Aviation

Hopes lift with Dreamliner flight

As Boeing's 787 Dreamliner lifted off for the first time under gray Seattle skies Tuesday, Wichita's aviation industry paid close attention.

Spirit AeroSystems, Wichita State University's National Institute for Aviation Research and Wichita suppliers have been heavily involved in the aircraft.

Spirit is building the nose section and stuffing it with the flight controls. It's been working on the program since 2003, when the company was still part of Boeing.

The program is two years behind schedule, but Tuesday was filled with anticipation and enthusiasm.

"It's exciting," Spirit CEO and president Jeff Turner said. "It's an important milestone for the program and, therefore, for us."

Turner and others at the Wichita Aero Club luncheon kept track of whether the flight was going to occur through their smartphones.

At one point, Turner, who was part of an aircraft-executive panel discussion, announced that the plane had lifted off. The 350 people in attendance broke out in applause.

Boeing's flight test program will involve six test aircraft that will undergo rigorous testing over the next nine months.

Turner isn't expecting to have to make any structural changes to the nose section.

"In order to put the airplane in the air, it has to have gone through structural testing," he said.

Ultimately, the testing will lead to final certification of the aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration, paving the way for customer deliveries. The first are expected in late 2010.

"The building and delivering of this is what we want here in Wichita," Turner said.

RT Williams, operations manager of FMI in Wichita, agrees.

"We look forward to the plane flying and the (production) line moving again," Williams said.

FMI builds the 787's forward pressure bulkhead and has about 400 other part numbers on the aircraft.

"The delays over the last few years put a lot of companies in a hard place," Williams said. "Now, with the airplane getting back... in the air today, it will increase our ability to reduce our inventories and get back to manufacturing parts and hiring people."

KayLene Haug of Exacta Aerospace said before the flight that the company was eager for the plane to fly.

"We'll breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the day, when the first flight's behind us," Haug said.

Exacta Aerospace builds 787 parts for Spirit and Boeing.

There are a lot of challenges into getting a "clean sheet" aircraft, one that's an all-new design, up in the air, said Cox Machine's chief technical officer Jason Cox.

"We're pretty excited that they worked through those things," Cox said.

The 787 is touted as a composite aircraft.

But "there's still an awful lot of metal parts on it, too," Cox said. That provides work for companies such as Cox.

There's a sense of pride in doing work on the newest major aircraft program, he said.

"It's a big deal for Wichita," Cox said of the flight. "It's a huge program for Wichita, and it will be a nice program for a lot of suppliers."

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