Boeing Co. checked off another milestone for its growing 787 program Tuesday by completing the first flight of the first extended version of the Dreamliner.
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The 787-9 took off from Paine Field in Everett, Wash., in overcast conditions around 2:05 p.m. eastern time for a spin around the Pacific Northwest. The second-generation passenger jet touched down more than five hours later at Boeing Field to the south in cloudy Seattle.
Hundreds of Boeing employees, customers and suppliers were on hand in Everett to witness the launch, and “a huge roar erupted” as the blue and white plane left the ground, company spokesman Bernard Choi said.
“Something like this doesn't happen every day, every month or every year,” Choi said on a webcast that had about 30,000 viewers.
Two small T-33 chase planes followed and observed the 787-9 as Boeing pilots put the twin-aisle passenger jet through various maneuvers as it crisscrossed Washington state. The test and certification process for the feul-efficient plane is expected to take up to nine months.
The 787-9 is 20 feet longer than the original 787-8, which was flown for the first time in December 2009 and has experienced its share of startup problems, including a four-month worldwide grounding this year for smoldering batteries.
The stretch version can carry up to 290 passengers, or 40 more than the base model. It also has more cargo capacity.
Boeing spokeswoman Kate Bergman told the Associated Press the company has 388 firm orders for the 787-9, which accounts for about 40 percent of all Dreamliner orders. The planemaker plans to deliver the first jet to Air New Zealand in mid-2014.
Boeing South Carolina makes the rear fuselage sections for 787-9, and it also works on the mid-body components.
Some workers at the North Charleston campus watched the new plane take off, “but we did not have a large event like we had with the 787-8 first flight,” said spokeswoman Candy Eslinger.
The company has said its Dreamliner final assembly lines in Everett and at Charleston International Airport are set up to build the longer planes.
For now, Boeing's Lowcountry plant assembles only the 787-8.
The company has not said when the stretch version will be added to the mix in North Charleston, though an executive estimated in July that work on the 787-9 could start ramping up off International Boulevard “around the fall of 2014.”
In June, Boeing launched an even longer version of the Dreamliner, the 787-10. It will be able to seat 300 to 330 passengers.