Once dubbed the "fantastic four," the gigantic Dreamlifters are specially modified 747-400 cargo jets.
They were made for Boeing between 2006 and 2008 to transport Boeing 787 Dreamliner wings, fuselage sections and other large components from supplier factories around the world to Dreamliner assembly facilities in Everett and South Carolina.
"We are in the process of upgrading the Dreamlifter’s Pratt & Whitney engines," Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman confirmed. "This will make it easier to get parts and slight fuel savings. This is not a re-engine project."
The upgrades should reduce the fleet's engine noise and improve fuel efficiency ahead of a possible increase in operating costs.
Dreamlifters and other cargo transport jets routinely stop to refuel in Anchorage, Alaska, while flying to and from Japan and other locations in Asia, taking advantage of the low aviation fuel taxes at the city's airport.
However, the Alaska state government has proposed tripling the tax on aviation fuel, triggering opposition from airlines and cargo companies. The hike will be considered in January 2018.
Each Dreamlifter is powered by four Pratt & Whitney 4062 engines. They'll get modernized versions of the Pratt & Whitney 4062, which are used on the twin-engine Boeing KC-46 Pegasus aerial refueling tankers, Bergman said.
Boeing owns the four Dreamlifters but Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings operates them for Boeing under a nine-year contract signed in March 2010. Atlas receives revenues for the flights, while Boeing assumes responsibility for certain direct costs, including fuel.
The Dreamlifters are beloved among aviation enthusiasts around the world for their rarity, unusual shape and massive size. Their cargo holds are the largest in the world for an aircraft, each capable of holding three times the volume of a regular 747-400 freighter.
Dreamlifter movements are followed and tracked by enthusiasts on a live blog that reports flight plans around the world, such as the scheduled flight into Paine Field around 4:24 p.m. Thursday.
(Andrew McIntosh - Puget Sound Business Journal)