February 2009 Archives

Le 777 cargo

I’m reminded that I was present at the birth, so to speak, of the 777 Freighter program. It happened in May of 2005, in Shanghai. This was the occasion of the signing of the first Air France 777F contract as well as the formal launch of the program.

So I’ve got to say it was a pretty good feeling to see the culmination of all of that over the weekend as the new 777 Freighter enters service for the first time.


At last week’s 777F delivery ceremony at the Future of Flight Aviation Center in Mukilteo, Washington: (from left) Aldo Basile, Commercial Airplanes VP, Sales for Europe, Russia & Central Asia; Pierre Vellay, Air France executive VP for New Aircraft & Corporate Fleet Planning; Larry Loftis, Commercial Airplanes VP & general manager, 777 program; and Pascal Morvan, senior VP, Cargo Operations & Logistics for Air France.

Now that Air France Cargo has taken delivery of their first 777F, they’ll be operating it alongside their current fleet of five 747-400ER Freighters (Air France was the first operator of that model as well) and will eventually replace their four 747-400BCFs. As Air France noted, the new freighter also fits well with the airline’s proven 777 passenger fleet.


The 1st 777 Freighter prepped for delivery.

The specs on the 777 Freighter are impressive. It has a range of 4,880 nautical miles (9,038 kilometers) with a full payload of 226,700 pounds (103 metric tons). It’s the longest-range, most economical freighter flying today. I have no doubt that the 777 Freighter will improve Air France’s cargo efficiency and help their bottom line in this challenging economy.

The 777F is the first all-new freighter to enter the market in more than a dozen years. It was targeted for delivery in the last quarter, but due to our work stoppage it slid to first quarter 2009.


A view from under the wing as the 2nd 777F is seen taxiing out for a flight - with the big doors of the Everett factory just beyond. That 2nd freighter is scheduled to deliver to Air France this week.

You have to give a lot of credit to the manufacturing team in Everett who effectively integrated this new model into the 777 production line. In addition, the refurbishment team has faced a few challenges of their own this winter getting the two flight test airplanes turned around into delivery configuration: a highly compressed schedule and record snow fall over the holiday break, to name a few. Along with the efforts of the engineering and flight test teams, everyone pulled together to get the 777 Freighter where it is today.


A ceremonial shower just before the first 777F flies away.

I’ve mentioned before that the 777 family is the product of continuous improvements in performance and technology across the models. So think of the 777 Freighter as just the latest step in our efforts to make a great product even better. But any time you deliver the first airplane of its type, whether all-new, or major derivative, it’s a big deal. And this is a big deal we can really feel good about.

Chow mein, clocks, and "hmm"

Pop quiz. Which is the fastest-selling new commercial airplane program in history – the A350 or the 787 Dreamliner?

Recently we’ve heard claims that the A350 has taken the crown. But I’m just scratching my head about that because, in these kinds of cases, what really matters is when the two sides start their clocks.

In the case of the Boeing 787, we consider our formal launch to be April 2004, concurrent with our first orders from ANA. Using the same logic, you start the A350 clock when it was “formally launched” on October 6, 2005, along with its first orders (actually dating back to December 2004). So, clearly this Airbus product has a ways to go before exceeding the 787 at a comparable point in the program timeline.

But wait a minute. More than a year after the “formal launch,” Airbus started the clock over again. They announced on December 1, 2006 an “industrial go ahead” for the A350. So, which launch is which?


Has the A350 really been selling for only 2 years? Or has it actually been more than 3 years? If you compare the 787 orders timeline with the original A350 “formal launch” in 2005, clearly the 787 has done better.

If you do want to claim that the clock started in 2006 with the A350 “go ahead” - or re-start as I would call it - then yes, using that arbitrary date, you can claim a better result. However, remember that this 2006 re-start conveniently came loaded with a number of previous orders - which for the most part were converted to “new” orders.

Note that at the 2005 Paris Air Show, Airbus claimed it was already “sitting at 90” [A350 orders], and by late 2005 claimed well over 100 orders for the A350. So keep this in mind when you hear that this airplane did not launch until the end of 2006 and therefore is the “fastest-selling.”


My recent lunch bill came to exactly $7.77 at Panda Express.

Not to change the subject, but the other day I paid for my chow mein lunch at a local Chinese fast food place and the check came to exactly $7.77.

I thought to myself, “What an odd coincidence.” Which is to say, strange things do happen sometimes.

But I really got the urge to go “hmm” when I realized that my lunch bill came to exactly the same total as Airbus’ net orders for 2008: 777.

Admit it, don’t you think that’s, uh, interesting?

I got that urge again with regard to the Airbus backlog number at the end of 2008. On January 8, Boeing announced a backlog at the end of the year of 3,714 airplanes. One week later, Airbus announced a 2008 year-end backlog of exactly one unit more: 3,715.


To be fair, over the last few years, the competition has been a lot more transparent about numbers – posting net orders along with the gross - and removing orders from their books, for example, for the A310, an airplane that they no longer manufacture. So those are some good steps.

But it’s always a bit intriguing to see what’s being claimed from time to time. Coincidence? Clever marketing? Or maybe just “hmm.”

First flight +40

February 9, 1969 was cold, cloudy, and windy. In other words, a typical winter’s day in this neck of the woods. But it was also a day that changed everything.

A little before lunchtime on that date, the first 747 took flight. This 747-100, dubbed the “City of Everett” would spend the next 75 minutes flying over the Puget Sound region.


First takeoff – Paine Field, February 9, 1969.

It wasn’t like first flights today, where we know a lot about how the airplane is going to perform even before it flies. In this case, we didn’t quite know what to expect. But it went fairly well.


First flight crew: (L to R) Pilot Jack Waddell, Co-Pilot Brien Wygle and Flight Engineer Jess Wallick.


The “City of Everett” on its maiden flight.

The flight validated what was at the time a huge gamble for Boeing. Today, the 747 stands at more than 1,500 orders, with deliveries to more than 1,400 airplanes and 95 customers.

By the way, as some of you may have noted, this was a double anniversary. On the same date 20 years ago, the 747-400 entered service for the first time.


Joe Sutter, the “Father of the 747.”


747 and chase plane over Puget Sound.


The “City of Everett” today, on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Of course the story doesn’t end with these anniversaries. The 747-8 Freighter is in final assembly in Everett with first flight scheduled for later this year. The 747-8 Intercontinental passenger model will follow about a year later.

Over the hump, and other 747 news

As became clear last week, we’ve had our share of challenges on the 747-8 program, but it’s moving ahead and things are taking shape in the factory right now.

So, I thought that rather than just talking about the progress on the 747-8 Freighter, why not show you? Nothing says progress more than sharing a couple of photos from the factory.


The Section 41 cab for the first 747-8F is loaded into place in Everett.

As you can see, we’ve had a significant first, as the 747-8 team loaded Section 41 into the assembly tool. This is the part of the 747 that people think of when they think of this iconic airplane – the signature “hump.”

Section 41 happens to be the first part of the fuselage to be completed for the 747-8F. It’s a major assembly section supplied by Spirit Aerosystems. As you might guess, it also presents some challenges because of its unique shape. That’s a point of pride for the Section 41 team – getting this key assembly right.


Crews place the first 747-8 Freighter’s lower lobe of section 41 into the assembly tool.

Most of the crew has worked on a number of 747 models, but for the veterans as well as the more recent employees on the project, it’s also still a learning experience. This is essentially a new airplane.

First flight of the 747-8F is scheduled for later this year. First delivery is planned for the third quarter of next year.

Now while we’re on the subject of icons, I thought you’d also enjoy some of the great material Delta Air Lines has put together on their Under the Wing blog.


The first 747-400 in Delta colors arrives in Tokyo. (Delta Air Lines photo)

The first of 16 747-400s operated by Northwest Airlines rolled out of a paint hangar in California last month, proudly decked out in Delta livery, and then flew its first mission to Tokyo in the new colors. Personally, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride here too. Back when I was a Boeing sales director for Northwest, it’s likely I actually sold them this airplane – my very first sale was a 747 to NWA.

Finally, I wouldn’t be discharging my duty to bring you some of the more unusual news out there, if I didn’t link you to some further evidence – this time from Stockholm – of just how versatile Boeing airplanes can be - a 747 converted into a “Jumbo Hostel.”

I must admit I never imagined weddings on the wings, and a flight deck converted into a bridal suite complete with private bathroom. Kind of gives new meaning to, “If it’s not Boeing I’m not going.”


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