SEATTLE — Boeing has successfully conducted today the maiden flight of its 737 MAX in Seattle, taking the program a step closer to its Entry Into Service (EIS). The fourth generation of this family aircraft comes to compete directly against the Airbus A320neo family aircraft, in an ongoing battle to dominate the global narrow-body market segment.
The 4th Generation of the 737 is Airborne
A crew of two commanded by Captain Ed Wilson, Chief Pilot 737 program, and Craig Bomben, VP of Flight Test, took the 737 MAX to a short taxi down to Runway 34 at Renton Municipal Airport. Takeoff took place at at 09:48 Pacific Standard Time (17:48 GMT), receiving the applause of around 4,000 Boeing employees, media members and invitees who attended to the event.
The flight window was pushed forward due to adverse weather conditions. The aircraft soared under typical Seattle stormy, threatening skies which are almost the norm for the Boeing first flights like the 787-8 back in December 2009. Bomben noted that “other then deteriorating weather at Renton, we had no butterflies or jitters in our stomachs. We did get out of Renton in the nick of time.”
The aircraft, appropriately named Spirit of Renton, flew for two hours and forty seven minutes over the west of Washington under the callsign BOE1, and landed on Boeing Field’s runway 13 at 12:35 local (20:35 GMT). The aircraft limited its airspeed to 250 knots (288 miles or 463 kiloneters per hour) and initially climbed to 15,000 feet (4,570 meters), then to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) and finally to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters).
Perhaps owing to the maturity of the basic platform, the landing gear was retracted “cleaning up the airframe” for flight testing. Captains Wilson and Bomben tested the airplane’s systems and structures, while onboard equipment transmitted real-time data to a flight-test team on the ground in Seattle.
The Countdown to EIS
After its introduction last December, the aircraft underwent pre-flight preparations, which included taxi tests successfully achieved yesterday. Once completed the first flight, it will be prepared for the flight test campaign as it is the first of four MAX aircraft that will be used to test and certify the program with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). According to Boeing’s chief Project Engineer Michael Teal, the aircraft’s test fleet will wrap up the campaign by the end of the year.
The 737 MAX family aircraft is powered by a new generation of CFM engines. According to Boeing, the CFM LEAP-1B is set to deliver a 15% improvement in fuel burn efficiency on the 737 MAX, compared to the current family aircraft in production, the 737 Next Generation (737NG), complying with today’s stringent noise restrictions (as evidenced by today’s whisper-like takeoff), while maintaining its remarkable reliability and low operational costs of its predecessor, the CFM56 engine family.
“It flew beautifully. We worked through checks but there were no issues” said Captain Wilson. “We were amazed at how quiet the cabin was. I took a walk mid flight through the cabin and was impressed.” Wilson also noted that the aircraft may return to flight test tomorrow after inspections.
The second MAX aircraft built will be incorporated into the test program within a month. The third and fourth MAX are in varying stages of completion on Renton’s “Go Slow” Surge Final Assembly Stage. Boeing’s third 737 line, just for the MAX, is completing a single 737 MAX at a rate of around one per month during the ramp up—a stark contrast to one 737NG about every 11 days.
After type certification, the first MAX built will go to launch customer Southwest Airlines in the third quarter of 2017. This would be the third time Southwest launches a 737 variant, as it did in 1981 with the 737-300 program, which entered service in 1984, and lately in December 1997 with the 737-700.
Currently, Boeing’s order book for the 737 MAX family aircraft stands at about 3,100 aircraft, from 62 customers. Largest orders come from Indonesia’s Lion Air (201 MAX 9 aircraft), Southwest Airlines (200 MAX 8), American Airlines and Norwegian Air Shuttle (100 MAX 8 each) and Ryanair (100 MAX 200 aircraft, a high-density version). 60% of the orders to date correspond to the MAX 8 variant.