Yes they are.
My information is dated and purely secondhand but I have seen (from the ground) flight testing by Boeing, Douglas, Embraer, Bell and North American.
As of the late 1970s, the MD
-80 and DC10 program went something like this. When an airframe was rolled out, complete, the flight test crew would take posession of it. They would fly one test flight, originating in Long Beach (LGB
) and terminating at Yuma Arizona (YUM
) There were up to three factory test flights programmed, called D1 through D3
, then the plane was turned over to the customer for flight tests C1 through C3
(C for Customer)
If trouble developed, I suppose more flights could have been added. If all went really well, I don't know if the program could have been shortened. Flight C3
began at YUM
and terminated at some city in the customer's route structure, where, if all had gone well, a regular passenger flight was already scheduled for that plane.
The planes were delivered out-of-state because California had very high sales taxes. Think what one percent or so on the ticket price of a DC-10 would amount to. California has deep financial troubles because of their ill-considered tax laws.
Anyway, that was the system at the time, according to an acquaintance who worked at McDoug.
As you point out, things can go wrong. They are extremely careful and professional in the manufacture of these aircraft, but they are staggeringly complicated. The test flights are conducted according to job cards that test each system as thoroughly as is practicable.
I'd be interested in hearing from anyone with more recent, in-depth, or even more correct information.
Happiness is not seeing another trite Ste. Maarten photo all week long.