Boeing Commercial Airplanes announced on October 13, 2003 that due to the length of time required by marine shipping, air transport will be the primary method of transporting parts for the 787 (then known as the 7E7). Three used passenger 747-400 aircraft were to be converted into an outsize configuration in order to ferry sub-assemblies from Japan and Italy to Charleston, South Carolina and then to Everett, Washington for final assembly. The Large Cargo Freighter has a bulging fuselage similar in concept to the Super Guppy and Airbus A300-600ST Beluga outsize cargo aircraft, which are also used for transporting wings and fuselage sections. It can hold three times the volume of a 747-400F freighter.
The LCF conversion was partially designed by Boeing's Moscow bureau and Boeing Rocketdyne with the swing tail designed in partnership with Gamesa Aeronautica of Spain. Modification is being carried out in Taiwan by Evergreen Aviation Technologies Corporation, a joint venture of Evergreen Group's EVA Air and General Electric.Boeing has already acquired the four second-hand 747-400s; one former Air China aircraft, two former China Airlines aircraft, and one former Malaysia Airlines aircraft. [Registrations N747BC (Serial 25879), N780BA (Serial 24310), N249BA (Serial 24309), and N718BA (Serial 27042).
It is much more economical for Boeing to buy used 747s and convert them than to construct these planes from scratch. The LCF is not a Boeing production model and will not be sold to any customers or see any airliner operation, and will be for Boeing's exclusive use. Another reason for modifying existing planes is the minimal regulation and flight testing required by authorities such as the Federal Aviation Administration. If the 747 LCF were produced entirely within Boeing, it would face years of development and testing in the same manner as the upcoming Boeing 747-8. Rules on airworthiness allow for the faster approval of modifications to existing aircraft that are already approved than would be the case for the approval of brand new aircraft designs.
In June 2006, the completion of the first DBL-100 cargo loader used for loading 787 parts into the 747 LCF was announced by Boeing. These loaders were designed and built by Canadian firm, TLD at its facility at Sherbrooke, Quebec and are the longest in the world at 118 foot 1 inch.
The first conversion, which drew comment because in addition to its ungainly shape, it also remained in this unpainted configuration for a long time.
In December 2006, Boeing announced the LCF would also be known as the Dreamlifter, a reference to the 787's name, the Dreamliner. It unveiled a standard livery for the aircraft that included a Dreamlifter logo reminiscent of the 787's Dreamliner logo.
The certification was to be in early 2007 however it was pushed back to June 2007. The plane had its winglets removed after excess vibration and other handling characteristics need to be dealt with prior to final certification. In the meantime as part of the flight test program, LCF delivered major sections of the 787 from partner sites around the world to the Boeing factory in Everett, WA for final assembly. The 747 LCF was granted type certification on June 2, 2007 from Federal Aviation Administration. The Dreamlifter completed 437 flight-test hours and 639 hours of ground testing since its first flight on Sept. 9, 2006.
The 747 LCF's unusual appearance has drawn comparisons to the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and the Hughes H-4 Hercules ("Spruce Goose"). Due to its ungainly form, and exacerbated by the fact that the need for immediate testing resulted in the first model remaining unpainted for some time, Boeing Commercial Airplanes president Scott Carson jokingly apologized to Joe Sutter, designer of the 747 that he was "sorry for what we did to your plane."
Boeing plans to acquire four 747 Dreamlifters. As of June 2008, three LCFs are complete and operational, and the fourth is to become operational in 2009.