Boeing's freighter version of 747-8 takes off on flight test program

  • 01-Mar-2010 08:35 EST
747 landing.jpg

Boeing's 747-8 freighter is shown landing at Everett's Paine field after its first flight, which lasted almost four hours. The 747-8 designation was chosen to highlight the technological connection with the 787.

Despite the current downturn in cargo traffic, Boeing projects that by 2028 there will be over 1300 more freighters flying product around the globe than there were in 2008, and large freighters 80 t and over will make up about 33% of that fleet. Making sure it will be in the running for a share of what it believes will be a $130 billion market for that size freighter is one of the reasons Boeing pushed on in the development of its next-gen 747-8 freighter, which took its first flight last month.

Flying nearly four hours of the over 1600 hours scheduled for the test program, the aircraft underwent tests for basic handling qualities and engine performance, reaching a cruising altitude of 17,000 ft and a speed of 230 knot.

Powered by four GE GEnx-2B engines, which were "optimized for the 747-8" and the only engines offered for the aircraft, the freighter will transition its testing program to Moses Lake, WA, and Palmdale, CA, where two other test planes will soon join it.

The powerplants, based on the GE90 architecture, underwent initial engine runs in December, during which the auxiliary power system provided power to start one of the engines, with the remaining three engines started using the cross-bleed function.

GE says the first flight of the GEnx-2B-powered 747-8F is the culmination of about five years of engine design, development, and testing, as well as the first GEnx engine to fly on a new aircraft for Boeing. Later this year, the GEnx-1B engine is expected to take its first flight powering the 787.

The GEnx-2B engine shares a common core and 80% of the line-replaceable units with the GEnx-1B. The GEnx engine will succeed GE's CF6 engine, compared to which the GEnx-2B is expected to offer 13% improved fuel efficiency, or 13% less CO2. GE says such improvements were achieved via "aerodynamic advancements that enable higher pressures and improved energy extraction from a more compact core architecture [with] significantly fewer parts."

Twin-annular pre-swirl combustors on the engines are given the credit for NOx gases being reduced as much as 60% below today's regulatory limits and other regulated gases as much as 90%. Based on the ratio of decibels to pounds of thrust, GE says the GEnx will be the quietest engine it has produced due to more efficient fan blades that operate at a slower tip speed, resulting in about 30% lower noise levels compared to the 747-400. Both the front fan case and fan blades of the GEnx are made of carbon fiber composites.

Complementing the next-gen engines are an entire suite of next-gen avionics courtesy of Rockwell Collins. Developed "for the next-generation airspace,” the suite includes displays, autopilot, communication, navigation, surveillance, maintenance, emergency, and data-management systems.

One such system shared between the 747-8F and the passenger version of the aircraft, what Boeing has named the Intercontinental, is a multimode receiver with GPS Landing System and ILS capability. That particular system will enable the aircraft to perform GPS-guided approaches using a ground-based augmentation system. The system will also enable Required Navigation Performance as well as other performance-based procedures that will enable smooth transition as the U.S. ramps up to the wide-spread implementation of NextGen.

Another piece of the avionics suite is Rockwell's MultiScan Hazard Detection System, which uses algorithms to analyze and determine actual weather hazards, not simply atmospheric moisture content, to provide flight crews more accurate weather returns. MultiScan is a fully automatic, predictive airborne radar system that reduces pilot workload, enhances safety and passenger comfort, and anxiety, by minimizing turbulence encounters, and provides optimal clutter-free weather displays.

The 747-8F will fly 8287 km with a maximum structural payload capacity of 140 t, providing a slightly greater range than the 747-400F with 16% more revenue cargo volume, or an additional four main-deck pallets and three lower-hold pallets. It is 76.3 m long, which is 5.6 m longer than the -400F. The new freighter will have equivalent trip costs and 15% lower ton-mile costs than the -400F, which will be the lowest ton-mile costs of any freighter, says Boeing.

Boeing has 108 orders for the 747-8, the majority of which, 76, are for the new freighter. The first 747-8F will be delivered to launch customer Cargolux later this year.

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