Proving Boeing's 787 Dreamliner

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First flight of one of six Boeing 787 Dreamliner test aircraft is expected in June, but the flight will test more than the new aircraft; it will also test a new method of manufacture for Boeing and maybe the company's future. With a heavy reliance on both composites and outsourced manufacture, the 787's major components will arrive to Boeing's factory pre-assembled. By stepping past the need for thousands of rivets or hands and machines to buck those rivets, Boeing's goal is ultimately to produce each plane in just three days of work at the factory. However, composites can be affected by air temperature and humidity before, during and after their construction. And with finished parts arriving from Japan, Italy, France and Sweden, it is no small feat for Boeing to ensure that each piece consistently fits precisely with another. That considered, Boeing's current schedule, which includes a short eight- or nine-month flight test program, is very tight. It's also important to keeping the company's two-year delayed 787 on track and converting 861 orders into the $144 billion they represent. Besides which, the 787 isn't Boeing's only delayed project.

"Boeing has to demonstrate that it's got its whole system back on track design, production, assembly the 787 gets all the headlines, but these other programs have problems, too," aviation analyst Scott Hamilton told NPR. But Boeing's future is heavily invested in a successful 787 and from June on the world -- and the competition -- will be paying very close attention.