Has the Catfish Escaped Me? NO!

The first Boeing 757 built was kept by Boeing as a test aircraft and never went to an airline.  When Boeing became a partner in the F-22 Raptor program, a new use was found for the aircraft.  It was fitted out as a flying testbed for the avionics suite.  A test crew could ride in the cabin and they could try out a number of different configurations of software changing things as they go without having to have the software flight qualified.

To make the whole ensemble work appropriately, the aircraft was fitted with F-22 sensors.  This included a radome on the aircraft nose with the F-22’s radar.  In addition, because a number of sensors were embedded in the wings, a wing structure was added about the cockpit.  This unusual configuration resulted in the aircraft gaining the nickname “Catfish”.  It flew a lot during the development program but I only ever saw it on the ground at Boeing Field and then it was partially obscured.  I did also look down on it from an airliner approaching SeaTac.

I knew it didn’t fly often but I hoped that, in moving to the area, I would finally get to see it airborne.  Then I discovered that it had flown to St Louis.  The rumor was that it had been retired.  Indeed, on a flight across the country involving a plane change in St Louis, I did see it parked up in an open-ended hangar.  I figured that might be as close as I got.  Then I got a notification that it was heading west again.  Better yet, it wasn’t going direct to Boeing Field but to Everett first.  It is a short drive from the office to Everett and the flight plan meant it was coming in during lunch.

The harsh lunchtime light and the prospect of heat haze notwithstanding, I figured this was too good a chance to miss.  It showed up pretty much when expected so I was able to get some shots of it coming down the approach and across the threshold.  The heat haze was really bad as it was over the runway but actually slightly less of an issue further out.  I don’t care.  I finally got to see it fly and that is what I was after.  It headed back to St Louis from Boeing Field the following day.  I have no idea when it left Everett for Boeing Field though.  If it comes back again and I can see it, that will be a bonus.

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