Yesterday marked a historic moment in the aviation industry and a special moment for the Boeing Company: the “handing over of the keys” of the first 787 Dreamliner to All Nippon Airways. Workers gathered at Paine Field outside the Everett, Washington, plant where the aircraft are assembled. The aircraft was prepped Monday night for its flight to Japan early Tuesday, landing in Japan around 8:45 AM JST. To date, airlines have ordered over 800 of the aircraft, although the program was plagued with delays.
As an intern who worked on this program back in 2007 with the Flight Control Electronics group, I have been pushing for Boeing to see success with this aircraft. It boasts numerous breakthroughs such as the first commercial jetliner to be constructed using carbon fiber as opposed to aluminum. With this new material the window size was increased, and the cabin could be pressurized to a lower altitude and held at a higher humidity making the flights more pleasant for passengers. I, like many of the Boeing employees on the program, were frustrated by the delays. Some were out of the Boeing employees’ hands, with contractors supplying incorrectly sized parts or having slower production rates than anticipated.
Employee Jim Conery expressed his emotions regarding the delays to the AP, indicating both the frustration and resilience of the 787 Dreamliner workforce. “When you hear about delays, they’re frustrating, but you have to turn it around and turn it into a challenge. Building airplanes is not for the weak.” I could not agree more. As I watched the media skewer the program management at Boeing and harp on the delays of the 787, I often felt similar emotions. During my short stint at the Everett site, I observed my coworkers in the flight controls groups putting their heart and soul into this program. Many of them had been employees with experience on the Boeing 777 and 747 programs, and they had passion and respect for their roles with the Dreamliner. As it was obvious that delays were inevitable, they continued to push for safety. “What tests need to be run to ensure that the flight controls will be working as expected? What are the next steps to continue to make progress toward our program goals while maintaining our standards of safety?” These are the type of questions asked by engineers as they were reviewing the software meant for controlling the systems onboard the aircraft. I witnessed their passion and I fed off of it. I knew that despite delays and pressure from the media, the Boeing 787 Team was vigilant in their work and respected that they ultimately hold peoples’ lives in their hands.
As these aircraft become operational in November, I am going to be proud of what the team accomplished. I was fortunate to attend the rollout of the aircraft on July 8, 2007 (07-08-07 – kudos for the date selection), and I cried as I witnessed history with the rollout of this amazing aircraft that, at the time, was no more than a hollow shell. I sat at my computer watching the live feed of the first flight on December 15, 2009 and again was overcome with pride and emotions. Yesterday and today are even greater milestones, and I know every one of the Boeing employees who had a hand in the development of this aircraft are proud. As Jim Conery said, “Building airplanes is not for the weak.” It takes patience, guts, and planning and I congratulate those who worked on the program and can finally witness this day.