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Secret VIP gets first Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental

The aviation giant handed over the first next-gen passenger 747 today to an "undisclosed" VIP buyer. Boeing expects to deliver the first commercial 747-8 Intercontinental soon.

The first 747-8 Intercontinental, as seen at the plane's formal unveiling in Everett, Wash., on Feb. 13, 2011. Today, Boeing handed off the first VIP version of the new 747 to an undisclosed customer. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Fans of the 747, rejoice! Boeing's flagship jumbo jet is one step closer to flying paying passengers.

Today at its huge Everett, Wash., assembly plant, the aviation giant handed over the very first 747-8 Intercontinental, the next generation of perhaps the most famous airplane in history.

At an event at the plant, about 45 minutes north of Seattle, Boeing delivered the first new 747, a special "VIP" version that will be modified to carry 100 passengers in what has to be assumed is very luxurious style, to "an undisclosed customer." This first plane will be outfitted with Greenpoint Technologies' Aeroloft, a third-party modification that offers passengers private sleeping quarters above the main deck, as well as specially designed furnishings and a forward entry staircase.

The Aeroloft configuration also provides a "double-digit improvement" in emissions over the current-generation 747-400.

Boeing first unveiled the 747-8 Intercontinental at the Everett plant on February 13, 2011.

But the delivery of this new 747-8 is also important because it is one of the last steps prior to the hand-off of the first Intercontinental to a commercial-airline customer, predicted to be in the spring. Boeing's 747-8 launch partner, Lufthansa, has ordered 20 of the planes.

New wing design
While many aviation enthusiasts would be excited by the launch of a new 747, regardless of its specifications, the Intercontinental is expected to be one of the most aerodynamic and fuel-efficient planes in the sky.

The plane features a new wing design that employs "the latest in computational fluid dynamics, validated in the world's most sophisticated wind tunnels." Boeing also boasts that the plane has the largest fuel capacity and the fastest potential speed of any passenger plane in the world.

This is the VIP 747-8 Intercontinental that Boeing handed off today, seen landing at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. Boeing

"Several elements of the wing design improve performance and reduce noise, compared with the 747-400," an Intercontinental marketing document reads. "When the flaps are extended, the ailerons automatically deflect and act as additional high-lift devices, improving takeoff and landing performance, and minimizing noise."

Boeing has also jettisoned the 747-400's vertical winglets in favor of "raked wingtips that increase lift and reduce drag at cruising speeds."

The new wing design also features "fly-by-wire spoilers and ailerons that make it possible to incorporate a flight control feature known as a maneuver load alleviation system. Pioneered on the 787 Dreamliner, it changes the lift distribution over the wing during non-normal flight conditions, reducing the load on its outboard portion."

That means that the new plane is 1,400 pounds lighter without compromising structural integrity, Boeing says.

And Boeing thinks the new 747 will be a big hit with airlines, given that it is the world's only passenger plane in the 400- to 500-seat market, as well as the fact that its four General Electric GEnx-2B engines use 16 percent less fuel per seat than do the current-generation 747-400's engines.

The new Intercontinental is also one of the world's quietest planes, with a 30 percent smaller "noise footprint" than the 747-400, a feature that is expected to enable airlines flying the new plane to take off and land 24 hours a day at airports like London's Heathrow, which have noise restrictions at night.

Low sales
But despite the advantages that the new Intercontinental offers carriers, Boeing has had some trouble selling the plane. As of today, according to a representative, the company has completed deals for 36 Intercontinentals, with commitments for 20 more.

That puts the new plane far behind, at least in orders, its sister plane, the 787 Dreamliner, which has more than 850 orders. Of course, Boeing has had trouble with Dreamliner production, and it is expected to be able to turn out a maximum of ten 787s a month when it completes a new assembly plant in South Carolina next year.

At the same time, Boeing recently announced that it is swapping the leadership of the Dreamliner and 777 programs.