Here's the third and final part of my trip report from Seattle. If you're interested in the other parts, click here to get to the overview page. 

Finally, after another short night in our downtown Seattle hotel, the big day has come. After a half-hour drive we reach our ‘terminal’ for today’s flight, Boeing’s five-year old Everett Delivery Center. 

Right upon entering we are greeted by the star of the day. Looks like this is really happening (and I'd definitely love to have a Triple Seven sit outside my living room every now and then!)

Time to greet her back, and inspect her from every angle! 

On special occasions like this, just gazing at the aircraft from a balcony of course isn’t enough. And so, moments later, we are allowed to get up close and personal with SWISS’ newest longhaul beauty. 

Standing underneath the fuselage of the almost 74 meter long jet makes you appreciate just how large it is – and staring at those two GE90-115BL engines makes you realize the huge amount of power required to propel it. 

For today’s flight, SWISS’ delivery team is joined by 30 invited B2B guests and a handful of media representatives. Thus, the tarmac around the 777 is quickly filled with lots of energy, with people darting around everywhere to get the best look at the new fleet member.

 

Of course, the massive GE90s exude an especially strong attraction – one I couldn’t resist either (nor did today's cabin crew)

1545 stands for the airplane's serial number and identifies it as the 1545th Triple Seven built so far (while the total order numbers have reached almost 2’000 already). However, henceforth she will be most commonly known as HB-JNJ. 

After our first personal moments with HB-JNJ we head inside again, where everything is set up for the grand Delivery Brunch (always closely watched by our star of the day)

The banner on the left is actually a gift from Swiss to Boeing (while usually the gifting happens in the other direction). Another little proof of the Swiss team’s commitment to going the extra mile in this partnership, something that Boeing admiringly pointed out numerous times. 

Looks good! Then again, every buffet with an airplane in the background probably does :-)

While we are busy feasting on the culinary offerings from Boeing and I’m receiving my highly anticipated ticket for the delivery flight, more serious matters are at stake just next door. There, SWISS’ Aircraft Asset Manager Clarissa Cunz is officially taking the ownership of the Triple Seven after the airline has transferred the last rate of its payment to Boeing.

Even though airplanes don't really have keys, there's this neat little tradition of handing one over nonetheless :-)
(credit: Barbara Michel/SWISS, used with kind permission)

 

 

With everything having been set up successfully we would actually be good to go – except that our enroute weather would cause a way too early arrival into Zurich and so we wait another hour before setting sails for Europe. This allows me to catch two last Paine Field movements – a new B767-300 freighter for FedEx as well as Boeing’s B747 BLCF, better known as the Dreamlifter, departing for Japan to fetch another round of parts

 

Finally it’s our turn to get ready! After a quick security check that culminates in the screening of all our photos by FBI personnel and the deleting of a few shots that more or less accidentally included some B767 tankers for the US Air Force Boeing is currently building, we are finally good to go.  

However, the frustation (or actually amusement) about this procedure quickly vanishes again as we board the brand new Triple Seven and are welcomed by the next lovely little extras SWISS provided for us. Then, a few moments after boarding is completed our adventure officially starts as we are escorted down the flight line to the runway’s holding position. 

Being pulled down the flight line gives JNJ plenty of time to bid farewell to all its factory buddies, who will soon leave Seattle to all corners of the world. Makes you wonder where and when they might bump into each other again (hopefully not too literally)! 

 

Having exited the Boeing premises, the huge GE90s are started up and are coming to life with their trademark subwoofer spool-up sound. Meanwhile it seems like Seattle’s not happy at all to let us go, as the sunshine of the past three days has been replaced with depressing cloudy conditions and some rain just setting in as we are approaching the runway.

Of course that little bit of water can’t stop a mighty Triple Seven that is longing for home, and so we eventually line-up Rwy 16R and obtain our take-off clearance. It’s a very special feeling to enjoy that same famous Everett view one has from the “Future of Flight” visitor’s center just next to the runway, with the only difference being to be actually standing on that very runway inside a brand new airplane. However, there isn’t that much time for thought. Quickly the thrust levers are advanced, the massive GE90s on our wings get to work and do what they do best: Push us forward with all their force, until we have reached our rotation speed of 156 knots and are able to lift our nose into the windy Seattle air. Seconds later we have left US soil.

 

During climbout we soon enter that dense cloud layer and the airshow display is all I’m left with. Then again, it’s probably the only time it will ever display ‘PAE’ in its entire life, so it is still a moment to savour and enjoy!

It doesn’t take too long to outrun the incoming bad weather front and reunite with the blue skies we’ve become so fond of during the past few days. And so we get to enjoy splendid views of the Canadian Rockies as we cross them in the region of the famous Banff, Jasper and Glacier National Parks. Here we’re looking down at the town of Revelstoke…

…followed by frozen Kinbasket Lake a few minutes later

As we head further north, vegetation and mountains become more sparse, but the scenery isn’t any less dazzling!  

On the left you can see the small airport of Calling Lake, located inside a very wide bend of the Athabasca River (right). Calling Lake is again seen in the next photo below. 

With the outside scenery becoming a trifle monotonous with time, it’s my chance to check out the 777’s cabin. All participants of today’s flight were accommodated in First and Business class, and so its 270 Economy seats remained empty except for the few very brave and adventurous souls who dared to wander aft into the 10-abreast zone. Well, looking at it in an empty stage, it doesn’t even look that bad!

With some remaining 9 hours of flight time ahead of me, there’s plenty of room to get creative and enjoy the special occasion :-)

Reaching the “horseshoe”, the large galley at the aft end of the cabin. And if you’ve been following along since day 1 you also know who built it :-). By the way, those kettles pictured here are NOT the infamous Nespresso machines whose certification gave Boeing plenty of headaches. I didn't get to see them at all, which may in part also be thanks to the crew's reluctance of revealing their position :-). Our keen interest in this most special of airborne galley equipment was largely met with joking complaints that the airline had just bought an airplane costing several hundred million, yet everyone was most interested in a darned little coffee machine. 

Visiting the galley definitely made me hungry and so I was looking forward to the dinner service! As there had been whispers about dry sandwiches in cardboard boxes being all that we would get (as integral parts of the galleys are only fitted later on in Zurich), the offering provided by Boeing definitely came as a positive surprise! It even successfully distracted me from my original intention of ordering an Espresso with it, which I deeply regret now :-)

Good food, empty cabin, lovely people on board and a very attentive crew that almost outnumbered the passengers present – the perfect ingredients for a uniquely entertaining and memorable flight. As we progressed on our north-eastern course across Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut and finally Hudson Bay the sun quickly set, mesmerizing us with its orange afterglow that starkly contrasted with the cold, deserted and icy scenery below. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the beauty of flying!

As dusk approached I found it the perfect time to make use of another perk of today’s flight: The open cockpit door policy. Making my way up front I was warmly welcomed by the F/O on duty who apparently even knew my online work, and who quickly briefed me with a few facts of today’s flight. Like a take-off fuel of 85 tons (leading to a take-off weight of 267 tons) and a trip fuel of 70 tons. Leaving 15 tons in reserve, good for roughly two hours of flight or any surprises that might pop up along our way. Now that sounded promising! 

Beautiful clean cockpit as we’re cruising on FL350 just south of the Rankin Inlet VOR (sounds familiar to those who watched “Ice Pilots”!) while enroute on our airway towards the next waypoint of 6380N (standing for 63°N, 80°W) which is a good 320 nautical miles away. We’ll reach it in approximately 40 minutes, as we’re currently cruising at a ground speed of 506 knots (937 km/h), with a crosswind from the left of 31 knots.

After all the technical stuff it’s great to just sit back, relax and enjoy the beauty of nature unfolding outside, as we’re leaving the last traces of daylight behind. 

With a whole cabin to play with I even embarked on the endeavour to capture an acceptable night-time wing view. Aided by a suction cup, a small tripod, a blanket to block off all cabin lights and lots of patience I eventually succeeded just as the very last bits of daylight left our view and we headed for the dark arctic night :-)

Capturing the cabin’s mood lighting (with the warm colour tones whose purpose you might remember from Mr. Craver’s presentation yesterday) was a piece of cake – using an overhead bin as my tripod without any fear of a flight attendant barking at me :-) . If only it were like that all the time! 

Slowly running out of ideas of what else to do with the empty cabin (aka large airborne playground) around me, I eventually succumbed to the charms of my business class seat, or better, the lie-flat bed I quickly converted it into. And so I spent the next few hours getting some rest, not without peeking outside every now and then for traces of northern lights of course. There weren’t any though and so we can fast forward to our arrival in the old world, coinciding with the first hues of orange heralding the arrival of a new day while the still sleepy city of Manchester is passing beneath us

As we cross the English Channel and set course of the European mainland near Dieppe, the sun comes saying hello, too. 

The last hour of our cruise across France is largely spent devouring a sumptuous American Breakfast courtesy of the Boeing kitchen, and the next time I open the window blinds we’re already crossing the snow-powdered hills of the Jura range into Swiss territory

However, the route map shows us heading for Lake Geneva rather than the Zurich region, and as I see the perfect weather outside and remember our generous fuel reserves, it suddenly all falls into place. Only moments later the captain’s announcement confirms my suspicions: As yet another little extra on our already action-packed trip we’ll get to enjoy an airborne tour of the Swiss Alps, with an interception exercise of the Swiss Air Force as the icing on the cake. And lo’ and behold, here they are! 

The minutes that ensued can only described as pure aviation magic: Gallantly cruising and banking over the mesmerizing scenery of the Swiss mountains while our two grey friends outside gently imitate our every turn in a stunningly synchronized fashion. It can’t get any better than that!

Oh actually, it can! When you pass iconic Matterhorn along the way! 

Looking down on Zermatt

Bye bye, Matterhorn!

However, with this the show wasn’t over, as we kept hugging the mountains on our further way north to Zurich, with the pilots frequently pointing out especially prominent landmarks. This resulted in the whole mass of 70 passengers constantly swaying from side to side, hurriedly scrambling over each other and clumsily clambering over the middle business class seats in desperation for the best shots. A funny-looking and extremely strenuous but rewarding form of morning exercise I could definitely get used to :-)

But considering these views, all the hard labour was definitely justified! Loving the contrasts of light and shade produced by these sharp ridges in the low morning sunshine!

Our Air Force friends largely hid behind the wing which is why they were a bit difficult to catch, but I still managed to get a few shots of them nonetheless :-). With the F/A-18 programme having been taken over by Boeing in 1993 this could actually almost be called a family reunion, albeit maybe of very distant cousins.

Another one, with Lake Thun and the city of the same name residing at its far end in the background

Hornet company!

The second main attraction of our alpine detour: The famous mountains Mönch and Jungfrau with the Jungfraujoch station nestled in between (the trained eye can just about spot it…) and the mighty Aletsch Glacier extending away from them on the other side

Tooth-achingly beautiful, as my English teacher would say :-)

Reluctantly we’re slowly moving out of the alpine zone, with Lake Brienz welcoming us back in civilization. Still, the scenery continues to be pretty neat!

 

 

After this massive highlight, the remainder of the flight was pretty standard and over all too quickly. We captured the ILS of Zurich’s main landing runway 14, and after a flight time of 9 hours and 56 minutes and a distance of 8’419 kilometers, HB-JNJ touched down at her future home base for the very first time. This concluded the fourth flight of her career after (only) three test flights with Boeing, but already tomorrow she is scheduled to start her commercial operations with SWISS. Good luck HB-JNJ, and always blue skies! But after jump-starting her career with an event like this one I think there's nothing to worry about - JNJ already has enough good karma on board for all her future missions :-). 

 

Our arrival at Zurich concludes this report of which I hope that it was an insightful and enjoyable read to you. Massive thank-yous go out to all the very passionate and aviation-loving folks at SWISS, not only for taking me along on this once in a lifetime experience but also for striving to make the whole trip as densely packed with highlights as possible. Keep it up! 


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