Future of Flight Aviation Center - A Day in the
Life: First Flight of the Boeing 787

1:26 PM

By Sandy Ward, Marketing Director

We started thinking about the first flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on July 8, 2007 (7/8/7) when the first plane rolled out of the paint hangar and into the factory during the splashy event at the Boeing Everett plant. It was then that we knew it was time to begin planning a celebration for the first flight.

Much to our surprise, we set about organizing a party that would morph several times and come two years late. No, wait – back up. We actually started dreaming about the first flight when we opened the doors of the Future of Flight on December 17, 2005 almost exactly four years to the day before the actual event.

After a couple of false starts, we had big plans for a summer gathering as Boeing announced first flight would take place before the end of June, 2009. We envisioned a celebration that would include an exclusive donor party on the Future of Flight’s Strato Deck on a sunny day with mimosas and yummy breakfast food. We were certain the plane would take off early since the sun would be shining behind the photographers providing great pictures just in time for the noon news. The parking lot would be overflowing with regular people and we would all enjoy a flight against a gorgeous blue sky.

But six months later, under a heavy blanket of clouds and rainy, windy, winter weather, we began to prepare, once again for the Dreamliner’s first flight. Being outside in winter weather is never really pleasant unless you are skiing or snowshoeing or sledding and dressed for it so preparing for an event that required people to be outside this time of year was a challenge. There was a huge buzz about the flight and we knew that nothing was going to stop people from watching the first flight on Tuesday, December 15, 2009. So our staff set about planning for the crowds.

How to plan for what Boeing executive Scott Fancher has called an aviation game changer:
To do list:
· Find the pom-poms – version 1.0, 1.1, final version 1.2
· Organize staff and volunteers
· Order riot fence
· Get live feed in Boeing Theater and gallery
· Traffic control – yikes, 300 parking spots, busy intersection! Wonder if there’ll be a traffic jam?
· Order coffee, cocoa, snacks and EXTRA TOILET PAPER, (no kidding, this is very important)
· Get the word out. OK, we answered calls from print and broadcast TV/radio offering spaces on the Strato Deck (private fundraising event for the Foundation) or in the parking lot. Twitter proved to be the best way, by far, to reach the bulk of people because we were able to provide minute by minute information.
First Flight Day:
I arrived at 1:45am on the morning of December 15th to accommodate CNBC who would be broadcasting live to their east coast audience. At just after 2am I noticed a guy who had his cool camera equipment covered in expensive plastic (was that a garbage bag?) stationed on the berm. He was dressed for the weather, having parked down the hill, he walked in and staked out his spot. I told him it would probably be at least an 8 hour wait with no chair. He jumped up and down in one spot to keep warm and said he was aware and prepared, showing me his ski pants and big boots and said he did not mind sitting on the wet grass. I hope like crazy that he got the pictures he wanted.

At 4:15am other media began to arrive – CBS, ABC, FOX, and even some radio stations. Directing media trucks in the dark can be dangerous. Note to self: Order reflective vest. By 5:30am cars were backed up waiting for the parking lot to open at 6:30am. Most people chose to park in familiar neighborhoods and walk in. Lobby opened at 8am to the “thank goodness” sighs of those who’d been waiting (crossed legs) in the parking lot since 6:30am and those Jones-ing for a hot cup of something. The parking lot was completely full by 9am.

At 9:40am it appeared the weather was going to be acceptable for flying so the crowds pressed closer the fence line. Moms, dads, kids, regular people and professionals all shoulder to shoulder just to get a glimpse of the Dreamliner’s special day. Photographer check list: cameras, BIG lenses, tri-pod, hat, fingerless gloves – oh, AND step ladder.

As ZA001 fired up her engines, we could see the crowds of Boeing employees and media on the other side of the runway. Since we’d been waiting two years (well actually four) for this very moment, I half expected the process to be long and drawn out but to my surprise, she turned onto the runway (taxiway was full of people) headed south for the nearly 9,000 foot trek, made a dainty pirouette on the south end of the runway, took a deep breath (we held ours) as Boeing test pilots Mike Carriker and Randy Neville then began what would become history as she headed north on runway 34L.

To say she is beautiful is an understatement. A lovely bird-like creature, she lifted off with elegance and confidence to the cheers, tears and goosebumps of a crowd of thousands who all said, “it was worth the wait.” And it was!

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