Written by James Field and Enrique Perrella
MIAMI — The sight of an airliner being scrapped is a horrifying thing. Whether it is because the plane had been flying for decades, or because it suffered an incident that couldn’t be replaced, seeing an airplane being destroyed by the powerful metallic jaws of a machine is indeed unpleasant.
To the surprise of many, reports have come in from Seattle that N787FT, the fifth Boeing 787 Dreamliner ever built, has gone through this very fate.
The First Six Dreamliners
The Dreamliner flight testing phase began in 2011, lasting for approximately two years before the type gained commercial certification in August 2011.
Out six 787 Dreamliner test planes, three remain under Boeing colors and are preserved around the world, one remains active, and one has been sold to the Mexican Air Force.
- N787BA (MSN 40690 • LN 1), the world’s first Dreamliner, has been preserved in Nagoya since June 2015 after being stored in 2011.
- N787EX (MSN 40691 • LN 2) has been preserved at the Pima Air Museum since March 2015. Boeing donated this plane to the Museum following a heavy system performance flight testing campaign, which started in December 2009. The Pima Air and Space Museum is the largest non-government funded aviation museum in the United States.
- N787BX (MSN 40692 • LN 3) has been stored at the Boeing Museum of Flight since November 2014 for permanent display. This plane circumnavigated the globe numerous times between 2011 and 2012 as part of Boeing’s Dream Tour, which presented the plane in 23 countries.
- N7874 (MSN 40693 • LN 4) is still flying today as a Boeing testbed. It’s been to numerous airshows around the world since its introduction.
- N787FT (MSN 40694 • LN 5) was produced in 2009 as part of the 787-8 Dreamliner flight testing program. This particular testbed had been seen all across the globe, with photographers taking thousands of photos from airports such as Chubu in Japan to Aguadilla in Puerto Rico. Today, it is the first 787 to be scrapped.
- N787ZA (MSN 40695 • LN 6) was a Boeing testbed before being delivered to the Mexican Air Force to become the President’s plane in 2014.
Following the flight testing campaign, N787FT continued experimenting for an additional two years until Boeing decided to store it at Paine Field (PAE) in October 2013.
With a very young age of four years, this plane was put in storage and has been a frequent sight for spotters in the PAE area for the last five years.
Today, 7.8 years after it came out of the assembly line, it has been laid to rest in Paine Field.
So it begs the question, why was N787FT scrapped when all of the other testbeds were either preserved or sent to commercial service?
Paul Bergman, Boeing’s 787 Spokesman, told Airways that similar to other flight test airplanes, “we determined LN005 did not have commercial value beyond serving as test assets.”
According to Bergman, the costs of the airplane were reclassified as research and development.
Boeing Dreamliner 787-8 line 5 ZA005 at Paine Field today–only about half of her fuselage is left. pic.twitter.com/y6ltgVesN9
— Jennifer Schuld (@JenSchuld) April 24, 2018
“Line 005 was built in 2009 and flew over 1,600 flight hours. It also undertook over 1,000 ground test hours. The airplane was used for a variety of tests leading to the Dreamliner’s certification,” he explained.
N787FT was decommissioned in July of 2016. Bergman explains that as the plane is scrapped, select parts and sections will be reused or recycled. “Additional sections will be removed for use in archival displays to commemorate the historic test program of the Dreamliner,” he said.
Here is a final shot of N787FT before the final coup de grâce was administered. The sound is like a large tortilla chip being crunched. Pass the salsa pic.twitter.com/zw7QHKVR4E
— Royal S King ☀️📷🛩 (@royalscottking) April 26, 2018
Bergman also revealed that Boeing is committed to finding better solutions to recycle composite materials, of which the Dreamliner is essentially made of. “We are working with a company who will pay us for the composite material. This material will then be used to build/modify a recycling process for the composite,” he said.
Not a Sad Ending
So for Boeing, it is a perspective of commercial value rather than preserving their environmental policy as well as pursuing their innovation as a significant aircraft manufacturer.
Seeing an aircraft be scrapped is not a pretty sight for aviation enthusiasts. But to see it recycled for sustainable goals is indeed reassuring.
With over 673 deliveries, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner program is rapidly becoming one of the manufacturer’s best-selling wide-body planes.
Today, the Dreamliner program is fulfilled at both Paine Field and Boeing’s Charleston assembly lines, where the 787-10 is produced. As of today, this is a summary of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner program:
As of March, according to the 787 blog, Boeing had a very busy month for the 787 program.
Boeing delivered the 1st 787-10 to launch customer Singapore Airlines.
Boeing delivered 15 787s in March, the largest number of deliveries of 787 since December 2014 when Boeing delivered 18 aircraft.
Of the 15 delivered, Boeing turned over 14 x 787-9s and 1 787-10.
The manufacturer now has delivered a total of 670 787 (350 x 787-8, 319 x 787-9 and 1 x 787-10). For the first quarter, 2018 Boeing delivered 34 787s (33 x 787-9, 1 x 787-10).
With this in perspective, N787FT will be missed by enthusiasts. However, it must be remembered that it was a plane that contributed to the development of the industry and helped Boeing launch one of the best selling wide-bodies in commercial aviation’s history. Not a sad ending, after all.