Flying The 787: Behind The Scenes (with photos)


Aviation Week was invited to fly Boeing’s 787 in mid-November and, following a familiarization spell in the simulator on Nov 15, the big moment arrived the next day.

Walking out to the test aircraft for our flight, ZA005, with Boeing 787 assistant chief pilot Mike Bryan and 787 engineering project pilot Heather Ross. Aviation Week’s evaluation pilot Fred George is in the distance, already halfway up the aircraft stairs! (all photos Guy Norris unless stated)


ZA005 was the first GE-powered 787 to fly, making its maiden sortie in June 2010 with Mike Bryan in command and Mike Carriker, chief test pilot for the very first 787 flight in 2009, in the right hand seat.

Also along for the flight was a veteran of the program from Sonic Cruiser days, 787 vice president and chief project engineer Mike Sinnett. Note the inlet for the cabin air compressor and its deflector door just above Mike’s head, and above that, the heat exchanger inlet.

One of only two 787s still currently used for flight testing, ZA005 still mounts a trailing air data measuring cone in the tip of its fin.

Byran shows Fred around the ‘the front office’ of ZA005.  

ZA005 departs Boeing Field heading south after using only just over a third of Runway 13R’s 10,000 ft length. (Joe Walker) 

Fred gets used to handling the 787 and using the Rockwell Collins head-up guidance system – or HUD as most call it. Ignoring the test card which called for engaging the autopilot after gear and flap retraction, Fred hand flew the aircraft after take-off and used the HUD for his primary flight reference. Note one of the AvWeek GoPro cameras which we mounted over the glareshield to record the forward view. 

Here is the view through the HUD, which comes as standard on every 787, as we climbed through the murk at 17,000 ft en route to eastern Washington.

I used a tripod to steady the camera for filming the flight from the jump seat.

The flight included a demonstration of the fuel balance system which automatically balances the amount in the left and right main tanks. For the pilot this means a lower work load and no more opening of crossfeed valves and turning off fuel pumps in flight. It also means no more forgetting to turn them back on, either!

Note here, with the left engine throttled all the way back, Fred was able to keep his hands off the controls as Mike demonstrated the way the P-beta function prevents the aircraft from being upset in roll or yaw even with thrust asymmetry. Fred noted only slight changes in yaw and virtually no change in roll angle – even during aggressive alternate throttle opening and closing during a 30-deg bank angle turn.

Moses Lake-Grant County’s Runway 32 looms out of the mist following an ILS approach using the auto-drag function to help control airspeed and the descent. Note the C-17 holding near the far end of the runway. 

Although powered by the Block4 standard GEnx-1B for our flight, ZA005 is currently being fitted with GE’s upgraded GEnx-1B PIP II. After flight tests, these will become standard on all 787s from late next year onwards.

The fly-by-wire flight control system provides artificial spiral stability up to 35 deg of bank. The aircraft can be banked steeper but when the yoke is released, the FBW system forces the control wheel in the opposite direction to reduce bank angle to 30 deg. 

ZA005 in flight near Mount Ranier. Unfortunately the weather for our flight was not nearly so clear. (Boeing)

Spoilers deploy during maneuvers over the Puget Sound with Victoria, the capital of Canada’s Vancouver Island, briefly visible in the distance below the wing tip.

Touchdown back at Boeing Field – thrust reversers, flaps and spoilers deployed. (Joe Walker)

Collecting our gear we departed ZA005 as the next text crew embarked to prepare for the next sortie that afternoon – engine tests in advance of the upcoming 787-9 certification program in 2013. 

Mission accomplished! Click here to watch the video

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