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Boeing Live Event Coverage

Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates covers top industry events to bring you the latest news, highlighting how it impacts Boeing and its competitors.

July 11, 2012 at 12:44 PM

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Boeing 787 pilot on what it takes to fly the aerial display at Farnborough

It wasn't just Qatar Airways that was keen to show off its 787 Dreamliner in the daily flying displays at the Farnborough Air Show.

Despite Boeing's longtime aversion to flying commercial jets at Air Shows as not worth even the small risk involved, chief 787 test pilot Randy Neville said this time Boeing wanted to do it.2012Randy Neville 2.jpg

(At right, Randy Neville. my photo.)
The Dreamliner Air Show flight pattern looks spectacular, well outside the normal boundaries of commercial flying. The jet, fresh out of the Everett factory, flies steep climbs, wheels around in hard banking turns, and kisses the runway on a touch-and-go.

"As a company, we realized the marketing value of getting the airplane out in front of the public, suppliers and customers," said Neville.

He said the first question the pilots had to answer was: "Are we sacrificing safety at all?"

"Of course, the answer has to be no," said Neville. "We want to put on a good show, but we want to make sure we don't push ourselves too far."

Neville is a former test pilot on the F-22 fighter. He and Mike Bryan, who used to fly F/A-18 fighters in Air Shows, took turns flying the 787 display routine this week.

Before getting here, they planned their routine, flew it many times in 787 simulators at Boeing Field and practiced in a real plane over Moses Lake.

Then last Friday they had to fly two validation flights here at Farnborough to pass muster with the local Air Show committee, a group of older guys who flew in Air Shows in the past and who decide which maneuvers will be allowed and which won't.

The committee requires that pilots submit a detailed plan for any display flying. Its members figure out all the possible outcomes: What if the plane loses an engine at this point? What changes if there's a cross-wind toward the crowd? Should the plane land or divert if a specific warning message lights up?

In advance, the committee sets minimum altitude requirements, stipulates locations the plane must not fly over, and marks with a line of cones off-set from the runway the closest the plane is allowed to come to the watching crowd.

On the validation flights, 3-D cameras tell the committee the exact position of the plane at any point.

Neville said the committee will demand that pilots modify their routines "if they think it's maybe too risky or if there's too much of a tendency to overfly the crowd."

Ironically, the tight airspace requirements to avoid low flying over sensitive residential areas forced Neville and Bryan toward a more aggressive routine.

Initially they thought they would do a couple of level fly-bys, showing spectators the elegant silhouette of the airplane and the graceful arc of its wings in flight. But the tight turn radius required some steep banking.

And as the routine evolved, they decided to show off some of the plane's performance, its ability to handle those hard turns, abrupt climbs, and sudden acceleration.

It looked great from the ground. How did it feel in the air?

"It felt fantastic," said Neville. "It's an outstanding airplane to fly. It flies great, very responsive to the controls."

"It's such a small box we have to work in," he added. "You are doing these turns and looking down at this flight line of people and buildings and airplanes, and they just look so close."

"I'm thrilled to be showing this airplane."

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no barrel rolls? I guess I'm not missing much. MORE
Great demo IMO, really shows the aircraft to world ( if we include youtube) ... MORE