California Dreamin'

Getting to the airport at the crack of dawn isn’t one of my favorite things. But earlier this month, I gladly crawled out of bed at 4am to head for Boeing Field.

After sitting down at the house for a long overdue breakfast with my daughter, who I usually miss in the mornings since she swims most days at 5am, I took off for San Bernardino, California. That’s the current home of two of our 747-8 Freighter flight test planes (RC501 and RC521). It was a chance for me to connect with our team that has spent a lot of time away from their families as we get the freighter ready for delivery.


RC501 takes off in San Bernardino.

Since I started my career on the flight tests of the 757 and 767, I can personally testify that the work our team does in California is no easy job. As they work to certify the aircraft, they’re expected to come up with quick solutions for any issues that surface. This high pressure environment mixes engineering, science and a little art. It’s a challenging job, but thankfully our folks love what they do.

On the day I arrived, our first test plane RC501 took part in Flight Loads Survey testing. For all you engineers, the Flight Loads Survey involves flight tests where the aircraft is instrumented with equipment that can measure aerodynamic pressures over the surface of the wing and the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. From these tests, we can calculate the loads (forces) these surfaces are experiencing. This data is essential for two important reasons: (1) it allows us to determine where we have design margin in the airplane (to further improve the mission capability of the airplane) and where we might need further strengthening, and (2) it helps us in our continued efforts to validate and refine our design/analysis models.

In other words, we test to make sure the aircraft can withstand the forces it will encounter during its lifetime. RC501 is a spectacular plane that carries more flight test instrumentation than any other plane in Boeing history. Check out the video below showing a day in the life of our California team.

San Bernardino makes for the perfect test site but it also has its challenges. Although it offers a long runway and great weather, we’ve had to make the most of some rather small hangars. In the pictures below, you can see just how tight of a fit I’m talking about. We had to cut a special opening for the freighter’s tail, and the nose sits right up against the wall.


You can see the special opening we had to cut at the top of the hangar.


A tight squeeze in San Bernardino.

Before the plane left on its flight test, I went on board to meet the crew. It also gave me the chance to pose with two of our flight test program’s unofficial mascots. “Sharky” has been around the block, flying on many different test flights over the years. The Gnome is specific to the 747-8 program. We consider them good luck and they’ve always done us proud.


Posing with Andy Hammer, 747-8 Flight Test Manager, and our lucky charms.

But it’s not luck that drives the success of our flight test program— it’s our people. Although I loved seeing the freighter in action during my trip, it was even more of a pleasure to see our team. In fact, I was joined by 747-8 deputy program manager Elizabeth Lund who came to personally thank the team for all their sacrifices. They’ve worked long hours, missed holidays with their families, and dedicated themselves to making sure we deliver the freighter by the middle of this year. Thanks to them, our California Dreamin’ will soon be a reality. (Apologies to my predecessor Randy Baseler for swiping the California Dreamin’ theme that he first used on this blog back in 2006.)

Comments (11)

ChrisC (San Jose, CA):

Awesomely beautiful plane! Looks great and hopefully flies great too. Bring on the Intercontinental!

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

Great post! I think that song has been redone too. I read that the 747-8F has been tested to Mo0.98 - probably in flutter tests. Looking for word on cruise & max Mach cruise - whether its more than Mo0.86 & Mo0.92, respectively?

I think the company talks a lot about low risk in the VLA market segment. Well, it's quite obvious that the Freighter is taking on a lot of testing - risk - for the Intercontinental.

Gerald Horne (Little Rock):

While no doubt stressful , it must be thrilling to come to work each day. Thanks for a great inside look Randy. Really looking forward to the intercontinental first flight too

William Harkness (Everett, Wa):

I propose that the Puget Sound Boeing facilities gets relocated to the 'Dreamin' San Bernardino' Valley. Once you go California, you never go back :)

I kid, of course! (not really).

Thank you for the awesome video/pictures and the reminder of what a beautiful place California is and how the 747-8f looks absolutely glorious over there!

*(expatriate from California)

Syed Kadri (Houston, TX, USA):

Thanks for posting on the progress of the freighter test phase. The 747 has been a darling of the travelling public world over, so it is good to see it continue as a freighter.

It will certainly be a delight to see the Intercontinental version, hopefully it will be a competitive offer to get more Customers interested.



S M L (New Haven, CT):

Hi Randy,

I recently completed a web survey about, and your survey gave me an idea about a viral marketing strategy for new Boeing airplanes.

I was sitting in Denver International Airport on January 11th when I saw a 787 completing its landing rollout. Although the plane was some distance away, its streamlined shape and 787 livery clearly identified the plane as a 787. I immediately pulled out my camera and started taking pictures, which I then emailed to a number of my friends. However, I was surprised to see that no one else around me was taking pictures. The plane was simply too far away for most people to recognize its novelty.

When a 787 or 747-8 lands at an airport with a significant commercial aviation presence (such as Denver), why not ask the controllers for permission to taxi by the terminal building a few times at close range? If a 787 or 747-8 pulled by my gate at close range, I suspect that at least 20-30 people would be rushing to the window to snap pictures of the new airplane. They would undoubtedly send their pictures to friends, post the pictures on Facebook, tweet about seeing the 787, etc. Furthermore, the laws of random incidence dictate that the average person in an airport at any given time is a frequent traveler. Thus, Boeing would be reaching a high-value audience (frequent travelers), who would then produce organic content about the 787 / 747-8 that could be spread through social media and emailed to their friends and colleagues (many of whom may also be frequent travelers) at minimal cost.

Just my two cents.

Keep up the great work!

RonP (San Bernardino, CA):

It's great to see large aircraft flying in and out of the former Norton AFB (now San Bernardino International Airport - SBD) again since its closure in 1994. The -8 is a beautiful plane. Hope to see more in the future!

Freddy Hagens (Everett, WA):

Great cool story about flight test and congrats to all involved! You are the key final certification validation team. Reminds me of some flight test work I did in Maricopa County, AZ and engine thrust stand work at Edwards AFB.

Wessel Groenewegen (Netherlands):

Best Randy,
I really love the 747-8. It's to bad it doesn't sell as good as expected. I think it's only a matter of time. The 747-8 is able to land at way more airports around the world comparing it with the A380. The 747-8 is also a lot nicer and beautifuler. I'm also very interested in the construction of aircraft. I have a question for you: How do you connect the skin-panels to the stringers in the wing on the 777/767/737/747-8 assuming it's the same construction? Maybe it's an idea to Friction Stir Weld them together. But not only the 747-8 is great, so are the 777 and the 787. The 787 has a great fuselage. But wouldn't it be stronger if you would be able to sink the frame in the mold used for the fuselage so you would only need tot cut out the windows? And I've gotten an idea to let the 787 fuselage sections connect way easier. You guy's use a frame to connect the 767 tail cone too the fuselage section, which uses a couple of bolt's. Maybe you could get that structure in the frame what you could sink into the mold for the fuselage. This way it would be way easier to connect the fuselage, and it is way quicker to build the aircraft.

Greetz, Wessel Groenewegen
(15 year old boy, who lives in Oss, holland)

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

It looks like a tight squeeze fitting the 747-8 in the hanger, I am glad to see the new 747 in California where it's sunny though cold right now. I hope to see the new Intercontinental visit and test in Southern California too.

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