The Boeing 747 Dreamlifter, also known as the Boeing 747-400 Large Cargo Freighter (LCF), is a wide-body cargo aircraft modified extensively from the Boeing 747-400 airliner. With a volume of 65,000 cubic feet (1,840 m³) the Dreamlifter can hold three times that of a 747-400F freighter. It is used primarily for transporting Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft components to Boeing’s assembly plants from suppliers around the world.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes announced on October 13, 2003 that, due to the length of time required by land and marine shipping, air transport will be the primary method of transporting parts for the assembly of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner (then known as the 7E7). Boeing 787 parts were deemed too large for standard marine shipping containers as well as the Boeing 747-400F, Antonov An-124 and Antonov An-225. Initially, three used passenger 747-400 aircraft were to be converted into an outsize configuration in order to ferry sub-assemblies from Japan and Italy to North Charleston, South Carolina, and then to Washington state for final assembly, but a fourth was subsequently added to the program. The Large Cargo Freighter has a bulging fuselage similar in concept to the Super Guppy and Airbus A300-600ST Beluga outsize cargo aircraft, which are also used for transporting wings and fuselage sections.
Certification was initially planned for early 2007, but was pushed back to June 2007. The aircraft’s winglets were removed to resolve excess vibration and other handling characteristics prior to final certification. In the meantime, as part of the flight test program, LCF delivered major sections of the 787 from partner sites around the world to the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington for final assembly. The 747 LCF was granted FAA type certification on June 2, 2007. From its first flight in 2006 until certification in 2007, the Dreamlifter completed 437 hours of flight testing along with 639 hours of ground testing
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On September 16, 2006, N747BC arrived at Boeing Field, Seattle to complete the flight test program. Swing-tail testing was done at the Boeing factory in Everett. The second airplane, N780BA, made its inaugural test flight on February 16, 2007. The third began modification in 2007. The first two LCFs entered service in 2007 to support the final assembly of the first 787s.
Delivery times for the 787’s wings, built in Japan, will be reduced from around 30 days to just over eight hours with the 747 LCF. Evergreen International Airlines (unrelated to EVA Air or EGAT), a U.S. air freight operator based in McMinnville, Oregon, operated the LCF fleet until August 2010. Then Atlas Air, which was awarded a nine-year contract for the operation of the aircraft in March 2010, took over LCF operation.
On November 20, 2013, Dreamlifter N780BA operated by Atlas Air inadvertently landed at Colonel James Jabara Airport, a small general aviation airport in Wichita, Kansas. Its intended destination was McConnell Air Force Base, 9 miles (14 km) past Jabara Airport on the same heading. The aircraft was able to successfully take off again from Jabara's 6101 ft (1.86 km) runway the following day and landed at McConnell without incident