First flight of glitches for Dreamliner No. 2
Boeing's 787 Dreamliner No. 2 landed safely at Boeing Field after its first test flight, which was marred by minor trouble with the landing gear and brakes.
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Minor trouble with the landing gear and brakes marred the first flight of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner No. 2, but the plane landed safely at Boeing Field in Seattle after a two-hour test flight.
Aviation-safety expert John Nance, upon hearing a description of the problems based on recordings of the flight's radio chatter, said they sounded "pretty straightforward. ... These are things you always have on a test flight."
The problem with the nose landing gear emerged shortly after takeoff, according to a recording of the radio chatter between the Dreamliner, the Boeing flight-data center on the ground and the T-33 chase plane that shadows the jet.
The pilot of the chase plane could see the position of a certain strut on the gear didn't look right, according to the recording by local aviation enthusiast Matt Cawby.
"It's not completely straight. There's about a 15-degree angle to it," the chase plane's pilot said, referring to the drag-brace strut that prevents the gear from folding backward when landing.
On a first flight, a pilot needs to know the landing gear is operating as it should to ensure a safe return. Dreamliner test pilot Randy Neville retracted and extended the gear several times to see if the problem persisted.
A couple of times, the chase plane's pilot radioed back that it looked normal.
"I'm looking up inside the wheel well," he said. "Appears normal from my perspective."
But after Neville cycled the gear up and down one more time, the chase pilot reported: "It looks identical to before."
Neville's response was less than alarm.
"There's no joy in Mudville," he radioed.
He then suggested a standard response to a drag-brace not locking into position — a sharp increase in speed to force it into position
"The only thing we can do is a 2g pull," Neville said.
To do that, the plane climbed out of the clouds and sped out of contact with radio reception near Paine Field. A ham-radio operator who monitored the chatter as the plane continued west to the Olympic Peninsula said the chase plane's observer was also concerned about the alignment of the nose-gear door with the tire.
Boeing confirmed the issue with the nose-landing gear and said also that the landing-gear-indicator lights provided conflicting data.
Nance, a veteran pilot and longtime aviation consultant for ABC News, said the problem sounded "pretty routine."
"Something didn't look exactly right," Nance said. "But I don't hear any big concern in there."
The recording of the takeoff at Paine Field also revealed a separate problem: The pilot's instruments told him that one of the brakes on the main landing gear had overheated.
Neville asked the chase plane to take a close look.
"Do you have indications that we have a dragging brake, because the temperature actually increased significantly on the takeoff run?" he radioed.
"Affirmative," the chase pilot responded.
But he reassured Neville that the brake looked normal. "We'll get some video for you," he said. "Everything looks like all the parts are there."
The ground station monitoring the flight told Neville that though the brake temperature was decreasing it was "still above 600."
Neville responded that he would keep the gear down until it cooled.
Again, Nance saw no cause for alarm in the exchange. "The chase plane confirmed (the hot brake) is not falling apart or coming off a hub," he said.
Nance said the hot brake explains what happened when the plane landed later at Boeing Field. Aviation professionals were surprised to see the main landing-gear doors were left open on landing rather than stowed away and that the plane shut down at the end of the runway instead of taxiing to the apron.
Fire trucks were on standby.
Keeping the door open through the flight ensured the hot brake inside the wheel well is cooled as much as possible, Nance said.
"And if you've got anything out of the ordinary," he said, "you shut down as soon as you stop and let the guys tow it — in case you did have an overheated brake."
Boeing spokeswoman Yvonne Leach said the ground-based flight-test engineers analyzed the issue with the landing gear and resolved it while the plane was in the air.
"We fixed it and it landed safely," said Leach. "At no time during this flight was the aircraft or the pilots in danger."
A company statement said, "It's important to remember that flight-test programs are conducted to identify and solve issues as they arise."
Only two test pilots were aboard the Dreamliner, with Neville at the controls and Mike Carriker, who commanded last week's first flight on Dreamliner No. 1, this time riding in the right seat as co-pilot.
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org