First ride in Boeing's Dreamliner

10:47 PM

The unmarked Gulfstream lifts off of Eugene's Mahlon Sweet Field, carrying me, my laptop and camera, a sales rep from Boeing's Commercial Airplane Division, and two burly guys in dark suits and shades talking into their wrists. I assume our route will take us to Boeing Field in Everett, Washington, site of the Dreamliner assembly plant. That would be a fair assumption since I had been selected out of a pool of 102,000 journalists worldwide to take the very first ride in a fully-assembled 787 Dreamliner.

O.K., you're reading this, and KNOW they haven't fully assembled a 787, yet, or so the Boeing media photos show. But as we touch down near Montréal at Mirabel International Airport, I can see a 787 sitting in a darkened hangar at the far edge of the field. As I gather my things to depart the Gulfstream, one of the Secret Agent types crosses his arms in front of me, and lays on the briefing:

Here's the deal, reporter boy. This airplane doesn't exist until we say it exists, got it? That won't be for several months yet, got that? We have selected you to preview the new Dreamliner and will authorize you to “leak” the story in about two weeks, only when we give you the green light. It's a buzz creation scheme, baby. Nobody will believe your story, but it will get people talking. I nod my approval. "Whatever," I say rudely, "just show me the damned Dreamliner, you APE!"
I am escorted to the hanger and sure enough, there it is, a fully assembled Dreamliner. Around the sleek fuselage, a hundred Boeing technicians are swarming, as technicians often do. At the bottom if the stairway to heaven is a young lady named Kate, who welcomes me aboard. She looks like the Flight Attendents of yesterday, dressed in an impeccable suit, even wearing the traditonal Stewardess hat that they used to wear back when DC-3s ruled the sky. Seriously sweet.

From the very first moment I enter the cabin, I can see this airliner is like no other. I see sweeping arches directing my eye upwards, where I find a soothing “simulated sky” created arrays of light-emitting diodes that makes the plane look more spacious. Kate directs me to the first class cabin, and after unloading my carry-ons into an oversized luggage bin, I melt into the large, luxurious seat. Out of the window – which seems far larger then any I have ever seen on an airliner – I see the technicians are gone. Gently we are tugged to the ramp, and it seems odd to be the only passenger on such a plush machine able to seat about 250 people. Back in coach, I see a bevy of Boeing technicians are watching my every move. They want to see how the first actual human from outside the company reacts to the Dreamliner:
Now there is a smooth hum emanating from the floor, as the two Rolls-Royce engines spool up. But it is not the usual sound you hear when a modern airliner powers up. Maybe it's the Star Trek-like interior surrounding me, but this hum seems more of a low frequency vibration, as if the heartbeat of the Dreamliner was going through every pore in my body.
Taxi does not feel like a normal taxi, with the squishy tires and “fish out of water” feeling that other jets have when they are wheels down. In the Dreamliner, you glide along hovercraft-style, with no discernible hint that the airliner is still in contact with Planet Earth.

Into position and held, I feel the two massive engines increasing thrust. Mirabel tower cuts us loose, and up in that dreamy, forward-thinking cockpit, the Captain firewalls the FADEC system and we rocket forward as if shot from a cannon. Like a fine business jet, the Dreamliner gets airborne NOW, and climbs out at what I figure feels like 5,000 FPM. I am in airplane heaven.

Level in cruise, there is no engine sound, no hum of any kind...only that same low frequency vibration that makes your biosystem at one with the plane's. Soon, I am served real food – Prime Rib, imagine that – served on real china of a very contemporary design. Kate sits down next to me and asks what I think so far. After gushing for maybe 10 minutes, she asks if I'd like to visit the cockpit. What kind of a question is that for a pilot like me I mumble as I follow her forward.

Inside the futuristic cockpit, nothing is as it should be. This is a major leap forward for commercial airliners, as every button, every glass MFD and PFD, every radio knob, even the cup holders, are like none anyone has witnessed before. I watch as the Captain and FO lounge in ergonomically-correct chairs, operating a series of computers that drives guidence systems and engine management software that would make the Space Shuttle seem so last generation.

As I stand drooling over the most beautiful panel ever conceived, the Captain turns and politely asks if I'd like to take over the controls for a few minutes, to really get a hands-on feel for a Dreamliner. I am stunned, and as he departs the right seat...I cannot feet are WELDED to the ground. I tug, but both shoes stay put. It is easily a GA pilot's worst nightmare...being that close to the yoke of a Dreamliner, frozen in space, not being able to move.

Just then, my dog jumps up on the bed and begins pawing at me to awaken. AWAKEN? Huh? My eyes creep open and all I see is the ceiling of my bedroom, not the inside of a Dreamliner. WTF?

Slowly, it hits me that this has all been, yes, a DREAM...and I realize why Boeing choose to call the 787...the Dreamliner.

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