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: The 247 was delivered to United Airlines in 1933. I had days when we were still developing the 787 where I’d go down and try to fly the 307 or the B-17 or the 247, and I just remember marveling about the engine start procedure. In the 787, it’s all auto start. These big turbine engines, either GE or Rolls Royce, you reach up and you set the switch to start and then you bring up the fuel master switch, and you literally sit there and watch the airplane start itself. And if it doesn’t start itself, it turns itself off and it gives you a message, and you do the procedure. In the B-17, the 307, it literally took four hands to start the engines. I mean, you had the starter, you had the boost coil, you had the magnetos, and you had the mixture, and you had to pay attention. You had to watch how many props turned out. You had to listen to it. You had to watch the smoke coming out of the cylinders. Here we went from an airplane that made maybe 1,200 horsepower to these engines, which probably at full thrust make 40,000 to 50,000 horsepower. One of them has two switches, and one of them has four hands.

A & S: What got you interested in aviation?

Carriker: My father was a U.S. Army Air Corps, then U.S. Air Force chaplain. I grew up on Air Force bases. I remember being on a DC-7 coming back from Elmendorf Air Force Base to McChord here in Seattle as a first grader. I remember that engine starting up, and it was just like, this is all I ever want to do in my whole life. I was a kid that built model airplanes. I pumped gas all day long to go flying for one hour outside of Wichita, Kansas.

A & S: There’s something to be said for following your dreams.

Carriker: That’s true. I’m very blessed, I think. I love airplanes. I love why airplanes fly. I love the history of airplanes. I love the history of the Boeing Company flying airplanes. I find it fascinating—especially the 1930s and the 1940s, up through the B-52 and B-47 era—all the skill and the talent of the people that produced those airplanes. It’s always been fascinating. And to get to quasi-follow in those gentlemen’s footsteps is quite an honor.

A & S: You’ve flown a lot of airplanes. Are there any you’d like to fly but haven’t?

Carriker: Oh, yeah. If I could line up a couple out here, there would be some Grumman Cats—a Wildcat and a Bearcat and a Tigercat. Those would be the three I would pick if they were just sitting out there. I’ve [also] never flown in one of these world-class acrobatic airplanes—that would be a real hoot. And of course, strapping on an F-22 wouldn’t be a bad day, either. But that’s out of the realm of possibility.

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