MIAMI — The year 2013 has been good to the world of first flight with three major flight test programs in progress at the same time. Following first flight, each new plane delves into a months, even years long process to get ready to be delivered to the customer. So today we decided to check in and see how each program is doing:

Airbus A350

The A350 first took flight on June 18th of this year. Since then the airplane has pushed through its initial flight test program with relative ease. MSN001, the only airplane currently in the program, has been flying almost daily since August 15th, logging over 150 hours in the sky.

As the aircraft, known as MSN001 has been pushed through its full flight envelope, testing is expected to continue on performance. Checks are being done to determine flap settings and the lowest speed at which the airplane can still take off.

(Credits. Sellies Christophe)
(Credits: Sellies Christophe)

The second airplane, MSN003, is due to come online in mid-October and will focus on performance and engine testing, according to Airbus. The airplane is also expected to handle flutter testing. Cold weather testing, also expected to be handled by MSN003, is currently planned for November. Also in November is the Dubai airshow. While no one will confirm its appearance, it would be quite surprising if the airplane didn’t show.

Additional test program airplanes are still in progress, with the third airplane (MSN002) currently in final assembly undergoing indoor ground testing. The third airplane will go on to have a full cabin interior (if it hasn’t been installed already). The fourth airplane (004) completed its fuselage assembly and is looking forward to final body join, while the fifth aircraft (005) has yet to enter final assembly.

Entry into service is expected to come in mid-2014, after 2500 flight hours will have been completed.

Boeing 787-9

The airplane first made its maiden voyage on September 17th, 2013. True to their word, Boeing took the airplane into the skies over Washington again only two days later. The program appears to have been humming along quite nicely, putting in just under 50 hours spread over fourteen flights, in only two weeks.

Marking a significant milestone, Boeing recently announced that the first 789 has completed the Initial Airworthiness Testing. To earn the certification, the airplane has to successfully push through the flight envelope (in other words, does the airplane perform through various speeds and altitudes as intended), and flap settings. The end result is that non-essential staff can now board the aircraft for data collection purposes, namely Boeing engineers, instead of having to rely solely on air to ground telemetry.

(Credits: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren)
(Credits: Author))

While Boeing has yet to set a first flight date for the second test aircraft, the airplane was rolled out of the hangar on September 30th after spending eight days in production. Boeing reports the airplane is currently undergoing ground testing. As the first airplane spent 24 days on the flightline before taking to the sky, logic would have it that the second is likely to join the flight test program within the next two to four weeks.  A few more aircraft are expected to join the test program as well, though details on their progress are scarce.

Yet the fast-paced program may soon wind up facing a forced slow down: the federal shutdown. With no FAA inspectors or certification folks currently at work, it’s only a matter of time before the program begins to feel the pinch.


Still in flight-test infancy, Bombardier’s CSeries made its second flight on October 1 following a two week break in testing to resolve software upgrades, parts reconfiguration, and data review [from first flight]. The ninety minute second flight was similar to the first flight made on September 16th, though also included a number of “value-added tests” that the first one did not. The airplane approached speeds of 230 knots and ascended to an altitude of 12,500 feet. It since has flown its third flight today (October 3) according to reporter Sylvain Faust, climbing to 25,200 feet and 427 knots, new records for the type.

(Credits: Howard Slutsken)
(Credits: Howard Slutsken)

Importantly, Bombardier staff began collecting noise data on the ground of the plane. While all new aircraft collect such data, the tests are unusually important for the CSeries: one of the airplane’s signature selling points has been its tiny noise footprint. Airlines like Porter, who operate out of Billy Bishop Airport in downtown Toronto where jets are banned for noise concerns, have ordered the CSeries in the hopes of convincing the city to lift the ban.

While five aircraft will join the test program, Bombardier has only revealed that the second test aircraft (FTV2) is “following closely behind”; no target date has yet been set. Once added, FTV2 will be responsible for extensive testing of all of the plane’s systems. A third aircraft will test the plane’s advanced avionics, and a fourth will handle performance testing, while a fifth and final aircraft will be outfitted with a full passenger interior.

Entry into service is still expected for late 2014 to launch customer Lufthansa, who will designate them for use with Swiss European.