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December 17, 2009

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Boeing's new Dreamliner jet takes to sky in first test flight

THE first flight of Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner brought no surprises - just what pilots, engineers and company officials had hoped for the long-delayed aircraft.

"The airplane responded just as we expected," Randy Neville, one of the two pilots, said after touchdown on Tuesday at Seattle's Boeing Field. "It was a joy to fly."

Boeing has billions of dollars and its reputation riding on the sleek, blue-and-white aircraft that lifted off from Everett's Paine Field on a flight over western Washington state, beginning the extensive flight testing program needed to obtain United States Federal Aviation Administration certification.

The wide-body jet, the first commercial airplane made mostly of lightweight composite materials, is more than two years behind schedule because of parts problems and labor trouble.

Chicago-based Boeing was determined the plane would fly before the end of the year to prove the program was back on track.

Neville and chief pilot Mike Carricker performed basic system checks, including testing the landing gear and the flaps, before landing about three hours later.

Before takeoff, the 57-meter-long aircraft paused for several minutes at the end of the runway for final checks, adding to the tension for Boeing employees, customers and airline executives standing on the tarmac.

Loud cheers and applause built as the plane started its takeoff roll and took to the sky, its two huge engines kicking up clouds of mist.

The 787 is a radical departure in aircraft design. Where other passenger jets are made mostly from aluminum and titanium, nearly all of the 787's fuselage and wings are made of lightweight composite materials such as carbon fiber, accounting for about 50 percent of the aircraft by weight.


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