Why pilots traced a plane across the country

787 outline
The flight path of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner traced the giant outline of a 787 during a test flight. (Flightradar24 Graphic)

It wasn’t a stunt: When Boeing’s test pilots flew a 787 Dreamliner jet for 18 hours and nearly 10,000 miles, tracing the outline of a 787 Dreamliner in the skies ranging from Michigan and Alabama to Wyoming, they were just adding a noteworthy twist to a routine requirement.

The flight, which began at Seattle’s Boeing Field on the afternoon of Aug. 2 and finished up in the same place at 9:40 a.m. today, served as an endurance test for the 787’s Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine, which is undergoing certification.

“Rather than fly in random patterns, the test team got creative, flying a route that outlined a 787-8 in the skies over 22 states,” Boeing explained in a statement. “The nose of the Dreamliner is pointing at the Puget Sound region, home to Boeing Commercial Airplanes. The wings stretch from northern Michigan near the Canadian border to southern Texas. The tail touches Huntsville, Alabama.”

No one on the ground would have known that the pilots were part of a performance art piece, unless they happened to match up their sighting with the flight plan mapped out for BOE004 (tail number N7874) on tracking websites such as FlightAware or Flightradar24.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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