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Aviation Explorer

Boeing announced early this morning that its next generation airliner, the 787 Dreamliner, will take to the skies next Tuesday, December 15 at the company’s Everett, WA proving grounds–if the Pacific Northwest’s finicky weather cooperates.

The plane, the first with an airframe made of primarily composite materials, has faced numerous delays, putting the program a full two years behind schedule. Most recently, a structural fault was found in the side-of-body portion of the airframe that connects to the wings, causing the initial first flight planned for July to be canceled just a week before it was scheduled to take place.

After that delay, Boeing remained adamant that the 787 would fly before the end of the year, and it’s clear they’re cutting it extremely close (the official announcement came today, just five days before the planned flight).

The hard deadline of 2009 is important to retain the airlines’ confidence that their orders–865 planes’ worth–will someday actually be filled. Just last week, United Airlines placed a fresh order for 25 Dreamliners, along with a corresponding order for 25 A350s from Airbus, the company’s competing composite-body airliner that’s slated for a 2012 first flight.