The Boeing 747-400 Large Cargo Freighter (LCF) took to the skies for the first time at 10:38 local time today, initiating the flight test programme that will culminate in US Federal Aviation Administration certification. The 2h 4min flight was the first of 250 test hours for the freighter, a specially modified 747-400 that will transport major composite structures of the all-new Boeing 787.

Boeing LCF W445 

 Above: Boeing's 747-400  Large Cargo Freighter makes maiden flight

The LCF, with its enlarged upper fuselage that can accommodate three times the cargo by volume of a standard 747-400 freighter, took off under rainy skies from Taiwan Taoyuan International airport, formerly Chiang Kai-Shek International. Boeing flight test pilots, Captains, Joe MacDonald and Randy Wyatt, took the aircraft north, and then flew about 241km (130nm) south following along the east side of the island before heading north again.

"It went beautifully," MacDonald said after the flight ended., "quite often during the flight, it was easy to forget you were in an LCF rather than a regular 747-400." Evergreen Aviation Technologies, part of Taiwan's Evergreen Group, is modifying the fleet of three at its facility at the airport.

"This is a key moment in the Dreamliner programme," said Scott Strode, 787 vice president of airplane development and production, "The LCF fleet is the foundation of our lean, global production system and enables us to meet the unprecedented customer demand for the 787. I congratulate the global LCF team, our design and production partners, our modification partner EGAT, and our incredible Boeing team, for this remarkable achievement."

The flight test programme is expected to last through the end of the year. The LCF also will complete more than 500h of ground testing in Taipei and Seattle combined. After completing initial flight tests in Taiwan, during which the LCF's handling characteristics will be evaluated, as well as ensuring the LCF is free from flutter and excessive vibration, it will fly to Seattle's Boeing Field to complete the remainder of the flight test programme.

The ferry flight to Seattle is expected to occur mid-month. A fleet of three LCFs will ferry 787 assemblies between Nagoya, Japan; Grottaglie, Italy; Wichita, Kansas and Charleston, South Carolina, before flying them to the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington, for final assembly. The first two LCFs will enter service in early 2007, the third will follow later.