A Different Kind of Aircraft Graveyard: Fatigue Test Airframes at Paine Field, Washington

everett-washington-aircraft-graveyard-fatigue-test-rigs (Image: Rafal Szczypec, reproduced with permission)

Tucked away on the north side of Paine Field near Everett, Washington, is an aircraft graveyard stocked with some of Boeing’s most impressive airliners – but none of these jets ever flew.

The battered fuselages, including several early Boeing 747s dating back to the programme’s inception, are all former fatigue test airframes, built to simulate the stresses that would normally be exerted on production aircraft over thousands of flying hours.

everett-washington-aircraft-graveyard-fatigue-test-rigs-3 (Image: Google Earth)

Conducted from the safety of land at the Boeing Everett Factory, fatigue test rigs are mounted in a massive metal cage where mechanical devices apply pressure to selected parts of the airframe, twisting and tugging at the structure to simulate the stresses of takeoff, landing, normal flight and emergency situations.

everett-washington-aircraft-graveyard-fatigue-test-rigs-2 (Image: Google Earth)

While the broken hulks of test planes past litter the boneyard, the fatigue apparatus now contains Boeing’s newest, most cutting-edge passenger jet, the 787 Dreamliner. For seven days a week over a three year period, this 787 will “fly” hundreds of thousands of hours on the rig, before ultimately taking its place next to the hulks that helped prove and develop Boeing’s most successful aircraft of the 20th century.

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