Boeing’s Biggest 737 Soars for the First Time

Apr 15, 2017

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On Thursday morning, only five days after marking the 50th anniversary of the best-selling commercial jetliner ever — the 737 — Boeing’s newest and largest variant of the workhorse aircraft flew for the first time: from Renton, Washington, under broken skies.

Route of the maiden 737 MAX-9 first flight, via
Route of the maiden 737 MAX-9 flight, via

Flight BOE901 was piloted by Deputy Chief Test Pilot Captain Christine Walsh, who has been with Boeing just over 27 years, and Captain Ed Wilson, who first joined Boeing as an F-15 test pilot. Wilson also flew the maiden flight of the shorter 737 MAX-8 in February 2016. They took off at 10:52am, and ascended as high as 23,500 feet, logging speeds up to 327 knots (376mph). They initially headed northwest toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca, then made their way east in a straight line, before circling back and dipping south, then making their way north once more toward Boeing Field. During their flight, Walsh and Wilson tested the plane’s flight controls, systems and handling qualities. The inaugural flight landed at Boeing Field at 1:34pm Pacific Daylight Time.

737 MAX assembly line in Renton, WA. Photo by Paul Thompson
737 MAX assembly line in Renton, WA. Photo by Paul Thompson

Boeing Field — located between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and downtown Seattle — was the birthplace of the 737. The factory was so small that Boeing couldn’t even install the vertical stabilizer (the tail) until after the first few planes were rolled out of the factory. Not long after that, Boeing began assembling 737s in Renton, Washington. Boeing’s Renton site dates back to WWII, during which 1,119 B-29 bombers were built at that location. After the war, Boeing’s very first jet, the 707 was also built there, followed by the 727.

Since day one, the 737 fuselage has been built in Wichita, Kansas. In regard to the MAX-9 first flight on Thursday, Spirit AeroSystems CEO Tom Gentile said, “We’re proud to celebrate this first flight milestone with Boeing. The Spirit factory has delivered more than 9,000 737s since they entered service, and we look forward to continuing the legacy and delivering on our commitments through this newest variant.”

“The MAX 9’s first flight is another milestone that continues the program’s strong track record of progress,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Kevin McAllister. “The MAX family of airplanes offers more value than any competitor and its strong market acceptance is reflected in over 3,700 airplanes on order from 86 customers around the world.”

MAX-9 typical seating configuration. Courtesy: Boeing
MAX-9 typical seating configuration. Courtesy: Boeing

Since delivering the first 737 to Lufthansa in 1967, Boeing has delivered 9,448 737s to airline and military customers. That’s right: Militaries and governments around the world fly variations of the 737. The P-8 Poseidon is a variant of the best-selling 737-800, designed for long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

The MAX-9 has a mission range of 3,515 nautical miles, (4,044 miles), which is enough to fly from New York-JFK to London Heathrow (LHR).

Boeing is marketing an even larger 737, dubbed the MAX-10, though no airlines have ordered it as of yet. The MAX-10 would be 66 inches longer, adding twelve more seats (two rows). It could fly as soon as 2020. Currently, Boeing produces 42 737s per month, but will be increasing the rate to 47 per month later this year, 52 per month next year and 57 per month in 2019. All 737s are assembled in the same factory in Renton. Boeing should be rolling out its ten thousandth 737 sometime next year.

Featured image by Craig Larsen, courtesy of Boeing.

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