Boeing took a huge -- both literally and figuratively -- step in the development of the largest commercial jet in its history when the 747-8 took to the skies for the first time. Granted, the airframe's cargo version has already logged over 1,600 hours up in the air, but putting the 250-foot passenger plane with a 224-foot wingspan -- 19 feet longer and 13 feet wider than the gargantuan 747-400 -- through its first few paces without incident is no small feat. The 747-8 borrows some of the 787 Dreamliner's weight-trimming tech for better fuel efficiency and lower operational costs than older 747s and jumbo jet competition from Airbus. We just hope it didn't inherit the 787's penchant for delays as well. If all goes according to plan, the new jetliner should complete the 600 test flight hours needed for FAA certification in time to deliver the first 747-8s to customers by the end of the year. We doubt airlines will use the plane's extra space to give us shlubs riding coach any more legroom, but at least its improved all-around efficiency should make flying a little cheaper. PR's after the break.
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Newest passenger member of 747 family touches down after four-hour, 25-minute flight

SEATTLE, March 20, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- The Boeing (NYSE: BA) 747-8 Intercontinental successfully began its flight test program today, taking off from Paine Field in Everett, Wash., before several thousand employees, customers, suppliers and community leaders. The airplane landed four hours and 25 minutes later at Boeing Field in Seattle. The 747-8 Intercontinental's first flight marks the beginning of a flight test program that will finish in the fourth quarter.

With 747 Chief Pilot Mark Feuerstein and Capt. Paul Stemer at the controls, the newest member of the 747 family took off at 9:59 a.m. and landed at 2:24 p.m. local time."What a great privilege to be at the controls of such a great airplane on its first flight," said Feuerstein. "And what an honor to share this day with the thousands of men and women who designed and built this airplane."

Today's flight was the first of more than 600 flight hours in the test program for the new 747-8 Intercontinental. The airplane followed a route over Eastern Washington, where it underwent tests for basic handling and performance. The airplane reached a cruising altitude of 19,000 feet (5,791 meters), and a speed of up to 250 knots, or about 288 miles per hour (463 kilometers).

"This a great day for the 747-8 team and for all of Boeing. What an honor it is to see such a beautiful airplane fly," said Elizabeth Lund, vice president and general manager of the 747-8 program. "I want to thank everybody who had a hand in designing, building and preparing this airplane for flight – our engineers, our manufacturing employees, our colleagues in Boeing Fabrication, our colleagues in Boeing Test & Evaluation, our external suppliers – for all their hard work."

The 747-8 Intercontinental will have the lowest seat-mile cost of any large commercial jetliner, with 12 percent lower costs than its predecessor, the 747-400. The airplane provides 16 percent better fuel economy, 16 percent less carbon emissions per passenger and generates a 30 percent smaller noise footprint than the 747-400. The 747-8 Intercontinental applies interior features from the 787 Dreamliner that includes a new curved, upswept architecture giving passengers a greater feeling of space and comfort, while adding more room for personal belongings.

Korean Air and VIP customers have joined launch customer Lufthansa in ordering a total of 33 747-8 Intercontinentals. First delivery of the 747-8 Intercontinental is scheduled for the fourth quarter. Air China also has agreed to order five Intercontinentals, pending government approval.

The airplane is painted in a new Sunrise livery of red-orange and is a significant departure from Boeing's standard blue. The new colors honor many key Boeing customers whose cultures recognize these colors as symbols of prosperity and good luck. The Sunrise livery only will appear on the first 747-8 Intercontinental, which is scheduled to be delivered to a VIP customer at the end of the year.

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Boeing's biggest jet takes flight, promises lowest 'seat mile' cost of any commercial airliner