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Six Million Pieces and Three People: Inside the Boeing 747-8i's Redesigned Cockpit

June 5, 2012 at 10:57 AM | by | ()

New airplane alert! On Friday, June 1, Lufthansa sent the very first Boeing 747-8 for passengers on its very first regularly scheduled flight. Hopping from Frankfurt, Germany to Washington DC's Dulles Airport, the jumbo-jumbo jet made history with us onboard. Stay tuned the next few days for dispatches from the tarmac!

So yes, the world's first Boeing 747-8i is up and flying and, while it's fun to celebrate all the new seats and passenger-side comforts, real appreciation for the new aircraft must include understanding that most of the major improvements came for the technical, operational end of the jumbo.

This is a plane made up of over 6 million pieces, all controlled by a few men sitting up front, switches and buttons beneath their fingertips...fingertips that know the geography of the cockpit by heart. Welcome to the Boeing 747-8i's flight deck....where the magic happens.

Just before pushing back from the gate at Frankfurt Airport for the airplane's inaugural flight on June 1, we were super lucky to be one of only a couple guests to access the flight deck and, with it, the Lufthansa veteran 747 pilot dream team of Captain Elmar Boje (747 fleet manager for LH), Captain Carsten Asmus and Captain Christian Krauss.

For them, and for the ten total Lufthansa pilots currently certified to fly the 747-8i, the new airplane of course means additional and updated technology, like an "Airport Moving Map" that displays the aircraft's current position while taxiing around the tarmac, "similar as to the navigation system in a motorcar."

To our (non flight-trained) eyes, the largest difference between the -8's cockpit and others we've had the opportunity to visit, is space. The 747-8 has plenty area for the pilots to stretch without knocking into any "code red" buttons, plus, behind the armored cockpit door they'll also be able to enjoy a room for pilot rest (complete with a jumpseat and flat bed) and a secure lavatory, the latter a first for commercial airplanes. No more waiting for passengers to finish up before a pilot can get in, get out and get back to the controls.

In the pilot rest bedroom, the captains have laid out their jackets to prevent dreaded in-flight wrinkling

The cockpit's own secure lavatory

So, how hard is it to fly one of these huge honkers, lifting all 6 million parts plus 362 passengers and their luggage into the air? If you're already a licensed 747 pilot, not so hard at all. The flight deck is very similar to the previous model, and Lufthansa requires only some additional training to earn the coveted "dash 8" certification. Captain Elmar Boje lays down the facts:

Training for the 747-8 will focus on the new electronic checklist and how to use the other cockpit systems and procedures that have been modified, like those governing navigation.

The practical part consists of two four-hour sessions in the 'integrated procedures trainer,' a type of stripped-down cockpit simulator, in which pilots are introduced to the 747-8's various instruments and procedures. This is followed by a practical test. The theoretical part actually comes before this so that pilots are well prepared. To conclude, pilots have to complete two familiarization flights, where they get to grips with a real cockpit under real conditions. Having come through all of this, they're finally ready to take responsibility for flying the 747-8.

Oh, and we should probably mention that you'll have to be a Lufthansa pilot to get your hands on this passenger version of the jetliner. No other airline will have one for at least the next two years, and then it'll be either Korean Air or Air China. This means no more pomp and circumstance for the 747-8 in new livery for a long while, though we're sure that future pilots powering up her engines for the the first time will agree with these three, that is truly a "once in a lifetime occurrence."

Disclosure: We flew as a guest of Lufthansa, but rest assured that all photos and opinions presented are completely our own.

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher for Jaunted]

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