Boeing kicked off the 787-9 test and certification program on Sept. 17 with an ambitious 5-hr., 16-min. first flight. Crewed by 787-9 Senior Project Pilot Mike Bryan and 787 Chief Pilot Randy Neville, the aircraft took off from Paine Field in Everett, Wash., at 11:02 a.m. local time and returned to Boeing Field, Seattle, at 4:18 p.m.

The flight included evaluations normally conducted during a standard “B-1” Boeing production test sortie as well as assessments related to specific differences associated with the propulsion system and handling characteristics of the longer airframe. The aircraft, designated ZB001, is 20 ft. longer overall than the baseline 787-8, and is powered by the newly certificated, higher-thrust “Package C” version of the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000. Maximum altitude reached during the flight was 20,400 ft., and maximum airspeed was 250 kt.

The test debut of the 787-9 marks a major milestone for the program as Boeing continues to ramp up deliveries of the 787-8 and initiates development of the 787-10, the third major derivative of the family. Boeing has high hopes for the -9 stretch, particularly because the higher-capacity variant does not trade performance for the additional 40 passengers it will hold compared to the -8. The aircraft is designed to fly an additional 300 nm with a full payload compared to the baseline, and has already attracted 388 firm orders. This represents 41.5% of the program's overall firm backlog, a figure comparatively close to the 787-8's current 498 order tally.

Boeing also appears more confident about meeting initial performance goals with the 787-9 than it did with the troubled early development versions of the 787-8. This is largely because the 787-9 empty weight is reportedly running marginally better than predicted, partially related to structural and systems improvements gleaned during the weight optimization efforts for the 787-8. The -9 also incorporates aerodynamic improvements, including a hybrid laminar flow-control device in the vertical fin, and will benefit from the latest fuel-burn improvement packages developed by Rolls for the Trent 1000 and General Electric with the Performance Improvement Package (PIP) II package for the GEnx-1B.

The Package C engines powering the aircraft on its first flight are rated at 74,000 lb. thrust, and are designed to have 1% better fuel burn relative to Package B. The upgraded configuration incorporates modifications to increase mass flow and the exhaust-gas temperature margin, and includes modified blades in the intermediate-pressure compressor and a semi-active case cooling system for improved tip clearance control in the low-pressure turbine. The engine will be the baseline powerplant for the 787-9 when it enters service with Air New Zealand in mid-2014 and will also be standard on 787-8s from around June 2014 onward.

The 787-9 will be based at Boeing Field for most of the upcoming test and certification campaign, which will be completed in second-quarter 2014. The first 787-9 is the 126th 787 to roll off the combined Everett and Charleston, S.C., production lines, and will be joined in the test program by the second and third 787-9s, Nos. ZB002 and ZB021. The second test aircraft has been completed and the third, which will be GE-powered, is in final assembly. Two 787-9s with completed interiors will also join the latter stages of the program to assist with function and reliability pre-entry-into-service tests.