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Book takes aviation fans inside Dreamliner project

"The Birth of the 787 Dreamliner," by Boeing photographer Edgar Turner, is a fantastic look behind the scenes of the much-anticipated (and much-delayed) new airplane.

In the new book The Birth of the 787 Dreamliner, Boeing photographer Edgar Turner gives aviation fans a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at the making of one of the most anticipated planes of all time. Ed Turner/Boeing

commentary It's been eight years in the making so far, and has gone through any number of delays and problems, but Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is still one of the most-anticipated commercial airplanes in history. And with the plane's testing program under way for almost exactly a year, it is edging closer and closer to carrying its first passengers.

Now, fans of the innovative plane--it is made from 50 percent composite material and is expected to offer carriers up to 20 percent savings on fuel--can get a fix unlike any offered before. With Edgar Turner's new book, "The Birth of the 787 Dreamliner," anyone interested in the 787--or in commercial aviation in general--can get a great look at what it takes not only to make a major new airplane, but to get a program like the 787 off the ground to begin with.

In his book, Turner--a Boeing photographer with terrific access to the entire program--uses his pictures to showcase the entire eight years of development of the 787. He traveled to Boeing facilities throughout the world, as well as to supplier partners, in order to illustrate as much of the process of building the Dreamliner as possible.

Divided into sections on the plane's unusual components, its assembly, and "The Dream," or the program's current era, the book offers an education into major aviation development and manufacturing.

To be sure, the timing of the book's release is less than ideal, given that the 787's test program is currently grounded due to a recent on-board control panel fire. But while the 787 has had more than its share of problems and delays--from manufacturing issues to strikes to supply shortages, and more--it is still expected to be carrying its first commercial passengers sometime in 2011. And there's no doubt that the book is a very large and prominent promotional effort for the new plane.

The 787 made its first flight on December 15, 2009, from Boeing's Paine Field, in Everett, Wash.

Stunning photography
When you pick up Turner's book, the first thing that strikes you is its heft. This is a big, heavy book, and it comes with a matching price--$85, though it's available on Boeing's site for $49. But when you open the cover, it's the photographs that will transfix you.

I would challenge anyone, aviation buff or not, to not get lost in this book. Turner's pictures are stunning, and his access is unlike anything I've seen before. While Boeing makes countless images available on its Web site, it doesn't offer anything like what is in Turner's book--though a few of the same pictures appear in the official 787 imagery.

But it's images like those, which offer detailed and intricate looks at just about every element of the airplane, that will keep anyone turning the pages--and turning them slowly. That, plus, pictures of things like the 787's painting process, the Dreamliner Production Integration Center--where Boeing keeps real-time track of the plane's worldwide supply chain--the first flight, the loading of parts of the plane's fuselage on the specially-made 747 Dreamlifter, and much, much more are what make the book worth its price.

I wish I could show you more pictures. But it seems the publisher wants you to buy the book for that.