What is an aircraft rollout?

A new aircraft rollout is the realization of an idea-a dream.

The first time the public sees a fully-assembled aircraft is more than an event. When a new aircraft rolls out of the hangar, it embodies technological breakthroughs and advancements in aerospace. It’s the culmination of years of work by thousands of dedicated people.

While we’ve seen hundreds of new aircraft make their debuts since World War II, we’ve only witnessed two supersonic civilian aircraft rollouts: Concorde in 1967 and the Tupolev Tu-144 in 1968. But it won’t be long until the world experiences the rollout of a supersonic civilian aircraft once again: Boom’s XB-1 supersonic demonstrator will take its place in history at a virtual rollout event on October 7, 2020.

Keeping new wings under wraps

Not surprisingly, most new aircraft are cloaked in secrecy until rollout. Manufacturers guard designs for competitive reasons while military aircraft builders maintain secrecy in the interests of national security. Rollout is usually the first time people see a radical new design.

Because XB-1 is a demonstrator and won’t be operated by commercial airlines or the military, Boom is taking a different, more transparent approach. We’re sharing regular progress updates from the hangar, and our Meet XB-1 videos, photos and articles are chronicling every aspect of the build. But until October 7, the fully-assembled XB-1 is under wraps.

From rollout to runway
Crowds watch as the new X-31 Enhanced Fighter Maneuverability demonstrator aircraft is towed into the hangar at its 1990 rollout. The X-31 was produced jointly by Rockwell International Corporation of the U.S. and Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm of West Germany. Source: National Archives

Rollout ceremonies range from sedate to spectacular. It’s a momentous day for the aircraft manufacturer and the countless fans patiently awaiting the big unveil. But rollout is not the same as a first, or maiden, flight. At rollout, most new aircraft must be towed into place. It will be about a year before they are fully tested and can take to the skies.

Airbus employees welcome the first completed A350 XWB jetliner following its 2013 rollout from the paint shop in Toulouse, France. Photo courtesy: Airbus

Before first flight, aircraft undergo a barrage of ground and flight tests. It’s an exhausting process that tests all systems. While the aircraft is parked in a hangar, safety experts verify the fuel tanks, systems, engines and more, ensuring that all systems meet requirements. At the same time, pilots practice flying in a flight simulator to prepare for the myriad scenarios they might encounter on the runway and in the skies. Everyone works together to ensure the highest level of safety possible.

But before the tests begin, rollout events are a chance for teams to pop the champagne and celebrate an aircraft’s “birthday.”

Embraer’s ERJ145–04 rolls out of the hangar in 1995. Former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Governor of São Paulo Mário Covas attended the ceremony. Photo courtesy: Embraer.
Rollouts for the record books

From politics to publicity, aircraft rollouts capture the international spotlight. Celebrities, elected officials and even royalty have been known to make an appearance. These two rollouts left their mark on history:

Boeing 787 Dreamliner: Anticipation for rollout had been building for more than a decade. It did not disappoint. The July 8, 2007 rollout drew an estimated audience of 1 million. Not only was it Boeing’s first new aircraft rollout in 13 years, the Dreamliner was also the first commercial aircraft largely built of composite material.

On Dreamliner rollout day, newscaster Tom Brokaw emceed a worldwide broadcast that was translated into nine languages. More than 15,000 employees participated in the hangar. Tens of thousands of employees and retirees watched the event on giant screens in a nearby stadium while subcontractors in Japan, Italy, England and Australia watched on live satellite streams.

Eighteen months later, on December 15, 2009, the Dreamliner took its maiden flight.

Concorde: The December 11, 1967 rollout made the record books for more than just technological reasons. On a chilly day at the Sud Aviation Factory in Toulouse, France, thousands waited for the hangar doors to open and catch the first glimpse at Concorde 001. British Minister of Technology Tony Benn and French Minister of Transport Jean Chamant cut the ribbon, symbolizing the partnership between the two nations. But all did not go exactly as planned.

A British Airways Concorde takes off from the runway in 1986, nearly 20 years after the 001 rollout.

After bickering over the spelling of the aircraft’s name (vacillating between the French “Concorde” and English “Concord,” which both mean “agreement”), Benn announced they would use the French spelling. An uproar ensued in Britain. Eventually, Benn placated critics by explaining that the “e” represented “Excellence, England, Europe and Entente (Cordiale).” According to reports at the time, the selection of French over English also smoothed relations between then-UK Prime Minister Harold MacMillan and then-President of France Charles de Gaulle.

Close to a year passed before the first aircraft assembled in the UK, Concorde 002, rolled out of the Brabazon hangar at the British Aircraft Corporation plant in Bristol.

Concorde 001 officially took flight on March 2, 1969.

Supersonic Civilian Flight Readies for Rollout

A one-third scale demonstrator of Overture, Boom’s future supersonic airliner, XB-1 is designed to prove key technologies for safe, efficient and sustainable supersonic flight.

Like many prototypes and demonstrators, XB-1 is a one-of-its-kind aircraft. But unlike military or research aircraft, XB-1 will ultimately inform the design of a commercial airliner, making an impact on how people around the world travel and connect with each other.

XB-1 has another unique distinction: it’s the only civilian supersonic demonstrator in production today.


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