OSHKOSH, Wis.—— A Boeing 787 Dreamliner decked out like a flying laboratory received a rousing welcome at its U.S. public debut Friday.
The reception by thousands of aviation enthusiasts at the AirVenture air show rivaled the anticipation of airlines that are lined up to buy the first-of-its-kind jetliner.
The Dreamliner promises to expand on the economy of jumbo jets, but in a smaller, 250-seat plane. The improvements will allow carriers to operate the 787 profitably on longer nonstop routes, such as Los Angeles to New Delhi, Boeing officials said.
More than 50 airlines worldwide have placed orders for more than 835 Dreamliners, according to Chicago-based Boeing Co.
Boeing Chairman and CEO Jim McNerney said this week that he expects the Dreamliner will receive final certification from the Federal Aviation Administration in August.
The partial shutdown of the FAA this week due to a dispute in Congress over reauthorizing the agency's operations will have "no impact, no delay" on Dreamliner certification, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said.
In Oshkosh, Boeing Capt. Mike Carriker flew two passes above Wittman Regional Airport on Friday morning before landing the world's first jetliner made largely of super-hardened plastics.
The plane, ZA001, is the first 787 produced. It made its maiden test flight in December 2009 but will not enter commercial service.
"I've been thinking about bringing this airplane to Oshkosh for five years," Carriker said, referring to numerous delays that threw off the schedule.
The plane is still officially "experimental," sharing that title with many of the home-builts and other aircraft on display at the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual weeklong show. But that similarity will end soon.
The Dreamliner is scheduled for delivery to its first customer, Japan's All Nippon Airways, by the end of September, Boeing officials said.
That's three years late. The twin-engine plane has been beset by design and construction problems that caused numerous delays.
Aviation enthusiasts who watched the plane touch down Friday in Oshkosh, and then waited in a long line for a walk-through, held no grudges.
"I am standing in front of an aviation celebrity," Robert Edmonds Jr., an aerospace engineer who lives in Manassas, Va., said as he videotaped himself with the Dreamliner in the background.
Spectators got a first glimpse at features — ranging from advanced aerodynamics to oversize windows designed to give passengers a view of the horizon from any seat — that have made the Dreamliner the fastest-selling commercial airliner in Boeing history.
Boeing said the plane will achieve a 20 percent improvement in fuel burn compared to planes the same size.
New advanced engines are the biggest factor to greater fuel efficiency, officials said. But other technologies and the use of lightweight composite materials on half of the primary structure, including the fuselage and wings, bolster the performance.
In addition, the Dreamliner's pollutants have been reduced 20 percent compared with planes of similar size, Boeing officials said.
Onboard comforts intended to improve the flying experience include better airflow and more humidity in the cabin to reduce the effect of jet lag during long flights. An onboard filtration system removes odors, allergens and bacteria.
The test-flight plane was tightly outfitted with equipment that engineers and analysts use to monitor systems and performance.
When the first Dreamliner is ready for paying passengers, they will be greeted by an arched entryway, officials said. The tall cabin ceiling will create the impression of the sky, and the ceiling's color and brightness can be controlled by the crew.
Billed as an ultra-smart plane, the Dreamliner is designed to provide a smoother and quieter ride, said Boeing instrumentation engineer William Acheson. A vertical gust suppression system senses turbulence and commands wing-control surfaces to counter the choppy ride, he said.
The 787 is the first midsize plane capable of flying long distances, up to 8,200 nautical miles. It will allow airlines to efficiently expand nonstop routes without relying on more fuel-guzzling planes like 747s and 777s, officials said.
Boeing estimates that the 787 can connect more than 450 city pairs that until now required the range of jumbo jets.
Boeing is building two 787s a month, and the Chicago-based company expects to ramp up production to 10 a month in 2013, McNerney said. A larger version, the 787-9, which will carry up to 290 passengers, will be delivered starting at the end of 2013, he said.
The sleek design that uses less aluminum means that a 787 has fewer than 10,000 holes drilled into it during assembly, compared with 1 million holes on a 747, and the number of fasteners on the first barrel section of a 787 has been reduced by 80 percent, Boeing said.
Boeing estimated 30 percent maintenance savings for operators of the 787.