FARNBOROUGH, England — The giant Boeing 777-9X glistened in the already hot morning sun as the Farnborough Air Show opened Monday.

Inside the coolly air-conditioned plane, some Seattle-based Boeing flight test engineers and test pilots spoke of their pride in the exhilarating work they do.

Seattle Times in Farnborough

Dominic Gates, the Seattle Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning aerospace reporter, is reporting from the Farnborough Air Show. Follow him on Twitter at @DominicGates and catch all our Farnborough coverage at st.news/farnborough.


Emily Stednitz, 27, joined Boeing almost five years ago after completing her mechanical engineering degree at UC Berkeley and is now one of the 777X flight test directors.

Impressively young to have such responsibility, Stednitz’s job is to organize the entire flight test team of analysts, instrumentation specialists, engineers, ground operations personnel, maintenance crews and test pilots.

She plans what maneuvers and conditions will be tested on any given test flight. “I’m the person conducting the pre-test briefing,” she said.


Then she gets to sit in the cockpit behind the two pilots and they fly.

“I love flight test,” Stednitz said.

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Inside, the plane is set up for experimental flying. What would normally be the passenger cabin is outfitted with computers and racks of instruments where flight engineers monitor all aspects of the flight.

At the back of the plane, a hollow tube is wound around a reel that’s about 6 feet in diameter, with the end of the tube sticking out through a hole at the top of the vertical fin.

At the end of the tube is a measurement device called a drogue that extends out as the reel unwinds and collects airspeed, pressure and temperature data from the air behind the jet.

Along the side of the passenger cabin, black barrels connected by pipes contain water that can be shifted around within the closed system to change the weight balance of the plane for different maneuvers.


In the cargo bays below there are 3,500 pound blocks that also serve as ballast, explained Khen Chuong, 35, who has worked 14 years at Boeing and is a flight test weights analyst.

It’s his job to make sure the jet’s weight balance and center of gravity are as they should be before takeoff.

Michael Rearick, 42, has been 10 years at Boeing and is a field service rep. It’s his job to go out to airlines when a new plane enters service and help them understand all they need to know about their new plane.

In addition to an engineering degree, Rearick has an airplane maintenance mechanics license and a commercial pilot’s license. He gets to travel a lot.

Flight test pilot James Hanley, 53, a former Air Force KC-135 tanker and C-17 cargo jet pilot, now 10 years at Boeing, flew this 777X test plane nonstop from Seattle.

On the 8.5-hour northerly flight, he said, “It never got dark. The sun came down, skimmed the horizon, and came up again.”


He said the giant plane handles just like a current model 777.

“They are very similar in how they fly,” Hanley said. “The displays are more modern.”

Beside the 777X on the ramp, the largest model of the 737 MAX family of jets, the MAX 10, looked small.

Sitting in the cockpit was Todd Abraham, 56, now on his third stint at Boeing, where he has worked off and on for 25 years.

He first worked as an aeronautical engineer at Northrop Grumman, then joined Boeing as an engineer in flight test. He helped certify the 747-8 and was a technical pilot on the 787.

In between his various jobs at Boeing, he was chief test pilot for Cargolux, a big cargo airline, and flew 777s for British Airways.


Now he gets to be home more often. He works mostly as a production test pilot, giving planes their first flights when they come out of the factory, and sometimes helping on flight tests.

Abraham provided his authoritative take on the cockpit systems on the MAX 10, which are currently the focus of intense controversy.

Boeing says it wants to preserve commonality between the MAX 10 and all the other MAXs so not to upgrade the system that tells the crew when something is wrong.

Likewise, customers don’t want the MAX 10 cockpit to be different, as Delta made plain at an order ceremony Monday morning.

Abraham said the safety improvements Boeing has made on the MAX 10 — a third measure of the angle of attack and a way to silence an erroneous stall warning — “have zero impact on normal operations.”

To a pilot, “the MAX 10 is identical and indistinguishable from the rest of the MAX family,” he said.


And despite the size differences from the smallest MAX 7 to the largest MAX 10, flying them has a very similar feel.

“The commonality is fantastic,” Abraham said. “I’ve flown a MAX 7. The MAX 10 takes a wider turn on taxi, but you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference in the air.”

Monday afternoon, both planes soared aloft as stars in the Farnborough flying display. Boeing shared flights by the planes on Twitter.