Hong Kong to London - The Long Way
This report describes the flight of a 777-200LR aircraft from Hong Kong to London, nonstop, departing November 9, 2005 and arriving November 10, 2005. This flight was constructed by Boeing as a record breaking flight, to capture the record for the longest flight by a commercial airliner. The route crossed the Pacific, the continental US and the Atlantic. The flight lasted 22 hrs 42 minutes and covered 13,422 statute miles. An incredible demonstration of the capability of the aircraft. This record breaking enterprise had been more than a year in the planning by Boeing. I was lucky to be one of the passengers on board, and this report describes the experience.
General pictures are here
Map Display Sequence pictures are here
Map Screenshot Gallery
Preamble and disclaimer
I work for GE
Aviation and I am the GE90 Program Manager. In accordance with GE
policy it’s OK
for me to post here, provided I don’t reveal company information, and you should be aware the following are my views alone and do not represent the position or views of GE
Aviation. I may or may not answer any questions about this report, at my discretion, so I hope you will accept my apology in advance if I choose not to.
So now you know how I came to be on board: I represented GE
- since the 777-200LR aircraft is powered by two GE90-110B1 engines. Also on board for GE
were our Chief Pilot, who was one of the eight pilots, and one of our GE90 Product Support Engineers. She was there not to look after the engines – but as a reward! By the way, I’ve decided not to name other passengers or crew, if they were not already named in the press. The others who were on the flight should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to disclose that.
Preparation and arrival
After being approved for the flight some weeks ahead, I arranged to arrive in HK
a couple days ahead of the record flight. I had the option of flying on board the aircraft from Boeing Field to HK
along with some of the others, however, starting from CVG
my schedule didn’t allow that, so I flew commercial. I kept a video journal along the way, which turned out to be quite fun, getting the flight attendants to “interview” me. My first two flights (CVG
) were delayed and I was convinced I would be overnighting in NRT
, as I had a tight connection. So while waiting in DTW
I went ahead and booked a hotel in NRT
, mentally thanking myself for planning to arrive a day early in HKG
– knowing that the record flight was not going to wait if I was late! However, upon arrival in NRT
, I was pleasantly surprised to find they were holding the flight to HKG
for us. So I dashed on board, and arrived in HKG
, a little tired, a little late, at around 0100 local - but pleased to be in the right place.
All the team was staying in the same hotel, so there were some people I knew scattered around at breakfast the next morning. I spent a while discussing the arrangements at the airport with Boeing’s 777 Chief Test Pilot and the Navigator. The day was free, so I went off sightseeing.
In the evening a reception was arranged with ceremonial “weighing in”. All on board were allowed 22lb of luggage, so everyone was asked to report to the reception with their flight bag, and we were weighed together with our bags. Each bag then had a pink sticker attached by the representative of the NAA. In retrospect I think this weighing was somewhat “tongue in cheek”, because there was no shortage of food and drink on board, which certainly must have added up to considerable weight. It did have the desired effect though, in the sense that we were careful about our packing.
Technical side note: If you think about a range-payload chart, we were fuel-volume limited, not payload limited. We were down off the bottom right of the chart with little payload (35 people with bags, plus food and drink and test equipment). So a little extra weight wasn’t going to make much difference to our available range.
Also handed out at the reception were Razr cellphones for use on board, for those that wanted them. More on this later.
Present at the reception were representatives of the press, HKG
Airport Authority as well as Cathay Pacific. The airport authority was fully engaged in the endeavor and their assistance was invaluable as I will describe later. Cathay’s assistance was also significant and gracious as they provided all the ground services and catering. Following the reception was a dinner for the passengers, crew and select local dignitaries.
The next morning, the day of the flight, Boeing held a large press conference in the hotel next door. Present at the conference were the VP
and General Manager 777 Program, the Chief Test Pilot, as well as others. The ground crew (who had flown in commercial from SEA
) and flight crew bussed out to the aircraft during the day to finalize preparations. One preparation operation was having the aircraft washed. According to the Chief Test Pilot, this was worth up to 300lb of weight (dirt) removal plus a minor drag benefit.
While in my room I watched a CNN report describing that the flight was scheduled for that day and that they would be on board. It was quite a feeling knowing that I was going to be part of that event, if only as a passenger.
The takeoff was scheduled for 2230 local time. The passengers checked out of the hotel and piled into a waiting bus at 1900. Off we went to the airport, where we followed the local Boeing rep. into the terminal. Expectations and excitement were in the air as we started to appreciate the takeoff was near. A special check in desk was arranged with a placard stating “Boeing 002 – World Record Flight”. Everyone’s passport was checked very carefully against the manifest. Handwritten boarding cards were already prepared for each individual and they were passed out. Each person’s bag was tagged and taken for delivery to the aircraft.
There was some time still before departure and Cathay let us use their business lounge near the gate where there was time for a brief rest. Then it was through the gate, boarding card checked and the main part taken (I still have the stub though!), into a shuttle bus and off to the aircraft.
Bear in mind that it was of course dark by now. We arrived at the aircraft which was parked on a stand at a location next to a hangar, quite distant from the terminal. We all milled around on the ramp taking pictures of the aircraft, watching the CNN crew do their thing, and taking pictures of each other. It was quite noisy – we were right next to the runway where flights were busily departing - and quite warm. We all lined up for a group picture, then it was time to climb the airstairs and get on board.
A moment here to explain a little about the aircraft. At this time the 777-200LR was not yet FAR25 certified, so it was still classified “Experimental”. The two flight test aircraft were designated WD001 and WD002. WD002, registered N6066Z, had logged many thousands of miles on the “Going The Distance” world tour. The flight testing was essentially complete and the Record Flight was one of the last things scheduled for WD002 before refitting, repainting, final certification and delivery (to PIA). Hence the flight number “Boeing 002”.
The 777-200LR can be optionally fitted with 3 additional fuel tanks. These are “standard options” in the sense that they are available to commercial customers. This aircraft had those tanks installed and was the flight test aircraft used to certify this system. So the aircraft had the highest available fuel volume for a 777-200LR, but this was nothing special or unique installed just for the record flight, the aircraft was in a standard available configuration.
Now to the engines; as you may know the GE90-110B1 and GE90-115B are the same bill of materials, just differing in the rating plug. The engines were already FAR33 certified, after several years of testing, which is normal practice in advance of the FAR25 aircraft certification. The GE90-115B installed on the 777-300ER was at this time already in commercial service with AFR (May 10 2004), and others. These specific two engines were the flight test engines and had undergone quite a rigorous history of activity. Before certification of an aircraft, all the performance analysis for the aircraft and engine combination is validated and calibrated. This is done with very accurate flowmeters for fuel usage, accurate flight test airspeed measurements, fuel heating value measurements, precise weight measurements, etc. Generically this testing is referred to as NAMS (Nautical Air Miles) testing, and it is the testing that establishes the official aircraft performance charts that will be used in the flight manuals from that point on. So although the aircraft was not yet certified, the engines and airframe were thoroughly well understood by this point. Their performance, in general, and specifically on this aircraft, had been measured and established precisely. This was of great help in the record flight because it removed any small uncertainty, due to normal airplane to airplane variation, about the performance and fuel usage expectations.
The front cabin was fitted as a lounge with a countertop, a large display area and a widescreen LCD
monitor. A GE90-115B Fan Blade was prominently displayed. If you look in airliners.net and search for N6066Z you can find many pictures of the interior from the world tour. The ceiling was fitted with the optional “Starry Night” (my name for it) fiberoptic lighting, which is truly incredible and can be configured to represent the sky in a specific part of the world if so desired. The next section aft was fitted with state of the art business class seats with an excellent video on demand system – 60 movies or so as well as audio and games. Following on behind that was a section of economy seats, then behind that an empty section with no seats. In the very aft cabin a rack of instrumentation and a seat for a flight test engineer were installed.
All of the “honored guests” had a pleasant surprise upon arriving at their assigned seat. Boeing provided to each person a personalized small blue duffle bag embroidered “World Record Flight” with some gifts. These included Bose QC2 headphones in a special “Boeing 777-200LR World Record Flight” case; a pair of blue Boeing slippers; a full size World Record Flight blanket about 7 feet by 4 feet woven with a picture of the aircraft; a neck pillow, and a couple of laminated cards, one with the flight schedule in Zulu time and one a page of trivia questions.
We settled into our seats and readied for the takeoff. I was seated between two Boeing people, one whom I knew, the General Manager of Sales for the Middle East, and one whom I did not, the General Manager of 777 Production. It was his first trip by plane outside the USA! What a way to start.
Navigator’s log reads: Departed Hong Kong N 22.18.5 E 118.54.9 Nov 9th 2230 Local 1430 UTC
The engines were started in quick succession, we rolled forward and turned on to the runway. Here became apparent the meticulous planning by Boeing, and the cooperation extended by the Airport Authority. We had been stationed literally at the threshold, allowing us immediate access to the runway. All other departing traffic was stopped at the appointed hour. The engines were started, we taxied for – maybe – 30 sec., turned on to the runway, and rolled. We accelerated smoothly (naturally!) and lifted off after a 34 sec takeoff roll. I punched up the in flight nav display on the monitor and watched us head out northeast. Here was the first time I observed an odd and amusing artifact…the nav display had been programmed to know that we were headed for Heathrow. Being a smart system, and in common with all such systems, it knows the shortest way from HKG
is a great circle – and I can tell you, it is not Northeast. The great circle would take you northwest over mainland Asia. So for the next 15 hours or so the “future flight path” line on the display stubbornly pointed the wrong way. Or maybe we were the ones pointed the wrong way? Eventually it flipped around as our actual flight path started to make sense in normal terms.
Record Flights – How Do They Work?
In order to establish a record, the process is this. You declare ahead of time certain waypoints you plan to cross. You pick them at your choice given the winds aloft, your preferred route, ATC, etc. You must cross these predefined waypoints. You cannot change them once you are under way. You get credit only for the great circle distance between the waypoints. So it is not helpful or desirable to waste fuel between waypoints by traveling further. Any additional distance is not credited. You must retain reserves. We had on board an observer from the NAA whose task it was to ensure that the rules were followed.
Here are the waypoints used for this flight, and times as recorded in the log:
: N 22.18.5 E 118.54.9 1430 UTC
09 Nov 2005
1st Turnpoint: N 35.00.0 E 180.00.0 2101 UTC
2nd Turnpoint: LAX
N 33.56.0 W 118.25.9 0302 UTC
3rd Turnpoint: JFK
N 40 38.0 W 073.46.3 0706 UTC
N 51 28.7 W 000 27.7 1312 UTC
10 Nov 2005
If you put these into a great circle mapper, you will indeed find that this is 13,422 statute miles total distance.
That’s pretty fast across the USA! Just 4 hrs 4 mins from LAX
. Sure helps when there’s no takeoff or climbout and no descent! Also the route was quite a bit longer than a great circle in this case, to catch the jetstream: from LAX
up to Denver, then across straight East from there, across Cleveland.
Well, as you might imagine, nearly 23 hrs is a long time in flight. What to do? Boeing provided pj’s for everyone. I resisted for the first couple of hours. Then, realizing I was going to be wearing the same clothes for the next 24 hrs, I caved and went back and changed. I also put on my blue Boeing slippers. Much better. Now I’m really comfortable. Others held out and didn’t change, but I was glad I did.
Everyone was really pumped and excited after takeoff and we all wandered around chatting and eating. There was plenty of press on board including the Seattle PI
, Av Week, Flight, CNN, BBC and others. I punched up the movie selection and was amused to find that one of them was “Around the World in 80 Days” with Jackie Chan. “Around the World in 23 Hours” I was thinking. I did watch four or five movies. I thought I might watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, since I had the time, but got bored after the first 30 minutes and changed to something else.
Being an experimental aircraft, we were not encumbered by normal restrictions. Thus the cockpit door was open the entire flight and we were free to go sit in the cockpit and chat with the crew, take pictures and video and generally enjoy ourselves. Also both crew rest areas were available to us. There is one crew rest in the crown just behind the cockpit, accessed up stairs which has two business class seats and two bunks. There is a second crew rest aft, about 1/3 from the back of the plane with three bunks. In addition, as I mentioned in the rear of the aircraft there were no seats installed. There were a few foam mattresses on the floor so we were able to lay out completely flat and get some sleep. The new meaning of “lie-flat”. After all, we took off at 2230 local, so a few hours into the flight everyone was getting pretty sleepy.
Another freedom we had was the use of cellphones. Boeing had installed a cellphone repeater base station in the aircraft. If you recall I mentioned that they handed out Razrs for use on board: my Blackberry worked fine anyway so I didn’t need one. Cellphones will operate at low power if they find a base station in close range. So throughout the flight we were able to send text and use the phones. As we passed over Ohio though, it was 0100 local, so I didn’t call home! I did send email though. I had previously been on Boeing’s own Connexions 737 which not only had cellphone ability but wifi. I assume that it was that equipment that was installed on our 777.
During the flight we saw two sunrises: One a few hours into the flight over the Pacific as we started out; then we headed through the “local” day over the Eastern Pacific. Then back into night over the USA, and through another sunrise after the East coast over the Atlantic. Very spectacular.
As far as flying duty, there were eight pilots on board including Boeing pilots, GE
’s chief pilot, PIA, and SIA
pilots. They each took part of the duty. The landing was made by the PIA chief pilot, since they were later going to take delivery of this very aircraft. [In February 2006 I traveled to Seattle to attend the delivery ceremony; the aircraft was completely refitted in PIA interior and repainted].
At a couple of points in the flight we had some “group” celebrations. We gathered in the forward cabin and did aerobics and stretching for a while. That was fun and got us up and around. Of course CNN had to get that on tape, and it made its way into the news report. Later we opened special champagne to toast the success of the flight. Naturally it was champagne from Washington State, and with a special label commemorating the flight. [On our way off the plane later, Boeing gave us each a bottle. I still have the bottle in my fridge at home. Waiting for a really special occasion to open that.]
It occurred to me more than once that this was not exactly tough duty, and certainly much more comfortable than Lindbergh had it.
So, eventually, here we are in the final moments, cruising across the UK toward LHR
, when – yes – we get stacked by ATC. We sat burning a racetrack hole in the sky for about 20 minutes. Now you know why we had reserves. [In fact we landed with one and a half hours of cruise fuel remaining.] Finally we touch down, to great cheers. Which we then had to repeat so CNN could get it on tape! As we rolled toward the stand the LHR
fire department sprayed us with water in celebration.
We stayed on board while the UK immigration authorities came on board and stamped our passports. Then we were free to grab our bags and walk down the steps. We stood around at the bottom of the steps for pictures [one picture made it into the 2007 Guinness Book of Records, as I found out when I stumbled over a copy at my son’s school book fair. Had to buy it!] then went inside for a brief press conference. Guinness were there to present the certificate for the record.
Finally the buzz died down and we headed off to a local hotel for a quick beer.
Next day November 11 was a rest day for all.
The following day November 12, I took a bus from LHR
so I could catch the DL
flight direct from LGW
home to CVG
. As we passed LHR
I could see “our” 777 sitting on the ramp. The ground crew had flown from HK
commercial to LHR
, and got there ahead of us. Later that day they prepped the aircraft and she flew home to Boeing Field.
I arrived back at CVG
mid afternoon that day. Total distance traveled: 25,898 miles in five days.
As I look back it was a unique opportunity to be part of the history books and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Of course the aircraft and engines performed flawlessly as I knew they would. The record flight is a source of some pride amongst the GE90 team, as it was the great combination of the 777-200LR and our engines with their superb fuel burn that made it possible. But really the point of this report was not to be a commercial, but to give you a good idea what it was like to take part in the event on the inside. Hopefully I have conveyed the detail and great extent of the planning preparation, and a lot of hard work by many, many people, that went into the event.
Thanks for reading.