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Fun facts about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on its 8th birthday

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LISTEN: Fun facts about the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on its 8th birthday

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s maiden flight was eight years ago this week. It was just after 10:27 am on Dec. 15, 2009 when the revolutionary passenger jet — made of carbon fiber and assembled from components built by vendors around the globe — first took to the skies from Paine Field in Everett.

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The inaugural flight of the Boeing 787 came more than a year later than had been expected and it was shortened somewhat due to rainy weather conditions. Still, the new plane touched down safely at Boeing Field early that afternoon and went on to take part in months of flight testing before the first delivery to an airline customer in late 2011.

In honor of the Dreamliner’s eighth birthday and to celebrate some aspects of this more recent chapter in Northwest aviation history, here are eight “fun facts” that also include some of the challenges the 787 faced along the way.

“Jetty McJetlinerface” didn’t make the cut

Back in 2003, Boeing held an online ballot to allow the public to choose a nickname for the company’s new jet, known at the time as the 7E7. When the voting was all over, “Dreamliner” beat out Stratoclimber, eLiner and Global Cruiser, and was officially announced by Boeing at the Paris Air Show on June 15, 2003. “Dreamliner” had also been used as a name for passenger cars operated by the New York Central Railroad back in the 1950s.

Not the only “Sonic” to leave town

Prior to announcing the effort to design and build what would become the Dreamliner, Boeing scrapped plans to build a radical new high-speed (near-sonic) jetliner called the Sonic Cruiser. Concepts for the Sonic Cruiser were made public in March 2001; the 9/11 terror attacks and ensuing economic downturn in the airline industry were blamed for the aircraft not catching on with airlines or the public. This Seattle Sonic left town on December 19, 2002, but fortunately, the effects were much less drastic than when the original Supersonic Transport or “SST” program was cancelled in 1970.

Everett chosen for Dreamliner HQ1

In a competition not unlike how some cities scramble to lure professional sports teams or vie for becoming home to HQ2, elected officials in Washington put together a $3 billion package of financial incentives that helped convince Boeing to build the Dreamliner at Boeing’s existing factory at Paine Field. The big news that Washington had beat out more than 20 other states was announced on December 16, 2003.

“Efficiency” is my middle name: 7E7 becomes the 787

When the initiative to build what would become the 787 Dreamliner was announced on Jan. 30, 2003, the aircraft was known as the 7E7 (with “E” standing for “efficiency,” because the plane would be built with lighter weight carbon fiber and with fuel-efficient engines). The 7E7 officially became the 787 on Jan. 28, 2005. Boeing’s jet-numbering system is demystified by Boeing historian Mike Lombardi here.

787 rolls out on 7/8/07 . . . or is that 8/7/07?

The giant Boeing factory at Paine Field was the place where thousands gathered for the official “roll out” of the 787 on July 8, 2007 (7/8/7 in the US; 8/7/7 in most of the rest of the world). Emcee for the event was Tom Brokaw and star of the show was what appeared to be a complete 787. At the appointed moment, the hangar doors opened, and the jet came around the corner and into very dramatic view. It was later revealed that the aircraft that had been featured in the big show was something of a theatrical prop.

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Flight delays and more flight delays . . . and battery troubles

For previous models of Boeing jetliners, all the way back to the Dash 80 in the 1950s and up to the 777 in the 1990s, maiden flights came within months of the roll-out ceremonies. For the Dreamliner, this was not to be. Boeing’s production approach for the Dreamliner was all new. It involved farming out work to suppliers from around the world, who build large components of the aircraft that are then shipped to Paine Field for final assembly. In those early years of the program, sometimes the pieces just didn’t fit and it meant years of delay before the Dreamliner went into regular service in late 2011. But then, as if the original delivery delays weren’t enough, in early 2013, all 787s were grounded for four months because of issues with lithium batteries catching fire.

Second assembly line flies away

In October 2009, two months before the Dreamliner’s maiden flight, Boeing announced that a second assembly line for the 787 would be located in North Charleston, South Carolina. It was a big blow to the pride and to the economy Pacific Northwest, previously the exclusive home of Boeing’s jetliner manufacturing operations for more than 50 years. But it could’ve been worse, or the bad news could’ve come much sooner. In 1992, there was talk of building an earlier jetliner that was on the drawing board in those days (and that was also known as the 787) at Boeing’s defense plant in Wichita, Kansas.

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Latest model of the Dreamliner debuted in . . . South Carolina?

The 787-10, a longer version of the original 787 that carries more passengers, was rolled out at the Boeing plant in North Charleston, South Carolina in February 2017. President Trump was on hand to celebrate the occasion. “That is one beautiful airplane. Congratulations to the men and women here who have built it. What an amazing piece of art. What an amazing piece of work,” President Trump said. “The name says it all: Dreamliner. Great name. Our country is all about making dreams come true.”

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