraft will begin taxi tests at various speeds to recheck the braking and handing characteristics. During the weekend, the aircraft is expected to go through pre-flight preparations, followed by an all crew pre-flight briefing late in the weekend.

If all goes to plan, several sources indicated that Boeing's first flight window opens at 10 AM on 14 December, depending on weather.

Boeing says its second 787 test aircraft, ZA002, has completed installation of the wing fix, while sources add the systems restoration is now complete. The aircraft will now undergo aqueous wash and final door close-out later in the week to complete the restoration. ZA002 will progress through mini-gauntlet as it is prepared for first flight which is tentatively planned for late in December.