After almost two years lurching from crisis to crisis following its much trumpeted "7/8/07" roll-out, the Dreamliner is finally close to its maiden flight.

Since that gala event in Everett, when Boeing was still publicly confident the first flight would follow within a month or two, the programme has been through the grinder. The rush to meet the marketeers' "dream" date for the unveiling conspired with a series of technical setbacks and production dramas - not least of which was a loss of control of some members of the international supply team - to make the 787 suffer the longest roll-out to flight period in airliner development history. If it does fly next month, as Boeing now confidently predicts, the 23-month interval even far exceeds the 15 months between Concorde's unveiling and maiden sortie four decades ago.

Like its supersonic predecessor, the 787's first flight will be a key milestone, but only represents the "end of the beginning" for the engineers steering the carbonfibre jet's development through to first deliveries. Both programmes, like the revolutionary de Havilland Comet before them, reinvented airliner design. So expect more surprises - good and bad - as Boeing progresses through a flight and certification test programme that will rewrite the rules in terms of both pace and technical innovation. Forget what went before - the really hard work starts now.

Source: Flight International