PARIS--As he neared the end of the nearly 10-hour flight from Everett, Wash., to the French capital and the Paris Air Show here, Boeing chief pilot Mark Feuerstein got some unexpected gratification.
"It was a real quiet flight over," Feuerstein said of the trip that began just an hour north of Seattle, where Boeing builds many of its biggest passenger planes. "But as we approached Paris, it became a big deal. People knew who we were, on the radio. It was exciting. A lot of the pilots in the area saw us and were commenting, asking, 'Is that the new airplane?'"
And why not? The plane Feuerstein was flying was the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, the all-new version of the aviation giant's iconic flagship jumbo jet. And painted in a very distinctive orange and white livery, it must be hard to miss, even high in the sky. For everyone around, seeing the plane is an exciting moment.
The plane made its international debut yesterday. It was first unveiled to the public in February, and made its first flight in March, but this is the Paris Air Show, and where better for Boeing to show the plane off outside the U.S. for the first time?
I visited the Paris Air Show yesterday as part of Road Trip 2011 and got a chance to see the interior of the plane, even though it is still very much a work in progress.
The plane features two all-new, highly aerodynamic wings, making the plane the most fuel efficient in commercial aviation, Boeing said. And it's 12-feet longer than previous 747s. It also features a new lighting system that is designed to change the color of the interior lights during flight since, as deputy 747 program manager Elizabeth Lund explained, studies have shown that by using different lighting during long flights, airlines can help passengers avoid jet lag.
Military planes take center stage in Paris (photos)
Oddly, despite being an all-new generation of the 747, the flight deck is extremely similar to the current-gen version, the 747-400. That's because, Feuerstein explained, Boeing usually keeps things in the cockpit relatively unchanged from one generation of a plane to the next. That's because, he said, the idea is to allow pilots to get up to speed on the new airplanes in just days, and not need a full re-training.
But while this aircraft retains its obvious 747 silhouette, it is also clearly a new plane. That's especially true because of its one-of-a-kind orange-and-white livery and also because of its modern, sleek look. It may not be ready for delivery to airline customers, but it's definitely ready to get most aviation enthusiasts' pulse going.
The Paris Air Show The Paris Air Show is the world's biggest celebration of aviation, and throughout the giant complex that is the Le Bourget airport, dozens and dozens of airplanes, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, and other aircraft are set up for viewing. There are also hundreds of exhibitors spread around the huge space. And all day there are demonstrations of flying from a broad cross-section of the planes on display, from the smallest to the biggest (see video below).
At the heart of the show, however, are clearly two categories of aircraft: commercial/civilian and military. And here, CNET brings you looks at the best of both categories of planes.
Please stay tuned for more from the Paris Air Show as CNET allows you to take a trip to this giant airplane bacchanalia. You don't even need a passport.
The best of Paris Air Show's civilian planes (photos)