Dawn over Frankfurt Airport on June 1, 2012. The first rays of sun on the first day of the month shine on a gleaming white jetliner with a familiar profile. Is it a 747-400? Nope. It's the only passenger-configured 747-800 in service in the entire world, now parked at a gate next to a fellow superjumbo, an Airbus A380. Though the A380 boasts a full two stories of seats, the 747-8 blows a raspberry right back, showing off her slick, raked wings and a stretched body of 76.3m (250'2") that makes her the longest airplane yet. She looks good. Real good.
Meanwhile back in the terminal, 362 passengers grasp their coffees, passports and tickets for flight LH 416, making their way through passport control, security and finally down moving walkway after moving walkway to reach the special gates in the C concourse, specifically designed for loading the most jumbo of jumbo jets. Gate C16 it is. We head up to C16's own Business and First boarding lounge, directly above economy passengers quietly gawking out the windows at the A380. We smirk with the knowledge that it's actually us who'll be the lucky ones today.
LH 416 is scheduled to depart at 9:50am, but we don't push back until 10:15. Blame it all on the upper deck, the journalists whose mouths and camera shutters have been going nonstop since the crew's first "Willkommen" (us included). The cockpit door is open! We duck in for a quick word with the pilots, who break from reviewing route specifics to agree that this will be "a once in a lifetime occurrence." Indeed, an airplane can only have one real first flight.
Settled into seat 87A, our heart pounds. Open this drawer, push these buttons, flip that switch and ffp-ffp-ffp our camera clicks away. Behind us is Boeing brass. In front of us are the leaders of an airline that paid $317.5 million for this single aircraft and have 19 more on order, and we're all going to eat the same in-flight meals somewhere over the North Atlantic and we're all going to recline the totally redesigned Business Class seats (debuting on this plane) and sigh, "finally, lie-flat."
Our 747-8 follows the A380 into the sky, and the 747-8's General Electric GEnx-2B67 engines emit that reassuring, aggressive hum that lets us know we're rocketing towards 37,000 feet within a massive machine that laughs in the face of turbulence. All one can do at this point is smilethat sweet push into the seat during hard thrust is the official start of guaranteed adventures. These adventures just happen to be ones that'll actually get a 747-8 Wikipedia page update all their own.
As the route path arched up over the ocean and down from Greenland into North America (the typical Europe-US route), another airplane materialized off the lefthand side. It was an Air Canada 777, and we quickly overtook and left that seafoam blue jet in our much more fuel-efficient dust. The next plane we saw wouldn't be until just before landing, when the flight attendants rolled out a dessert tray holding a tiny scale model of the 747-8, landing on a runway made of cake.
Landing at Dulles happened far too soon. Six more hours on this plane wouldn't have been a problem, though the passengers down in economy may be of another opinion. We got overexcited, we napped, we ate, we attended two in-flight press conferences, we worked, we ate some more, we drank, we took a stroll around the entire plane, we ate cake and, after 8 hours, we landed at Washington-Dulles International just ahead of some massive thunderstorms...in that order.
Naturally over the next week we'll be releasing firsthand photo galleries, reviews and all the scintillating details of why you should pay attention to the 747-8. For now, however, it's all about the party surrounding what Elizabeth Lund, VP and General Manager of Boeing's 747 program, calls "the aircraft with the most modern and newest wings and engine combination, plus the most attractive interior flying today." Or, in one word, "awesomer."
Disclosure: We're flying as a guest of Lufthansa, but rest assured that all photos and opinions presented are completely our own.
[Photos: Cynthia Drescher for Jaunted]