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Originally published December 15, 2009 at 10:31 AM | Page modified December 16, 2009 at 9:05 AM

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Boeing 787 Dreamliner lands after 3-hour first flight

Boeing's 787 Dreamliner touched down at Boeing Field at 1:35 p.m., cutting short an anticipated five-and-a-half hour first flight. "Just weather, that's the...

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Boeing's 787 Dreamliner touched down at Boeing Field at 1:35 p.m., cutting short an anticipated five-and-a-half hour first flight.

"Just weather, that's the only reason," said Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter.

The plane left the runway at Paine Field in Everett Tuesday morning at 10:27 a.m.

Cheered on by several thousand company employees and public spectators who assembled to see the historic flight, the jet made from carbon-fiber reinforced plastic soared aloft in Boeing's blue, white and turquoise colors into a briefly bright Pacific Northwest sky.

The Dreamliner initially flew due north and was visible for several minutes as it climbed to 15,000 feet.

According to the flight plan, it was supposed to later head inland over Eastern Washington. But tracking websites show the plane has been making loops over Puget Sound for the past two hours, without attempting to cross the Cascades.

Dreamliner No. 1 took off exactly six years after the Boeing board gave the go-ahead to offer the jet for sale on Dec. 15, 2003.

Those years were marked by extraordinary sales success through 2007, when the plane first rolled out of the Everett factory to tremendous fanfare. Yet a long string of serious delays since then pushed today's first flight out 28 months later than the originally scheduled date.

The latest blow came in June, when the first flight was embarrassingly postponed at the last minute so that Boeing could fix a structural flaw in the wing.

That done, a successful flight today will be a huge relief for Boeing executives and for all working on the jet program.

Local Machinist union leader Tom Wroblewski, though at loggerheads with Boeing management most of this year over how little work on the jet goes to his members, welcomed the belated first flight.

"Today's a day to celebrate," said Wroblewski, who is District 751 president for the union. "We've had a lot of disappointments and disagreements during the Dreamliner's development, but today we'll celebrate together."

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Despite some cancelations, Boeing still has 840 firm orders for the aircraft, more than any previous Boeing airliner.

In 2010, Boeing will begin building a second final assembly plant in Charleston, S.C. But for the next three years or so, all the Dreamliners will come out of Washington state.

Dreamliner No. 1 will be joined by five more test airplanes that over nine months will map the boundaries of the airplane's performance and seek to satisfy the certification requirements of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

If the jet's performance during flight tests meets the standards agreed in advance between Boeing and the FAA, the plane will be certified to carry passengers. Boeing then hopes to deliver the first production airplane to All Nippon Airways of Japan by the end of next year.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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