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Boeing’s 787-8 “Self Portrait” Flight Plan Was Fun, but Also Practical

Boeing flight crews managed to kill two birds with one stone, both completing an 18-hour-long extended operations flight test and creating a little hype around the latest Dreamliner incarnation.

This week, Boeing officials decided to get imaginative with a planned 18-hour long “Maximum ETOPS” (Extended Operations) flight test for the 787-8 powered with Rolls Royce engines. The carefully formulated flight plan would sketch the outline of a Dreamliner across the US once completed.

While the finished product of the effort was only viewable at FlightAware, the project was certainly a sight to behold in real-time. The continent-sized doodle drew some criticism, however, from detractors who considered the skywriting to be a huge waste of jet fuel.

Worse still, Quartz reports that the flight of fancy was likely responsible for 300,000 kg or more of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. Of course, the primary motivation of the meandering flight across North America was not to create a giant Etch A Sketch style rendering of a jet plane. The real purpose of the nearly 16,000-mile-long endurance flight was to test the limits and performance of what promises to be one of the most advanced commercially available passenger planes in the sky.

“Rather than fly in random patterns, the test team got creative and flew a route that outlined a 787-8,” a Boeing spokesperson told the magazine.

This isn’t the first time the aircraft manufacturing giant has gotten a bit wistful on regulatory required test flights. In the past, crew testing a 737-MAX traced the letters “M-A-X” across the Pacific Northwest. On a later 787 test flight, pilots added the numbers “7-8-7” and a remarkably well-rendered Boeing logo. As far back as 2011, Boeing pilots once traced the numbers “7-4-7” during a cross country endurance test of a 747-800.

This week also wasn’t the first time Boeing officials found themselves in the position of having to defend the decision to give a test flight a few artistic flourishes. “This wasn’t a joy ride,” Boeing Vice President Tinseth said of the original 787 logo flight. “Our team coordinated with the many air traffic control centers, choosing the routing to avoid restricted airspace.”

[Photo: Shutterstock]

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