After a delay Friday due to windy conditions, Boeing’s newest airliner, the 777X, took to the skies Saturday on its first-ever test flight. The plane left the ground shortly after 10 a.m. PT and will be aloft for several hours as pilots put it through its paces. The company tweeted out a link to a page where you can track the plane on its maiden voyage.
A next-generation model in the 26-year-old 777 family, the 777X is the first commercial aircraft with fold-up wingtips. Like Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, the aircraft is made from composite materials and has larger windows and a redesigned passenger cabin. Able to carry more people and fly farther than existing 777 models, it’ll be the most efficient twin-engine plane in the world, Boeing says.
The plane’s standout feature is the movable wingtips that’ll cut the aircraft’s enormous wingspan from 235 feet down to just under 213 feet, letting the 777X fit on existing airport taxiways and at terminal gates where older 777s can operate. The Airbus A380‘s 261-foot wingspan forced airports to make expensive modifications when the double-decker plane debuted in 2007, something Boeing wants to avoid.
The flight comes as Boeing continues to face fallout from the twin crashes of its 737 Max that killed a total of 346 passengers and crew in 2018 and 2019. On Monday, the company announced that the Max will stay grounded until at least the middle of this year.
Boeing says the 777X could begin passenger service as early as next year. So far it has orders from eight airlines, including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines.
But before passenger service can start, the Federal Aviation Administration and other aviation regulatory bodies around the world will need to certify the aircraft, and its flip-up tips, as safe. According to an FAA document published in May 2018, Boeing had determined that “a catastrophic event” could occur if the airplane wingtips aren’t properly positioned and secured for takeoff and during flight.
In that document, the FAA set 10 conditions the wingtips must meet before the agency will certify the aircraft. Those include having more than one method to alert the flight crew that the wingtips aren’t properly positioned prior to takeoff, a mechanism to prevent takeoff if the wingtips aren’t extended and another mechanism to prevent the wingtips from folding during flight.
Originally published Jan. 24.
Updates, Jan. 24: Adds that Friday flight was postponed, with next attempt set for Saturday; Jan. 25: Includes Boeing’s Saturday morning info on weather conditions; adds that plane took flight.