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Sunday, February 13, 2011


The new 747-8 jumbo jet: Up close and inside

The new 747-8 jumbo jet: Up close and inside



Dominic Gates

Seattle Times aerospace reporter



Unlike the Dreamliner that Boeing rolled out in 2007 but didn't get off the ground for two-and-a-half years, the new 747-8 jumbo jet unveiled in Everett on Sunday is not an empty shell.

"We're going to roll out an airplane that's darn near ready to fly," Boeing commercial airplanes chief Jim Albaugh said in an interview. "I think it'll fly within three or four weeks."

An advance tour inside the giant passenger plane, the 747-8 Intercontinental, revealed final preparations for flight testing.

The flight deck is ready for the pilots to take the controls. A little label above the pilot's steering yoke reads: "Boeing 001. Flight test."

In the cavernous passenger cabin, Boeing has installed racks of computer equipment and dozens of interconnected black barrels so that during the upcoming flight tests, the water that serves as ballast can be pumped around to simulate various loads.

On the outside, the plane looks dramatic because of what Albaugh called "that bigger bump on top."

This latest model of the iconic jumbo jet, whose first version flew in 1969, has an extended forward fuselage hump with a row of windows that stretches all the way back to the wings.

The rival Airbus A380 superjumbo airliner, with its full-length double-decker passenger cabin, has a regular, more nondescript fuselage shape. But the curve of the 747-8 upper fuselage hump will be distinctive even to people unfamiliar with airplane types.

Boeing's marketing mavens developed a brash new burnt-orange sunburst paint scheme unique to the plane in Sunday's ceremonial rollout.

"We wanted to gain the world's attention and to give the message that this is not your father's 747," said Steven Myers, a senior designer with Boeing's Seattle-based design partner Teague.

A swooping horizon line along the side of the jet separates a predominantly reddish orange lower fuselage from the pearl-white upper fuselage. Silvery gray highlights and gold stripes fade into the main blocks of color.

A nonmetallic mica in the clear topcoat will sparkle in sunlight.

Inside the hangar where the plane had just been painted, Myers said Boeing chose the reddish color scheme to appeal specifically to the Asian customers that are expected to be the major buyers of this jet.

The stylized figure 8 on the vertical tail fin represents the model number, but also conveys the Chinese "lucky number" representing prosperity and wealth.

The fading effect was done by hand and the paint job took 10 days, said Bill Dill, Boeing's paint operations leader.

The plane that rolled out Sunday � 250 feet long with a 224-foot wingspan � is a VIP jet for a private buyer, so it will never have a conventional airliner interior.

After flight tests are completed it will be refurbished and customized for the buyer.

Right now, the long passenger cabin is carpeted and has some stow bins and sidewalls in place.

But orange wiring snakes along the floor to the racks of electronic boxes in the center. And the interior space is otherwise largely empty except for the squat, load-shifting water barrels fore and aft, connected by tubes.

At the back of the cabin, a device resembling a giant hamster wheel is installed, about four feet in diameter. During test flights this wheel reels in and out from the tip of the vertical tail a long tubular line attached to a cone-shaped sensor that takes air pressure readings well away from the fuselage.

Admiring the paint scheme his team had completed, Dill said of the Sunday rollout that "the queen is ready for the ball."

Even better, the hardware inside suggests the queen is also nearly ready for her working flight tests.





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