British Airways Welcomes The Boeing 787 Dreamliner To Heathrow

by Continental Club on May 16, 2012

April 30th 2012 saw the Boeing 787 Dream Tour land at London’s Heathrow Airport, and aircraft number N787BX was formally welcomed into one of British Airways‘ gargantuan hangars at the Eastern end of the airfield.

The event also marked the official re-opening of the hangar following its conversion to handle all the aircraft types in British Airways future fleet programme, including the Airbus A380.

The hangar, built in the 1950s and now Grade II listed by English Heritage, features unsupported internal arches specially-designed by the late Sir Evan Owen Williams, whose other projects included London’s original Wembley Stadium and The Dorchester Hotel, the Daily Express buildings in London and Manchester and even the M1 Motorway.

The conversion required the preservation of the graceful internal arches, but also necessitated the lifting in to place of a 24 tonne ‘eyebrow’ which effectively forms a notch in the beam above the entrance doors and which allows the tallest tailfins to pass through unhindered.

At the ribbon-cutting, guests were told not only how British Airways aircraft would benefit from the newly-remodelled facility, but how BA would also be able to offer maintenance services to other A380 operators from the Heathrow base.

All eyes were undoubtedly on the Stateside star of the show however: Boeing’s long-delayed but much-anticipated 787 – the Dreamliner.

Nose-in to brand-new gantries with finger extensions which allow level access to the aircraft, the revolutionary model was open for tours led by Boeing personnel travelling with the aircraft on its global tour.

Company pilots were even on hand to explain the finer points of the advanced cockpit which, whilst retaining the traditional stick control, features multi-functional displays that simplify yet further the dashboard de-cluttering that Airbus have arguably pioneered.








The sense of space is not quite in the same league as the positively parlour-esque Boeing 777, but the 787 windscreen profile, which seems ever so slightly reminiscent of VC10, affords particularly notable forward and lateral visibility.

The overall layout is highly-evolutionary rather than revolutionary however, with the aircraft sharing a common ‘type-rating’ with its larger brother, allowing Boeing 777 pilots to operate both models following only a short familiarisation course.

Back in the passenger cabin, Boeing staff were eager to show off their newest model, and to talk about how many of the features employed in the design and construction of the aircraft would directly benefit both airlines and passengers.

Indeed, their explanations were supported by the further insight from British Airways’ own engineering teams that the 787 will represent the most significant step forward in maintenance efficiency for many years.

In terms of basic construction, the 787 is most notable for its extensive use of composite materials instead of the traditional aluminium – up to 80% by volume. The twin Rolls-Royce engines feature serrated ‘nacelles’ on the engines – designed to reduce noise – and the contoured nose is punctuated by a four-framed windscreen instead of Boeing’s signature six-frame.

But it’s in the aircraft cabin where passengers will naturally feel the Dreamliner difference most dramatically.

Boeing had outfitted this demonstration model with company-furnishings, designed to give an idea of the possibilities open to airlines. It’s unlikely that many will be quite so generous with their allocation of airborne real estate as the demo aircraft cabestow case – and the flexibility of cabin configuration accounts for the marketed passenger carrying capability which varies from 210 at its most spacious, to 290 in high-density versions.








Some of the features are absolutely-standard though, including the weight-saving deletion of window blinds in favour of electrically-dimming glass. The glass can be controlled individually by means of a button beneath each window, or centrally by cabin crew.








Boeing are also keen to highlight the unusually-large window apertures, and conveniently provide stickers to compare the scale of the glazing with that of competitor aircraft.










It’s first impressions that count, and here Boeing have worked on creating a different ‘feel’ to the aircraft entrances, starting overhead with their ‘cathedral’ panelling with mood-lighting washing over it.

At floor-level, Boeing showed off how the usual galleys and washroom  units could be replaced with open bars and slim screens supporting LED screens – undoubtedly attractive but equally unlikely to be adopted by most carriers seeking the most efficient operating costs.










The cabin lighting can be programmed to cycle through moods which are designed to assist passengers in acclimatising to new timezones prior to arrival. Overall well-being should also be improved by the increased humidity and pressure inside the cabin, which equates to an equivalent 6,000ft of altitude rather than the conventional 8,000ft.








Although the windows and pressurisation of the 787 are unique to the model, some of the Dreamliner’s innivations are also being incorporated into other ranges – including the ceiling panelling. Christened ‘Boeing Sky’, it’s also to be found on board the latest Boeing 737 and 777 aircraft.








The demonstration seat pitch in the Economy cabin, coupled with the muted upholstery tones and non-standard pillows all added to the perception of space.








Of course nothing can compare to the flat beds in the crew rest areas, neatly slotted into the fuselage above the passenger cabin.

Back outside the aircraft, the tapered wing-fairings and smooth flaps are notably sleeker than, say, an Airbus A330.








The leading edges of the Rolls-Royce powerplants are standard silver, and the engine cowls themselves are slated to remain white irrespective of individual carriers’ overall livery treatments.








But it’s the noise-reducing serrations that are fast-becoming one of the aircraft’s iconic signatures.










There was a third star of this particular show though, performing alongside the historic hangar and the brand-new Boeing – one of British Airways’ Airbus A319s carrying the Olympic ‘Dove‘ livery, designed by Pascal Anson and realised by BA’s Engineering Team.








The aircraft is one of nine that have been repainted using a special three-coat process to produce an iridescent gold effect which is particularly notable inflight as sunlight reflects off the wings and into the cabin. The paint itself uses tiny plastic particles to achieve the effect, as metallic gold would interfere with aircraft systems.








The livery extends from the nose, wraps around the fuselage, across the wings and on to the engines.








The artist’s signature is to be found just behind the wing.








And the design is finished-off by a special golden iteration of the BA ‘Chatham Dockyard’ tail fin flag.








Back to the Dreamliner though, and British Airways expects to receive delivery of their first one in 2013, a year which will also see the Airbus A380 join the airline’s longhaul fleet. Passengers and competitors alike are eagerly awaiting announcements on the routes that the new aircraft will operate, and how interiors will be configured. In the meantime though, Heathrow’s hangars stand ready to welcome their new occupants just as soon as they arrive.

Continental Club was a guest of Boeing and British Airways.


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