Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Boeing's Dreamliner makes maiden flight.

EVERETT, Wash.—Boeing Co.'s long-delayed 787 Dreamliner made its first flight Tuesday morning under cold, cloudy skies, a milestone for the company's marquee commercial-jetliner program, after more than two years of delays.

Boeing had been forced to scrap the first flight several times as it ran into costly design and manufacturing delays. Even on Tuesday, inclement weather and poor visibility had threatened to force another postponement. Each setback has cost the company dearly as it has had to pay penalties to its airline customers for delayed deliveries.

Boeing has staked the future of its commercial-airline business on the Dreamliner, which is considered the most sophisticated passenger plane ever built. Made of 50% carbon-fiber composite material, it is lighter than standard aircraft built of aluminum. Boeing says that will make the Dreamliner more efficient and durable.

The first Dreamliner test aircraft rolled down runway 34 Left at Paine Field at 10:28 a.m. and smoothly lifted off, heading north. Thousands of people, including hundreds of Boeing employees, plane enthusiasts and reporters, gathered at the airfield. The site also houses Boeing's wide-body jet factory, where the Dreamliners are assembled.

Though it was originally slated to fly in September 2007 with first deliveries scheduled for May of last year, Boeing struggled repeatedly to work out the kinks in the plane's cutting-edge design. The company also ran into problems with the Dreamliner's far-flung supply chain. Last fall, Boeing was hit by a two-month labor strike at its factory, adding to delays.

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