By Chris Sloan / Published February 26, 2015
This article was originally published in Airways magazine in August 2012. All images courtesy of Chris Sloan / AirwaysNews
Compared to the 787 Dreamliner handover to ANA a few months earlier (Airways, February 2012), the 747-8 event was an elegant albeit muted affair (the actual contractual delivery had been made on April 25.) There were no massive rallies by Boeing employees or press extravaganzas, and local Seattle newspapers made no mention of the milestone, whereas the Dreamliner delivery was front page, top-of-the-fold news.
Understandably, unlike the 787, an entirely new design, the 747-8 Series is the fifth generation of the world’s most iconic airliner, one that changed the air transport industry. (Technically, the 747-8 is the 14th variant to be certificated under Federal Aviation Administration Type Certificate Nº A20WE, following the 747-100, 747-200B, 747-200F, 747-200C, 747SR, 747SP, 747-100B, 747-300, 747-100B SUD, 747-400, 747-400D, 747-400F, and 747-8F.)
The 747-8 delivered to launch customer Lufthansa is, in fact, the 1,443rd 747 built over a production run spanning four decades. However, the perception that the 747-8 is merely a derivative could not be farther from the truth; it is a 70%-new type compared to its predecessor, the Dash 400, which was first delivered 23 years ago, in January 1989 to launch customer Northwest Airlines.
Image: Courtesy of Boeing
The 747-8 represents the biggest step forward by far in the 4ó-decade-old 747 program (Airways, May 2011, June 2010 & April 2006). From viewpoints of capacity and size, it is the world’s longest passenger airplane and the first stretch ever of a 747, with a fuselage extension of 18ft 4in (5.59m) beyond the Dash 400, bringing the total length to 250ft 2in (76.25m) and surpassing that of the Airbus A340-600 by 3ft (0.91m). Not only is the upper deck on the passenger 747-8 lengthened as well—unlike on the 747-8F Freighter—but another statistic reveals that the Dash 8’s upper deck area alone equals that on the 737-700. Boeing claims an additional 26% cargo volume on the 747-8F over the 747-400F. Seating capacity on the Dash 8 in a typical three-class configuration is 467, compared to 416 on the 747-400. Theorectically, the approved maximum number of passengers is 605.
The Dash 8’s maximum gross takeoff weight of 987,000lb (447,696kg) makes it the heaviest aircraft—military or commercial—ever manufactured in the USA. Power is provided by four GEnx-2B67B engines, each generating 66,500lb (296kN) of thrust (the same type is offered on the 787).
Boeing claims the new 747 has the world’s most modern ‘wing/engine’ airliner platform, with raked wingtips on an entirely new wing design similar to that of the 787, eschewing the winglets of the Dash 400. Wing span increases from 211ft 5in (64.4m) on the 747-400 to 224ft 7in (68.5m).
Fuel capacity of the 747-8 is 64,055USg (242,470l, or 429,000lb/196t), including 3,300USg (12,500l) in the horizontal stabilizer tanks. The latter are deactivated to meet a certification requirement that no structural flutter can occur after any single failure. Engineering computer analysis revealed that flutter would be caused if a specific wing mounting strut for the outboard engines was to fail (it has never done so, however), and the tail tanks contained 15% or more of their fuel capacity. A redesign is expected by 2013 to allow the 747-8 to achieve its brochure range of 8,000nm (14,800km).
There is some carbon fiber-reinforced plastic incorporated in the airframe to reduce weight, but overall materials are similar to the Dash 400. The operating empty weight of the 747-8 is quoted as 470,000lb (213t) by Boeing.
The Boeing 747-8 cockpit.
On the flightdeck, 747-400 pilots would feel at home despite LCD (liquid crystal display) screens and a certain amount of FBW (fly-by-wire) technology, as on the 787.
Boeing claims all this modern technology translates into 16% and 11% greater fuel efficiency than the 747-400 and Airbus A380-800, respectively. Thanks to the new GEnX turbofans and the distinctively serrated, or ‘cookie cutter’, appearance of the aft edge of the cowls, the airplane is quieter, with a 30% smaller noise footprint than the 747-400.
From the passenger perspective, an updated cabin inspired by the 787 features bigger bins, higher arched ceilings, and LED (light-emitting diode) multi-spectrum lighting; however, Lufthansa is reportedly not using the latter feature. Window size is unchanged from previous 747s, but there is some difference with beveling on the window frames themselves.
Severe production delays and engineering problems seem commonplace with new airliners these days, but those in relation to the 747-8 pale in comparison to the A380 and 787 Dreamliner, with the Intercontinental program around a year behind schedule. In comparison, the 747-100 was certificated in ten months and entered service less than a year after its first flight in February 1969.
Boeing has so far booked 106 firm orders for the new 747, of which 36 are for the Intercontinental. Boeing believes that eventually production will be evenly split between the passenger and freighter versions.
Initial customers for the 747-8 Intercontinental were from the Middle East for private transports; Lufthansa became the first airline to choose the 747-8 Intercontinental on December 6, 2006, with an order for 20 that is so far the largest for either variant.
Subsequently, five orders were placed by Korean Air and two by Arik Air of Nigeria. Air China has agreed to buy five, subject to Chinese government approval, and Transaero reportedly has a preliminary agreement for four.
Key milestones leading to delivery of the first Intercontinental included the maiden flight of the 747-8F on February 8, 2010. The 747-8, appearing in a striking Asian sunrise inspired orange livery was rolled out in a lavish ceremony on February 13, 2011 (Airways, May 2011), with the first flight occurring on March 20. Boeing handed over the first examples of the 747-8F and 747-8 to Cargolux (News on the Airways, January 2012) and the Qatar Amiri Royal Flight (News on the Airways, May 2012) on October 12, 2011, and February 28, 2012, respectively.
There was little ceremony involved with these deliveries. In fact, the Cargolux 747-8F merely ferried a few miles to SeaTac Airport, picked up a payload, and went into service immediately.
Lufthansa is due to retire one 747-400 for each 747-8 Intercontinental it receives, eventually replacing the entire 29-strong 747-400 fleet. The German flag carrier expects to take delivery of five Dash 8s in FY2012, and will be the sole airline operator until its 20 are received by 2015. This is, of course, provided the airline does not defer deliveries which, given Europe’s and Lufthansa’s financial difficulties, has been suggested. Nevertheless, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr emphasized that “it’s not our plan to defer.”
Joe Sutter, the Father of the Boeing 747, at the -8 handover ceremony.
The Lufthansa 747-8 handover event was held at Everett’s Future of Flight Aviation Center, overlooking Boeing’s factory and flightline. In effect this was the 747-8’s coming-out party.
Mirroring the customer’s brand, the day was planned to be classy yet understated, efficient but not rushed. A morning press conference, followed by an onboard tour of the 747, lunch, delivery signing, ribbon cutting, and an on-time fly-away—all scheduled over a 5ó-hour period.
Nico Bucholz, Lufthansa’s executive vice-president group fleet management, revealed: “We’re not happy with the weight situation, yet it won’t restrict the use of the aircraft. On all our in-service fleet, even those in our fleet for ten years, we are never happy with the weight situation, so we are always trying to reduce this in order to save even more fuel.”
Reportedly, Lufthansa’s 11th and subsequent aircraft are due to fall more in line with expectations. Bucholz added that “certain things are better than Boeing promised.” He also indicated that satellite-based in-flight Internet connectivity would be installed by the time the sixth 747-8 is delivered next year.
Boeing agrees that the airplane is not yet perfect, but it is performing very well in all-cargo service thus far. Mark Feuerstein, the manufacturer’s 747-8 chief pilot, foreshadowed innovative advanced vertical navigation functions which would improve fuel burn. Elizabeth Lund, Boeing Commercial Airplanes VP product development, noted that dispatch reliability on the Freighter is already at 97 percent—1 percent above the initial 96% projection, which the company seeks to increase. Bruce Dickinson, VP and chief project engineer for the 747-8, said, “In spite of these encouraging numbers, we have no breathing room to settle and we won’t.”
On a lighter note, Feuerstein commented that his experience and that of other 747-8 pilots has been that “once they fly the Dash 8, they don’t ever want to fly the 400 again, as great a ’plane as that is.” He drew laughs when he said he was given a Capt Mark Feuerstein bobble head doll which sits on the flightdeck, and if “the head doesn’t bob, then we’re having a smooth flight.” One of his favorite features, unique to the 747-8, is the flight crew rest quarters and lavatory behind the secured flightdeck door. This ensures there will be no more of the infamous ‘cart blocking’ of the cockpit door on the 747-8.
The big question on everyone’s mind is “What is the niche for the 747-8?” Bucholz said that in the Lufthansa fleet the type sits between the A380 and A340-600, with the Boeing airplane to be deployed on high-premium, limited-economy demand markets such as Washington (Dulles), Chicago, Los Angeles, Bangalore, and Delhi. San Francisco, Miami, New York, and Singapore would later be considered.
Business class seats on Lufthansa’s Boeing 747-8.
Lufthansa’s 747-8 Intercontinentals have about the same number of premium seats as on the airline’s A380 fleet: eight first class and 80 business, compared to eight and 98 on the Airbus double-decker. However, in LH service the A380 has considerably more economy seats: 420 versus 298 on the Dash 8.
This was a dual rollout for Lufthansa. Not only was the airline debuting the 747-8 Intercontinental but also a revamped business class cabin that will eventually be adopted by the entire long-haul fleet. Clearly, business is where Lufthansa sees the future of premium cabins, with first class being reduced and premium economy space static.
The economy class section on Lufthansa’s Boeing 747-8.
At the ceremony we were led out to the aircraft along a red carpet. Reaching the top of the stairs and entering the cabin we discovered a novel feature: the flight attendant’s seat at the nº 2 entry door between the two business cabins on the lower deck was arranged like a hotel’s concierge desk. The 747-8 features a slightly curved, third-generation staircase to the upper deck, in contrast to the 747-400’s straight-up-and-down version.
There is a third business class cabin upstairs, with 32 seats. At the push of a button, the B/E Aerospacedesigned seat converts to a full-flat, horizontal 6ft 6in (1.98m)-long sleeping surface. Ergonomically improved cushioning ensures a high degree of comfort in a sitting or horizontal position, and adjustable armrests provide more space in the shoulder area when lying down.
Another feature is the innovative seating arrangement in the form of a ‘V’, whereby two neighboring seats are angled toward one another along a central axis. This solution enables Lufthansa to fulfill one of the main wishes expressed by customers: to sit or lie facing the direction of travel while enjoying practically twice the distance between two neighboring seats at shoulder level. This also affords greater privacy and more personal space.
Briefly sampling the seat, I found it cleverly designed, comfortable, and more spacious than before. In fact, the materials used here are more understated than in previous business cabins.
The staircase on the Boeing 747-8.
There are 15 toilets onboard; one of the business class lavs I saw boasted a ‘loo-with-a-view’ window. First impressions of this cabin reminded me that indeed ‘Business is the new First’.
Claiming that the quietest part of the 747-8 is on the lower deck, in contrast to the A380 Lufthansa has located first class downstairs This exclusive cabin in a 1-2-1 layout typifies Lufthansa’s current elegant product.
There is a buffet at the front and center, and the eight seats have plasma monitors and individual closets.
Unlike airlines such as Emirates and Singapore Airlines with their enclosed suites, Lufthansa has opted for a more open environment. The airline specified extra insulation for soundproofing, while the corrugated Junkers-inspired window shades are a nice touch exclusive to Lufthansa.
Overall, this intimate cabin gives the feel and ambiance of an executive jet. Beyond the lower-deck business cabins, the two economy sections are arranged in a 3-4-3 configuration with the airline’s relatively new—and comfortable—Recaro seats with 31in (79cm) pitch. These are the same as those on the A380, with cup holders built into the rear of each.
Inspection over, and with time running short and Lufthansa’s reputation for punctuality to be upheld, we were ushered off to lunch and the handover ceremony.
The Frontier of Flight’s floor-to-ceiling hangar door-size windows provided a dramatic backdrop to the guest of honor on the ramp, the 747-8 registered D-ABYA.
Press conferences of this nature are usually scripted, staid affairs, but CEO Spohr provided a welcome change by being candid, amusing, and refreshing. He compared the relationship between Boeing and Lufthansa to that of a German car buyer and a dealer, saying in essence: “German car buyers can be nasty, impatient, and tough…sound familiar? But as we take our car home, or in this case the 747-8 Intercontinental, we do so with great pride and become your best brand ambassadors. Other airlines will realize it’s a mistake not to order this ’plane.”
Spohr provoked more laughter when he remarked that as an ex-Airbus pilot, this was the first time he was both holding a Boeing key and had something between his legs in the cockpit. The latter slightly off-color remark was a reference to the side-stick controller of current Airbus models and Boeing’s traditional control yoke.
As he signed the ceremonial transfer documents, Spohr remarked: “This is a very expensive signature but there’s no time right now for further negotiations; but on second thought, let’s talk about the 747-9.”
Pat Shanahan, Boeing VP of commercial airplanes, had his own good-natured response: “When Nico [Bucholz] comes to town we recoil. We hide. We go on vacation. But seriously, we appreciate his directness which, without him, the 747-8 wouldn’t be as great a ’plane as it is today”.
Shanahan spoke in German as a courtesy to his guests, who were clearly pleased, and the crowd obliged when he asked them to applaud if his high school German was still up to the task. As a memento of the historic event, Boeing presented a huge banner of the 747-8 autographed by the thousands who had participated in the design and construction of the aircraft.
The biggest surprise of the day was the appearance of the legendary ‘Father of the 747’, Joe Sutter, who remains involved with the 747-8. Elizabeth Lund related how Sutter told the Boeing team during contractual negotiations: “You all are making this thing too damn complicated. Are you all going to sign these things or what? Just sign the damn thing!”
Finally, the panoramic doors opened to allow the crowd onto the tarmac for a brief ribbon-cutting act, after which Lufthansa presented the Boeing executives with commemorative suitcases in that iconic corrugated aluminum finish.
Without further ado, approximately 35 Lufthansa crew and executives boarded D-ABYA for the 9hr 19min delivery flight, designated DLH748, to Frankfurt. An on-time departure became very important as a flyover at Hamburg’s Lufthansa Technik and a roll-in event was planned.
At 1425PST, the 747-8 began a brief taxi to the threshold of Paine Field’s Runway 16R/34L, where it made a very quiet takeoff roll. In fact, the hoots, hollers, and applause of those gathered on the roof drowned out the droning GEnX-2B turbofans. In less than 4,000ft (1,220m) the first 747-8 Intercontinental delivered to an airline climbed away into overcast Pacific Northwest skies. In what could be construed as a positive omen, the sun peeked out as the behemoth rotated skyward.
Then the 747-8 rocked its wings in a farewell salute to its birthplace and headed for a rôle as ‘The New Queen of the Skies for the 21st Century’. ✈
Editor’s note: Keep up with AirwaysNews by subscribing to our weekly eNewsletter. Every Friday evening, subscribers get a recap of our top stories of the week, the subscriber-only exclusive Weekend Reads column wrapping up interesting industry stories and a Photo of the Week from the amazing AirwaysNews archives. Click here to subscribe today!
Contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org