Flight-Testing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Chief Pilot Mike Carriker details the process.

Carriker suited up during the filming of Harrier jets for the 3-D IMAX film Legends of Flight. (Michel Chauvin)
Air & Space Magazine

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Carriker: I sat in the original design philosophy meetings in the early 2000s, and just sitting in the various laboratories around the world and seeing these parts work on a benchtop, then watching them work in an aggregated simulation, then to watch them actually work in the airplane has been a great ride.

A & S: From a piloting perspective, how does the 787 differ from the 777?

Carriker: The best thing we could do from a piloting standpoint was to make it fly exactly like the 777. One of the biggest things airlines have to do is train their pilots to fly one airplane, then train them again to fly another. Once you demonstrate a skill, let’s say handling an engine failure or some kind of crosswind landing, you don’t have to demonstrate that skill again in the 787. That cuts down on cost.

A & S: What’s the most fun part of flying the 787?

Carriker: Besides the first flight, which is all excitement, the most fun we’ve had so far was taking our ANA [Japan’s All Nippon Airways] launch customer on board the airplane. I’ve worked with those two pilots now for years, on and off, helping them with their training program and the questions they have. To have our launch customer get in the seat, and to show them all the things we had talked about all these years, and to show them that, yes, it does work—that was the best day.

A & S: That does sound like a proud moment both for you and for the company.

Carriker: Yeah, and with those two pilots in the seat, they flew it. I talked on the radio and did all of the standard first officer things, but I never had to touch the controls.

A & S: You were chief project pilot for the Sonic Cruiser, which was cancelled in 2002. Do you think commercial aviation is ready for a passenger jet that could cruise near Mach 1?

Carriker: Yes, but the laws of physics make it a daunting problem, because it’s tough to get around those laws in an airplane that has the capacity and the cost that people want to pay. It's funny, if you look at some of the studies, nobody wants to go faster north to south, and nobody very much wants to go faster traveling east, because if you go from New York to London, that’s your overnight sleep. Who wants to get to London at three in the morning instead of five? About the only time people wanted to go faster was when they traveled west. But the premium to travel faster was such that customers would say, “Wait a minute. I can pay 10-15% less and take three more hours? I’m taking the three more hours.”

A & S: You also fly the Boeing 247D airliner and a B-17F for Seattle’s Museum of Flight. What are those old airplanes like?

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