Conceived of by aircraft manufacturer Boeing in an effort to reduce the time it takes to transport oversized and critical cargo assemblies from international locations, the Boeing 747 Dreamlifter is an aviation marvel. The Dreamlifter also referred to as an upcycled version of Boeing’s 747-400, is a wide-bodied cargo aircraft with the largest cargo bay of any comparable aircraft in the Large Cargo Freighter (LCF) class.
The Dreamlifter is a hugely modified aircraft that was developed for the expressed purpose of moving Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft components to assembly facilities from parts-producers located throughout the world. The aircraft’s development efforts were concentrated on crafting an aircraft capable of conveying outsized freight and parts to circumvent the extensive time it takes to ship internationally via marine transport.
The Dreamlifter featured many modifications to the existing 747-400 passenger plane concept, which consisted of inclusion of an extra deep and oversized fuselage and yet still retained some characteristics in keeping with the original 747 design. Especially concerning the nose, wing, undercarriage, and tail unit.
The aft/tail section of the aircraft is hinged which enables it to swing open to allow for cargo to be loaded from the rear and additionally the front of the Dreamlifter features side access to add smaller air cargo and provide accessibility for the crew to enter. The world’s largest cargo loader is utilized to load outsized air cargo and 787 assemblage components onto the Dreamlifter.
With a length and width over 70 plus feet and a wingspan that extends 200 feet in conjunction with the shape of the oversized fuselage, the Dreamlifter gives the appearance of a hot dog and is often compared to the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile. Powered by 4 Pratt & Whitney PW4062 turbofan engines, each with 63,000 lbs, the large cargo aircraft can achieve a cruise speed of 475 kn for 4200 nm and has an impressive max takeoff weight of 800,000 lbs.
Although the aircraft is generally operated by a crew of two, it can be further modified to feature room for more if necessary. The flight deck is the only part of the plane that is pressurized.
Initially the Dreamlifter line was to be limited to three aircraft but a fourth was added later to accommodate the growing need for transportation of the 787 assemblies.
The first of the Dreamlifter LCFs successfully executed a test flight on September 9, 2006, at Taiwan’s Taipei Taoyuan International Airport. Additional flight test training commenced at Seattle’s Boeing Field that same month with the second plane completing its inaugural test flight in February the following year. At the same time, the third plane was just entering into the modification stage.
Federal Aviation Association (FAA) type certification was anticipated to be granted in early 2007 but didn’t happen until June of that year and by June of 2008, the initial three were fully operational with the fourth following in 2010.
In 2017, plans were announced to upgrade the line of 747 LCF aircraft to feature engine modifications that would concentrate on reducing engine noise and improve upon the aircraft’s fuel efficiency. The existing PW4062 engines will be supplanted with more modernized versions of the same line of PW4062 engines.
Of the upgrade, Boeing reps have said, “This will make it easier to get parts and slight fuel savings.” They also indicated that “This is not a re-engine project.”
Incidentally, these same engines, according to Boeing representatives, are also used on Boeing’s twin-engine KC-46 Pegasus refueling tankers.
As of the current date, the Dreamlifter fleet is still operational and after 9 years of service and at least one billion dollars invested in the project, all signs indicate the effort that went into the development of the massive air cargo freighters was a huge success overall.