Test pilots and flight test engineers are an amazing and interesting group of people. But they are deadly serious about their work because focus and attention to detail preserves not only their lives, but those who go aloft in the aircraft they are testing. Some aspects of certification flight tests can be eternally boring. Tests for function and reliability and extended ops, or ETOPS, for example, can involve flights lasting 15 hours or more.
My only experience with long duration flight was the 17-hour confinement, not counting the Alaskan fuel stop, in a stretch DC-8 with max density seating. It carried me, and the hefty Air Force and Army sergeants on my left and right, to Asia in 1975. Aside from better, more comfortable seats, I can’t imagine the willpower it takes to focus on precisely flying the data points and monitoring the data.
Then I found Randy’s Journal, that’s Randy Tinseth, VP of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplane. How much fun would it be to use a 747-8 Freighter to scribe on a FlightAware map a “747” that covered 15 states stretching east from Washington to Wisconsin and south to California, New Mexico, and Texas? From Paine Field, the 17-hour function and reliability test flight had to go somewhere, so why not have fun with it?
Not to be outdone, the flight test crew of the 747-8 Intercontinental had an 18-hour ETOPS test flight to plan, and they figured it would be just enough time to fly over every one of the lower 48 states. This time they tracked their route on a Google Earth map. The test “helps determine how far the airplane will be able to travel from a suitable diversion airport,” Randy wrote, adding, “After the Intercontinental returned to Everett, it still had more than two and a half hours worth of fuel left.”
And to fill the downtime on that flight, one of the flight test analysis engineers walked a half-marathon. “In 15 minute increments, she circled a 225 foot loop around the aft section of the airplane—310 times.” Oh, what I would not have given for that opportunity back in the day. –Scott Spangler