Boeing gave itself a psychological boost on January 25 when the 777-9 completed what seems to have been a trouble-free first flight. It is the start of a rigorous test flight program that is expected to take 16 months until certification and first delivery, which by then will be over a year late.
Boeing had tentatively scheduled the maiden flight of WH001 for January 23 but canceled it due to bad weather in the Everett area. It would have been wiser if it had done the same ahead of the next attempt on the 24th, as this was spoiled by bad weather too. Hundreds of Boeing workers and staff were cheering N779XW as she slowly progressed to the runway at 10 am local time before staying there for over three hours with her folding wingtips in the down position. For security reasons, the first flight had to take off North over remote territory with winds no stronger than 10 knots. On Friday, gusts of 19 knots and higher were blowing, while at times torrential rain reduced visibility. At 1.30 pm the first flight was scrubbed as no improvement was expected and 001 taxied back to stand. By then, only the brave were still there watching her.
On Friday, the 777X waited four hours for the weather to improve. It didn’t. Note the folded wingtip.
On Saturday, things looked much better. Winds were down to 5-8 knots, allowing for a safe take-off North from a partially wet runway. Exactly this Captain Van Chaney and Chief Test Pilot Craig Bomben did so at 10.09 am local time, the first time the General Electric GE9X were up to full speed under the composite wings of a 777X. They seemd remarkably quiet.
The aircraft was quickly out of sight in the low cloud-base over Everett. She made a U-turn South, before heading to a free area of airspace over eastern Washington. Followed by chase airplanes, the test crew started their carefully prepared first checklist, flying numerous circuits at some 15.000 feet with the gear down.
Tests were completed a little earlier than expected and 001 set course southwest again touching 16.000 feet and then to Boeing Field in Seattle, where she appeared in the low clouds only at the last moment.
At 2 pm sharp local time, the aircraft touched down smoothly, completing the first flight in 3 hours 51 minutes.
When the aircraft was towed to the hangar, an elated crew was greeted by guests and media when they entered the top of the stairs at Door 1 Right. Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal was one of the first to congratulate Chaney and Bomben, the only two onboard this maiden flight. While analysis of terabytes of data and a thorough debrief will uncover any peculiarities of the flight, the crew expressed themselves most happy with the 777-9’s behavior. Chaney called it a productive flight, which he had wished would have lasted a little longer.
Stan Deal was most happy with the flight, which he hopes will help restore confidence with the public and industry that Boeing is still the solid planemaker it used to be.
WH001 will be checked during the next days, but Chaney and Bomben said the test program would resume this Tuesday. This was delayed until Wednesday January 29, when 001 did her second flight. The first aircraft will be joined by three more that are in various stages of preparation. WH002 has already been fitted with engines.
The certification program is set to become rigorous and carefully monitored by 777X-customers and regulators across the world as no one what a repetition of what happened to the MAX. On the sidelines of Dubai Airshow last November, FAA-boss Steven Dickson spoke to various regulators and future operators on how the test program will be addressed. Emirates President Sir Tim Clark outlined he wants a thorough program that includes at least one month of engine testing in the harsh Middle East climate, having experienced himself how high temperatures and corrosion affect the durability of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 on the Airbus A380.
Boeing’s order book includes 309 orders for the 777X, including the -9 and the postponed -8. Emirates orders stand at 115 as 11 aircraft need confirmation until its net order for the type reaches 126, the number announced at Dubai Airshow when Emirates swapped 30 777X for 30 787-9s. Etihad is still listed with 25 aircraft on order, but CEO Tony Douglas confirmed in Dubai the airline will only take six. Also in the books are ten aircraft for (an) unidentified customer(s).