Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson once said, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are too small.” He wasn’t referring to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner that his airline operates, but it easily applies.
On October 26, the Dreamliner reaches its 10-year milestone in service. Branding the 787 the Dreamliner wasn’t just marketing speak. The 787, then and now, is one of those game-changing, envelope-pushing aircraft that come along once in a generation.
It takes its place among legendary earth-shrinking conveyances such as the Douglas DC-3, the first modern airliner; the Boeing 707, the first successful commercial jetliner; The Boeing 747, the first wide-body jumbo jet that brought long-haul travel to the masses; and the Concorde SST. This elite group are considered “moonshots,” deploying cutting-edge, exotic technology often before it was ready. Their paradigm-changing design would influence all new airliners that came after them. But it would come at a price.
By the time the first of the initial batch of 50 787s was delivered to launch customer ANA in September 2011. The Seattle Times reported that development costs exceeded $32 billion. Boeing would break even at over 1,000 delivered units, but this would take another decade. The first aircraft was rolled out in a lavish ceremony on July 8, 2007 (7/8/7), but it had more in common with a mock-up than a flyable plane. It would be another two and a half years before the first 787 took flight on December 15, 2009. It was supposed to enter service in 2008 just prior to the Beijing Summer Olympics. New airline programs are notoriously behind schedule, but the 787’s was three and a half years late.
Ten years ago, that troubled gestation was set aside for one historic flight. I was fortunate to be a passenger on board ANA flight 7871, the inaugural flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in passenger service, operating a special charter between Tokyo and Hong Kong. After nearly eight tortuous years in development, Boeing’s technical tour de force was finally ready to the ply the skies for its first customers: airlines and passengers. Our flight’s manifest consisted of media, ANA employees, and about 100 aviation enthusiasts who had competed in an auction for a coveted seat to history. I have covered many first flights, but only the first flight of the Airbus A380 rivaled this for enthusiasm.