Aviation history was made in the skies of Washington State on Saturday 25 January when the biggest twin-engine jet ever built touched down safely after its maiden flight.
The brand-new Boeing 777X is designed to carry up to 426 passengers in a two-class configuration, and has been ordered by British Airways as a replacement for the 747 Jumbo.
It was third time lucky for the test flight. The maiden take-off from the factory at Everett in Washington State was due to happen on Thursday, then Friday, but both departures were cancelled because of adverse winds: the plane needed to take off to the north to avoid populated areas.
Finally at 10.07am local time on Saturday, Flight BOE1 took off under the command of chief test pilots Van Chaney and Craig Bomben. The Boeing 777X flew east and stayed aloft for around four hours.
It made some turns, flew southwest to the Mount Rainier area to do a circuit for publicity photos and finally touched down at Boeing Field in Seattle to rapturous applause from the plane manufacturer’s employees.
After the flight, arch-rival Airbus tweeted: “Congratulations @BoeingAirplanes on the maiden flight of the #777X – a great achievement!”
The Boeing 777 has been a familiar sight at the world’s airports for a quarter century. The “X” version has a slightly wider fuselage, significantly larger engines and much wider wings – spanning 235 feet.
The wingspan places the 777X in the same “ICAO code F” category as the SuperJumbo, which would significantly restrict the number of airports in which it could be used.
To counter this, the 777X is fitted with retractable wingtips that, for taxiing, can be raised to reduce the wingspan to 212 feet – the same as the current Boeing 777-300.
Boeing says new breakthroughs in aerodynamics and engines mean the 777X will deliver 10 per cent lower fuel use and emissions and 10 per cent lower operating costs than the highly successful Airbus A350.
The plane is intended to replace the Boeing 747 Jumbo jet, which celebrated half a century of flying between Heathrow and New York this week, and will also fill the gaps in airline fleets left as the Airbus A380 “SuperJumbo” is retired.
The 777X is available in a smaller configuration, the -8X seating 384, and the larger -9X holding 426.
The list price for the larger jet is $442m (£338m). Lease costs are expected to be around $1.5m (£1.15m) a month – which works out at £38,000 per day, before it has flown a mile.
Emirates is the launch customer and has ordered 115, and Qatar Airways has ordered 60.
Their Gulf rival, Etihad of Abu Dhabi, originally ordered 25, but that figure is in doubt as the heavy loss-making airline cuts costs.
Cathay Pacific of Hong Kong has ordered 21, while All Nippon Airways of Japan, Lufthansa, and Singapore Airlines have each ordered 20. BA’s order is for 18.
While these are all “premier league” of global airlines, no US carriers have so far ordered Boeing 777X directly.
The successful test flight temporarily shifted the focus from the Boeing 737 Max. The narrow-bodied jet has been grounded for over 10 months. New flight control software defeated the pilots’ efforts to save the aircraft involved in Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes.
Boeing has been working to convince the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its counterparts around the world that updates have made it safe.
Last week the planemaker has conceded the 737 Max will not be flying commercially for six more months.
Originally the firm predicted the 737 Max would be flying in the final quarter of 2019.
But now Boeing estimates that the “ungrounding” of the Max will begin “during mid-2020”.