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United Pilots: We Flew to Chengdu on a Boeing 787 and Loved It

Stocks in this article: BA UAL

None of the Flight 9 pilots had ever flown into Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, not even on a simulator. However, they studied detailed regional and airport information and engaged in briefings prior to departure and again prior to the final approach.

Raymer said specific simulator training was unnecessary because Chengdu is a typical modern airport with high quality navigational equipment and long runways. "From a pilot's perspective, it's no different than any other large, up-to-date international airport," he said.

As for the aircraft, Raymer and Harlan and the two other pilots on the first flight -- during the flight, two pilots flew while two others rested -- raved about its advantages.

The 787 is faster than predecessors. Its normal cruise speed is .85 Mach (or 85% of the speed of sound), which equates to 646 miles per hours, while the 777 cruises at .84 Mach. "What sets the B787 apart from the B777 is its ability to cruise as fast as .90 Mach," Harlan said. "On a 14-hour flight, that extra 46 mph will gain you 644 miles, or get you there almost exactly one hour earlier -- all while flying higher, above most bad weather, and using much less fuel than the 777."

Raymer said he is not worried about the 787's early problems with its lithium batteries. "The battery has proven to be extremely dependable since its upgraded design and manufacturing changes," he said. "The redesigned batteries have a stainless steel box around them; it is vented and can withstand high pressure in the very unlikely event of a battery issue."

The cockpit provides enhanced visual indicators, including a "heads up display" that enables pilots to view critical flight information such as altitude and air speed while looking straight ahead, rather than looking down at flight displays on the instrument panels. "I don't have to move my eyes back and forth while landing," Harlan said. Also, five large flat panel screens provide more display area than those in the Boeing 777-200.

Among the environmental advantages that benefit passengers as well as crew, the 787 is quieter than predecessors, so that "we can speak at a conversational level on the flight deck," Raymer said. The quieter cabin reflects the use of seamless composites in the plane's skin and seamless flight deck windows.

Also, cabin pressure is relatively high, reducing bodily stress; it is maintained at or below 6,000 feet altitude pressure, which is 1,000 to 2,000 feet lower than on comparable aircraft. Lower cabin altitude means higher cabin air pressure.

Additionally, 787 cabin air humidity is kept at 6% or 7% up from predecessors' 2%. Cabin air is supplied by four electric cabin air compressors, rather than by engine bleed air that has been heated to 800 degrees. After a 13-hour flight, "the fatigue is much less, and your ears don't ring," Raymer said.

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. 

To contact this writer, click here.

Follow @tedreednc

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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