The Dreamliner Has Landed

By James Fallows

I mentioned several days ago that the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" would be at DC National airport this week, for tours (sorry, already fully booked) and a display during the Atlantic's "Innovation Summit" tomorrow.

Here's how it looked coming into town today, as shown on Boeing's Flickr stream.

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I've gotten many messages from my aviation friends these past few days saying: "Dreamliner at DCA? No way!" That is because big widebody planes like this do not normally land at National Airport. By chance this evening I met some Boeing officials who are in town with the Dreamliner, and I asked them what it had taken to arrange this visit. Their answer, in essence: technically it was not that hard -- you can see that the plane makes an elegant landing and stops just fine even on a modest-sized 7000+ ft runway. But getting all the clearances and regulatory approvals....

On the regulation front, the path down the Potomac River show in the opening part of this video was something that ordinary civilian aircraft could also do in the pre-9/11 era. When I was doing my private-pilot training 14 years ago, my first night-flight practice occurred one summer night, at around 11pm, in a Cessna 172 along this very route. We started from Gaithersburg airport in Maryland, KGAI, and then followed the course of the Potomac eastward from just outside the Washington Beltway. My instructor at the time, a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot named Ken Michelsen, thought it would be exciting to see the city at night -- and that the controllers at National would have extra time to handle student-pilot traffic, which they very graciously did. This all seems unimaginably long ago.

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