Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dreamin' the Dream

A big announcement rolled through our company last month. The Dreamliner is coming—the Boeing 787. Twenty-five of them.

Yet there wasn't much fanfare and even less enthusiasm for the news. We are the last major US airline to order them. And only 25 at that. In times past we would have been the launch customer. No one seems to be excited.

I ask my first officers, “You got your Dreamliner bid in yet?” Of course there won't be vacancy bids for several years yet, but the question breaks the ice. They all react the same—they shrug and shake their heads. They're middle-aged guys and gals with families. The lowest paid first officers of major airline pilots, they're all struggling to make ends meet. The promise of the Dreamliner doesn't fix that.

Whining aside, what a magnificent machine it is. Have you seen the videos of the roll-out and the first flight? It's the prettiest jetliner ever built. I keep trying to think of a single word that most describes it. Smooth is what keeps coming to mind. The smooth curves, the smooth sounding engines, the smooth way it slips through the sky. It's so smooth it's slick. It's truly a dream machine.

This is the first airliner, in my memory, that the manufacturer has actually assigned a name to. But will we use that name or make up another one? The precedent for the latter choice is huge.

For example, American and Delta pilots have a history of dropping the first number of a Boeing product and just saying the last two numbers, but they say them as individual numbers, like: “Seven-six” (767) or Seven-three (737). On our property we tend to say “Sixty-seven” and “Thirty-seven.” But we make up nicknames, as well. The 737 is the “Guppy.” (The 737-200 was the “Thunder Guppy” because it was so loud. The 737-300 was the “Super Guppy” because its engines were so powerful.) Will the Dreamliner simply be the “Eight-seven?” Boy I hope not.

There were many other adopted names, too. The old 727 was the “Three Holer” and the DC-10 was the “Diesel Ten” (It smoked heavily on start-up.) The 747-400 is the “Whale” because of the big hump on its spine, and the French-built Airbus A320 is the “Fi-fi Jet.” (I think that was Pepe LePew's girl friend's name.) But more often we call it the “Scarebus.”
Airlines that still fly the primitive Super MD-88s, call them “Mad Dogs” and sometimes just “Supers.” We often call them “snakes” because their long, low-slung bodies look like slithering rat snakes when they cross the taxiway or runway ahead of you.

Military pilots are really radical. They rarely use the official name for their planes (at least not in the USAF). The F-100 Super Sabre became the “Hun.” The F-102 Delta Dagger was the “Deuce.” The F-105 Thunderchief was dubbed the “Thud,” and the F-106 Delta Dart became the “Six Pack.” Nobody ever called the F-16 by its official name, the Falcon. They immediately tagged it the “Viper.”

The A-7 Corsair II—my old mount—was the SLUF, which meant “Short Little Ugly F-----.” (It was actually quite pretty in flight.) The A-10 Thunderbolt II became the “Warthog” (It is actually very ugly whether in flight or on the ground.) The venerable B-52 Stratofortress is much better known as the “BUFF” (Big Ugly Fat F-----), an undeserving name. It's neither fat nor ugly.

The heavy guys did the same. The C-130 Hercules was always called the “Herc,” or simply the “130.” The C-141 Starlifter was the “T-Tailed Mountain Magnet,” but more often the “Lizard.” The C-5 Galaxy is “FRED” (F---ing Ridiculous Economic Disaster).

So, in keeping with all this divergent tradition, what now do we call the Dreamliner? Will we break with tradition—as Boeing itself has done by assigning a name—or will we ignore Boeing's affectionate moniker and invent a new one to suit our fancies?

Knowing the pilot ilk as I do, I suspect there will be a name change. But what? Dream Machine? Dream Sled? Dream Boat? Dream Baby? Nightmare Liner? Seattle Sleeper?
You name it. Put it in the comments. Maybe your name will stick.

As for me, I'm not holding my breath until we get the Dream-whatevers. I'll be retired by then. But I hope to high Heaven those first officers I fly with will some day fly 787. I hope for their sake it's no daydream.


Rob said...

Have to agree it's a lovely plane, would much rather fly that than the A380!

Will be interesting to see how the A350 affects things - if I have guessed your airline correctly it has ordered 25 A350s as well, to me a strang move, hedging their bets maybe and will end up only ordering one?

amulbunny said...

It's a beauty. Can't wait to see it with colors and a big American Flag on the tail with it's own N#.

I always thought the 757 looked like a snake ready to pounce. And after seeing the A10 when he was 3, my son declared it his favorite plane. Still is.

Have a great 2010!

Capt. Schmoe said...

A beautiful aircraft to be sure. I couldn't help but notice the high degree of flex of the wing upon take-off. It added to the beauty.

As far as a nickname, how about plasti-liner?

Rob said...

plastic-fantastic then?

Chris said...


Also - I think Cessnas 'Skycatcher' is a bloody awful name. Suggestions?

JP said...

Don't forget the ever popular "Jurassic Jet" which gets used for just about everything without EFIS.

We also call the 727 the "Slave Ship" because it still has a flight engineer.

Andy said...

She shore is a purty little thing!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. How about Dream Whiner?

Jimmie said...

I actually had the privilege of working with the design team during my short time at Boeing. The 787 had earned the moniker "The Lost Dream" with the design team due to its maiden flight coming more than two years after it was originally planned. I'm glad that it has finally flown and I can't wait to see them in use!

Anonymous said...

The thing that keeps coming to my mind is simply "Dream Weaver." Seems like everyone's putting lots of hopes on this one; and it is a sight; but will I as a passenger be able to sleep on it?

Danielle Gibeault said...


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Anonymous said...

You bring up an interesting IMHO the 3 most beautiful planes built were the F-86, C-172, and the B-727. Of course sitting on the ground or in flight changes thye dynamic a little.


Frank Van Haste said...

Cap'n Cockrell:

Re: "prettiest airliner"



bradcockrell said...

Bravo to Boeing on a beautiful airplane! The wings give it almost a bird-like personality. Not sure I agree with the word "Dream", but not a bad way to market the thing.

Walter said...

My thoughts on this name thing are, as Brad says, that "Dreamliner" is for product promotion, for the public, not for pilots. What pilots might refer to this plane in the long run as is going to have to be a little less sweet, and a little more cryptic. Now won't be the time for names though, as no one knows her nature yet. Nicknames come from some familiarity and even grudging respect. I have no doubt this plane will be a great one, as it certainly ushers in a new era in civilian aviation. I'm optimistic as well that the handle she gets will be one we all can say "of course" to.

Luftmann said...

Any word on recalls and/or future hiring with the new buy?

The C-17 is called Moose by its crews. Pilots from other aircraft call us Barney, as in Fred's little fat friend.

I always thought the A-10 looked pretty cool. Any plane with a gun that big can look like whatever it wants to look like.

brett said...

The popular comment layout is common, so it is easily recognized scanning to post a comment. If the comment section is in a different format, then I am going to spend more time trying to decipher what everything means.
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Anonymous said...

Dream Weaver.... Bird of Pray...

Sweet Dreamer... Yoga Jet..Flex Jet..

Tony uk said...

Cream liner

steve said...

seven LATE seven