Boeing on Wednesday unveiled an eye-catching Seattle Seahawks-themed Boeing 747-8F cargo plane.
Then, on Thursday, Boeing's flight test teams had a bit of fun with the jumbo jet – flying the Seahawks 747 aircraft in a figure 12 over eastern Washington state.
The number 12, for non-Seahawk fans, is a reference to the team's boisterous home crowd that makes Seattle fans a figurative "12th man" on the field at the team's home stadium.
As for the test flight, it took about five hours with the cabin crew of the 747-8F piloting the jet over a swath of eastern Washington that spanned roughly 100 miles east and west as well as north and south.
So, how did it all come together?
The inspiration, of course, came from the Seahawks – who were set to square off just three days after the "12" test flight against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey on Sunday (Feb. 2). The National Football League squad is based in Seattle, where Boeing remains one of the region's largest employers.
Boeing had flight testing it wanted to do with the aircraft, and the company's flight test team got creative in combining a regular test flight with some of the Super Bowl hype sweeping over Washington state.
"We had an opportunity to do this number 12 while we're doing this functional check flight, so we blended the two together," explains Len Quiat, a Boeing Flight Test Director who was one of several Boeing team members involved with Thursday's flight. "We get the functional test flight done and we get to make it a little more fun because we get to fly a big number 12 at the same time – which everyone is pretty excited about here."
It's not the first time Boeing's flight test teams flexed their creative muscles. In recent years, Boeing has flown a 747 test flight that drew out letters "747" in the sky and another on the 787 Dreamliner that traced both "787" and Boeing's logo.
Quiat points out that such flight plans do achieve the company's functional flight test objectives, but also offer something to Boeing's workers.
"Our testing isn't mundane, but it does help engage people," he tells Today in the Sky. "This just gives us a little change up and makes it a little more exciting."
Adam Tischler, a Boeing Test & Evaluation spokesman, makes a point of saying the company isn't necessarily doing it for the publicity. He notes the test flights in that traced the 747 and Boeing logo outlines were something that the test engineers and dispatchers came up with on their own – and that Boeing's communications team hadn't learned about them until after the fact.
"This really isn't a PR decision," Tischler says. "This is just sort of the creativity of the test teams. We know we have the capability to blend a test that we're absolutely going to pursue with a fun sort of side benefit. We realize we've got some of the best folks in the world that do it, so why not when you've got the opportunity."
Boeing's team coordinating the latest Seahawks-theme flight overlooked few details -- right down to the particular look of the 12 used for the flight path.
"I wanted to ensure that it was that right font," Erick Hall, a Boeing Flight Operations Dispatcher who helped coordinate Thursday's flight, says to Today in the Sky about efforts to match the flight route outline to the exact "12" image used by the Seahawks.
After "finally getting the font right," Hall says he used Boeing's JetPlanner software that "integrates the flight-planning engine that calculates flight plans and overlays them over aeronautical charts."
"I was able to project that 12 image to a certain scale over the northwestern United States," Hall says, explaining how the final shape and location of the 12 came to be. "I did it once and it came about to be like 6-1/2 hours and covered like five states. They were like, 'No, no, we don't have that much time.' "
"We finally scaled it down for just that space," he says about the spot in eastern Washington. "It was on a pretty aggressive test schedule, so … time was a factor."
And, in a true sports metaphor, both Hall and Quiat were emphatic about emphasizing the role of teamwork in pulling off the 12 test flight.
"We're operating at full-speed ahead with production and flight testing right now," Hall says, noting that the Seahawks'-themed flight is just one of the projects on the plate for Boeing's flight test teams. "It's just a huge team effort. Flight test engineers, test pilots, dispatch -- (they) all are just engrossed in a really busy operation right now. It really is the entire team that deserves the credit. We had to rise to this occasion plus meet our other commitments."
Like the others, the Seahawks "12" flight is really meant as a way for Boeing to evaluate its planes' operations and look for ways to boost efficiency.
"We work really hard at that," Quiat says. "As a team, we really excel at that. I think in a lot of ways we're able to find the best ways of doing things quickly, and we try to have fun at it too."