Since Boeing and Airbus are in a pitched battle for superiority in the aircraft industry, you may not be surprised to learn that both companies have scheduled first flights for new planes at the very same time. But you’d be wrong, kinda–they’re wholly different beasts.
For Boeing, it’s the horrendously delayed wide-body civilian 787 Dreamliner. After numerous errors, design flaws and failures, the craft is just about ready for its maiden voyage–once the company’s own reviews, taxi tests and FAA documentation all line up properly. That means the first flight could come as soon as Tuesday, December 15.
The 787 was supposed to have been in service starting in May 2008, with an initial flight in September 2007–a first flight right now is a demonstration of exactly how astray the 787 project has gone. It’s still got many hundreds of orders on the books, but what’ll turn out to be around a two year delay has had serious effects for Boeing and its many clients. Still, when the eco-friendly plane is in service it’ll be a good thing for the environment.
Meanwhile Airbus’s newest vehicle, the military wide-body A400M actually did take to the skies today. Despite the success of this maiden voyage (an 8,000-foot basic performance checkout) the actual first flight was supposed to be in the first quarter of 2008. It’s not quite as delayed as the 787, but that has been an issue for some of the eight nations who have ordered the vehicle as a direct replacement for the U.S.-built (and now very aged) C130 Hercules craft.
Why are both these vehicles so late? For the Airbus at least part of the problem has been political wrangling. But the Airbus is also a cutting-edge plastic and carbon-fiber vehicle, with radically designed composite Scimitar propellers. And the Dreamliner’s design is all about efficiency–with careful aerodynamics, and almost exclusive use of composite materials, the real difficulties have been technical. These vehicles are pushing the cutting edge of aircraft design, in two different ways, and the delays mean that at least Boeing’s and Airbus’ CEOs have something chummy to talk about.