First 787 built in SC takes maiden flight

Associated Press
The first Boeing 787 manufactured in South Carolina is parked outside the Boeing plant in North Charleston, S.C., before its maiden flight on Wednesday, May 23, 2012.  It's the first plane manufactured at the $750 million assembly plant that opened last summer.   (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's burgeoning aeronautics industry flew by another milestone Wednesday as the first Boeing 787 manufactured in the state completed its maiden flight.

The first aircraft from Boeing's new $750 million assembly plant in North Charleston lifted gracefully into a hazy blue sky shortly after noon. It returned more than five hours later after clocking about 2,000 miles — mainly over the Atlantic — and flying to 41,000 feet.

Six Boeing employees were on board the white plane with a red tail stripe and hundreds of workers gathered around it as the aircraft returned from its first flight.

The aircraft has been purchased by Air India and is to be delivered this summer.

By the end of this year, Boeing plans to have turned out four planes from its North Charleston plant. It hopes to be producing about three-and-a-half planes a month by the end of next year. The speedy, light aircraft are made partly from composite materials that include carbon fiber-reinforced plastic.

"We had a beautiful flight," said pilot Randy Neville, who also flew the first 787 manufactured by Boeing in Washington state.

About two dozen Boeing workers rode in cars and golf carts to the airport and stood in a grassy area by the runway as the plane took off.

About 6,000 Boeing workers turned out last month as the company held a rollout ceremony for the new jet. That event was attended by top Boeing execs and state, federal and local politicians. After the rollout, the engines were tested before Wednesday initial flight.

"Mission accomplished," Jack Jones, the vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina told reporters and a room full of Boeing employees following the Wednesday flight. "We told the world on April 27 that we build jets. Today we told the world we fly jets."

The next flight for the plane is to Texas for a paint job. Then it will fly again with representatives from Air India before the company takes delivery due by the end of July.

It took about 30 months from groundbreaking until the first 787 was rolled out.

The plant was a focus of political controversy as it was being built.

The National Labor Relations Board brought a complaint against the aircraft manufacturer alleging the nonunion South Carolina plant was built in retaliation for past union strikes in Washington state.

The complaint was dropped late last year after the Machinists Union approved a contract extension and Boeing promised to build a new version of the 737 in Washington.

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