787 Dreamliner takes flight
A bunch of media people, Boeing and ANA executives and one hardcore fan who paid US$33,000 for a seat are to be the first passengers on the much-anticipated Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The maiden commercial flight took off from Narita, near Tokyo, on October 26, landing in Hong Kong at 4.pm. local time.
But, we have to ask, why so much fuss?
Clearly the airlines see something they like. Japanese airline ANA, the inaugural customer for the three-years-delayed high-tech jetliner, has put in an order for 55 of the aircraft.
And despite China Eastern canceling its order of 24 aircraft, there is still a total order list of 797 aircraft.
This is because the aircraft is one of the most advanced launches into the airline industry in recent years.
It is 60 percent less noisy than other planes of its size and capability. Clever engineering features -- such as a fuselage made of lightweight composite materials -- allow it to use less fuel than competitors. It emits less nitrogen dioxide.
And it has stamina. The twin-aisle aircraft has a range of 15,200 kilometers, making it the only mid-size plane that can fly long-range routes, according to Boeing.
But none of that really describes the in-flight experience. Here's what the 250 or so passengers flying today, and thousands more in the future, can expect from this hi-tech ride.
More on CNNGo: Dreamliner's first commercial flight announced
More space, for bags at least
Boeing promises the 787 will have more space for passengers to "move about in the cabin."
But, let’s face it, aircraft makers promise more space almost every time they launch a new plane.
“When the 747 first came out, it had lounges with pianos,” aviation blogger Brett Snyder tells CNN. “Then the airlines realized that they needed a lot more seats to make more money on each flight, and the lounges disappeared.”
Whether the 787 will be configured with eight or nine seats per row depends on each airline. Launch carrier ANA will install eight seats per row.
This Dreamliner test-flight video does not fill us with optimism.
The clip, which shows a fully loaded Dreamliner cabin with an eight-abreast configuration, appears to show cattle-class legroom that's just as cramped as we’ve come to know in other aircraft.
What looks certain is more overhead space.
Boeing promises that the 787’s spacious stowage bin, 30 percent larger than the bin on its 777 aircraft, will allow passengers to store at least one large roll-abroad bag in an overhead compartment.
Also on CNNGo: Airbus reveals plane of the future
Plane with a view
Just how tightly we’ll sit together is subject to the whims of individual airlines, but windows are one Dreamliner design feature that carriers can’t alter.
Measuring 48 centimeters high and 28 centimeters wide, Dreamliner windows are more than 30 percent larger than those on most similarly sized airplanes.
What is game changing about the windows, however, is that Boeing engineers have done away with plastic shades altogether.
Instead of pulling shades up and down, passengers will adjust the brightness of windows with a button.
Using an electrochromic dimming system, passengers can turn windows from fully transparent to completely dimmed.
"Passengers will have more control over what they see outside," says Boeing systems engineer Ali Mawani.
This video shows the window technology at work at the 2009 Paris Air Show.
It smells and feels better
Like most Boeing aircraft, the 787 will be fitted with High Efficiency Particulate Air filters to remove bacteria, viruses and fungi.
In addition, Dreamliners will be equipped with gas filters designed to remove odors, ensuring that passengers don’t have to endure the smell of unpalatable airline meals for too long.
The 787's cabin will also be pressurized at an altitude of 6,000 feet. Most similar aircraft have cabin altitudes pressurized at 8,000 feet. Lower cabin altitude will enable passengers' bodies to absorb more oxygen, making them less susceptible to air sickness, says Boeing.
While the 787 won't exactly sail bump-free through turbulence, passengers can anticipate less motion sickness, thanks to a system that detects turbulence and changes wing control surfaces to counteract its effects.
Tweaks in the cabin, including a quieter air-conditioning system, vibration isolation in sidewalls and interior materials that are less squeaky, are expected to make for generally smoother flights.
Fancy LED mood lighting is another "flight revolution" being touted by Boeing.
“The lighting can gently simulate a full flying day for longer flights, gradually changing through a spectrum of lighting from day into night,” says Boeing's website.
Lighting schemes include lavender light when fliers need to relax, and warm, orange-tinted light during meal service.
While the 787 Dreamliner will hardly turn that 12-hour flight with two screaming kids into an aeronautical joy, it does appear to be making long-haul flights a little more pleasant.
More on CNNGo: Date of Dreamliner's first commercial flight announced