When Boeing brought the 777-200LR to market, it needed a way to show the world that its range was unbeatable. The planemaker selected a simple route, from Hong Kong to London. But instead of flying west the short way, the plane turned east and became a legend.
What made the Boeing 777-200LR so special?
Built for service in the mid-2000s, Boeing’s third version of the 777-200, after the original and the extended range variant, brought to the table an impressive range. It could fly non-stop 8,555 nautical miles (15,844 km), making it a fantastic aircraft for customers in Asia who needed planes to connect long-distance destinations.
The plane had three optional auxiliary fuel tanks in the cargo hold and could carry 301 passengers in a three-class configuration (16 in first, 58 in business, and 227 in economy). The marketing team at Boeing decided that this wasn’t any ordinary airliner, but rather a ‘worldliner’.
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But better yet, the plane was the answer to the Airbus A340-500 (which had a range of 9,000 nautical miles) but without the flight ETOPS restrictions. At the time the 777-200LR was under development, ETOPS rules prevented it from flying over oceans. But, by the time it entered service, it was able to operate most oceanic routes thanks to the change in rules.
What was the route?
On November 9th, 2005, Boeing decided to fly a Boeing 777-200LR demonstration model the ‘wrong-way’ around the world from Hong Kong to London to show off its range. Usually, aircraft would fly north-west, passing over China, Russia, and Northern Europe to London.
But this flight would take it over the Pacific, over North America, and then over the Atlantic. The plane passed over Los Angeles, skirted Chicago, buzzed New York before joining other transatlantic traffic.
The plane experienced turbulence over the Pacific, “But we had a great ride across the United States … and across the Atlantic, we saw our second sunrise of the trip,” Captain Suzanna Darcy-Hennemann said to Seattle Times.
The plane flew for 22 hours and 43 minutes, passing over the international dateline and saw two sunrises as it went the opposite way to the sun. To fly non-stop for so long, the aircraft had nine pilots and 27 others on board. Boeing allocated only 18kg to each passenger and crew, including cameras and laptops (which were big and heavy 15 years ago). The rest of the aircraft’s weight went to the 164 tons of fuel onboard.
It didn’t have a usual fit-out, with all passengers receiving a business class seat in an expanded area, with a reception at the front of the plane for mingling and only a few rows of demonstrator economy seats. The rest of the aircraft had monitoring equipment.
Upon landing, Boeing completed the record for the world’s longest flight by the Guinness Book of Records.
How did the world react?
For Boeing, it was proof that its engineering was spot on.
“The record distance flight is a demonstration of the outstanding operating efficiency and reliability of the Boeing 777-200LR Worldliner,” said Lars Andersen, 777 Program vice president, and program manager in a press release. “The Worldliner uses less fuel to fly farther, carry more passengers, more comfortably, and with more revenue cargo than any other commercial jetliner.”
This flight changed the way we see long-haul flights, and inspired such routes as Singapore to New York, and pushed Qantas quicker to test Project Sunrise (Qantas had already flown from London to Sydney with a 747 a few years before).
While a majestic entrance for the Boeing 777-200LR, its sales never really set records like this flight. Some suggested that its range was too long for its good and that the market niche it was supposed to fit never really existed.
As for the record, it still stands today.
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