Boeing's Future Finally Takes Flight as the
Lucky Few Report the News Live from KPAE

4:47 PM

As I watched Tuesday's webcast of the long-awaited first flight of Boeing's groovy 787 Dreamliner, I also had the #787FF Twitter feed up on my second display. It was an exhilarating news event when Paine Tower made the call "Boeing zero-zero-one heavy experimental, runway 34L cleared for takeoff." As the 787's gear lifted from the runway, Boeing's video team had a camera at the opposite end of the runway, down low, to further add drama to the liftoff of ZA001. It was breathtaking!

With the webcast, the whole world was watching. And these days, if you want to take the pulse on just about anything happening in that world, add the # hashtag to it on the Twit and watch the news/views roll in. It is the modern-day equivalent of the old Teletype machine, only instead of scruffy hard knocks reporters in smoky newsrooms sending out "wires", this is Average Joe and Jane – mixed with many legit news agencies – pounding out real-time reporting in 140 characters or less.

So what happens when you mix a really dramatic aviation event with Twitter? Here's your answer:
As the minutes clicked off towards Dreamliner's planned launch, it seemed everyone on Twitter was a WX forecaster. I saw numerous tweets insisting the ceiling had lowered sufficiently to scrub the first flight attempt. Wrong they were, but it did ramp up the intensity of the moment. Then, when ZA001 actually started moving, scores of Tweeps chronicled every inch of that movement. "Confirmed: wheels moving, taxi has commenced!", or "OMG OMG OMG It's rounding the turn of the apron headed for the taxiway!!!!!!" But the real fun began when the flight took off. More than one Tweepster compared this event to the Wright's first flight, a stretch, but still worth a grin. Another insisted (with all caps) that the first flight was "more significant than Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon." Uh. Huh.
While I am very excited about the first flight of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, I am sorry to report it does not carry the same importance in my world as Orville and Wilbur's first flight or the first steps on the Moon. How will I view this first flight? This might help:
I have written before about a lecture I attended a few years ago at the University of Oregon when Burt Rutan was speaker. His topic was commercial space travel, and how it was the next achievable milestone in aviation. The first obviously was the Wrights, which got things started. Next was the DC-3, which made coast-to-coast flights a reality. Next, it was the 747, which opened up the world to international flights. But he stopped there, saying that nothing since the 747 has been that "next big thing" that aviation needs. His theory is that his SpaceShipTwo will be that next milestone, making flights through space to the other side of the planet quick and smooth. I agree with his thinking, which is why I must say the 787 Dreamliner – while easily the most sophisticated and sexy airliner flying today – is not a game changer, it's instead more of a industry changer. Years from now when flights on a -87 are as common as trips on a CRJ are now, we'll look back on all the fuel saved by the Dreamliner and thank Boeing's engineers for making such an efficient ship that raised the bar so much higher in terms of providing comfortable air travel with substantially less damage to the environment.
Will the Dreamliner save commercial aviation? No, not by itself. But with 840 orders being reported from various sources in Boeing's order books, there can be no disputing the fact that it is a wildly popular design that has been embraced by airlines all over the world. These carriers can read performance numbers, and the Dreamliner delivers stellar ROI for those who are willing to wait in line.

This is to take nothing away from the first flight. I am envious of the lucky few who were there at Paine Field to see this historic event. And it WAS historic, much like the first 747 flight back on February 9, 1969. While maybe not a "milestone" by Rutan's definition, the 787 Dreamliner is indeed redefining what an airliner should be. If the carriers keep to Boeing's promise of wider seats, more legroom, cleaner air and a plush ride in the entire cabin, passengers will soon seek out the carriers flying the -87. This means better profits for the 'lines...and when that happens, Boeing's order book will swell even more, allowing more workers to keep their jobs in Everett and around the world.

And in this economy, keeping jobs is reason enough to celebrate ZA001's first flight!

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