The first flight of a special Boeing 747-400 took place on this day in aviation history, the 6th of September 2006. The Boeing 747-400 LCF (Large Cargo Freighter), a.k.a. Boeing Dreamlifter.
Four of these heavily modified Boeing 747-400's transport Boeing 787 Dreamliner sections and parts between the different production sites and the final assembly location(s).
In 2003 Boeing concluded that land and marine transport was too slow for the anticipated and planned production of the Boeing 787. For example, marine and road transport of a wing set would take around 30 days, with the Dreamlifter it would only be a bit more than 8 hours!
After looking at existing large cargo aircraft the plan was made to build (initially) three purpose-built freighters, later a fourth was added.
The design for the new freighter was done by Boeing Moscow and Boeing Rocketdyne. The swing tail ( the aircraft swings open its tail for loading and unloading) was designed in partnership with Gamesa Aeronáutica (Spain). Besides the obvious large volume cargo bay (65,000 cubic feet (1,840 m³), 3x more than a standard Boeing 747-400F), the aircraft has some other unique features;
The cargo bay is not pressurised
The swing tail is manoeuvred by special ground equipment.
To lock the swing tail to the rear fuselage 21 electric lock actuators are installed.
Winglets are removed to resolve vibration and handling issues
A Boeing 747 LCF with its swing-tail open, with the specially built DBL-100 cargo loader behind the aircraft.
Four secondhand B747-400 aircraft were bought by Boeing and ferried to Taiwan for modifications by a joint venture of EVA Air (Evergreen Group) and General Electric. One aircraft obtained was a former Air China aircraft, one was a former China Airlines aircraft and two were former Malaysia Airlines aircraft.
After a lengthy modification process, the first Dreamlifter was rolled out of the hangar on the 17th of August 2006. After completing 639 hours of ground testing the first flight took place on the 9th of September 2006. The flight test program took 437 flight hours, in which cargo was carried around the world between the different suppliers and Boeing plants. On the second of June 2007, the FAA issued its Type Certification for the Dreamlifter.
Loading via the swing tail is done with the aid of the longest aircraft cargo loader in the world. The DBL-100 Cargoloader.
Three perspectives of the Dreamlifter
A comparison of the main specifications of the standard B747-400 and the Boeing Dreamlifter: