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Boeing sends 787 Dreamliner to the flight line

Company says the plane is "on schedule" for a first flight later this quarter, but that belies the fact that the program has been delayed several times.

Boeing said its 787 Dreamliner has moved to the flight line at its Everett, Wash., facility, and is on schedule for its first flight later this quarter. This comes after the much anticipated program has been delayed several times. Boeing

After what must seem to Boeing executives, not to mention aviation industry observers, like never-ending delays, the aircraft giant said on Monday that it has moved its much anticipated 787 Dreamliner to the flight line for final testing.

Currently, Boeing said in a release, the airplane--which was first rolled out to the public on July 8, 2007--is on the flight line, meaning it is being put through a series of rigorous tests designed to ensure its flight-worthiness. The next big step will be fuel testing, the company said.

As of Monday, Boeing said, the 787 Dreamliner's first flight is "on schedule" for later this quarter. But that statement belies the fact that the entire 787 program is very far behind its original schedule.

Originally, the plane was supposed to make its first flight in late 2007 and carry its first passenger in spring 2008. Now, it is not expected to carry passengers until at least 2010. Still, Boeing has 886 orders from 57 carriers for the plane, it said.

But several delays, including one the company attributes to a lengthy machinists strike, has caused the program to revise that original schedule. Still, Boeing is clearly eager to get the plane off the ground, and there is no doubt there is widespread interest in the plane's launch.

"In recent weeks, the 787 (designated ZA001) completed a rigorous series of tests including build verification tests, structures and systems integration tests, landing gear swings and factory gauntlet, which is the full simulation of the first flight using the actual airplane," Boeing said in a release Monday. "With Chief Pilot Mike Carriker at the controls, the simulation tested all flight controls, hardware, and software. The simulation also included manual and automatic landings and an extensive suite of subsequent ground tests."

In addition, Boeing completed all the required structural tests on the plane's "static airframe." The last of those tests was performed on April 21 when its trailing and wing edges were put through limit load tests. That means, Boeing said, that the plane was subjected to the equivalent of the highest loads--about 2.5 times the force of gravity--that could reasonably be expected in service.

Now that the plane is on Boeing's Everett, Wash., flight line, it will be put through additional "airplane power and systems tests as well as engine runs." If it passes those, it will go through final high-speed taxi tests and systems checks, and then maybe, just maybe, it will be ready for its first flight.

For Boeing, if that indeed comes to pass, that would be some good news very long in the making.

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