Can Boeing (NYSE:BA) turn it around? And if so, how long must we wait?

According to Monday's Wall Street Journal, the plane-maker could reverse its fortunes in just a few days, if all goes as planned and the Dreamliner makes a successful test flight next week. Or (also according to the WSJ), it could take much longer. Customers ranging from Delta (NYSE:DAL), Continental (NYSE:CAL), and AMR (NYSE:AMR) here in the States, all the way 'round the globe to first-in-line 787-taker All Nippon Airways (ANA), have waited years to see the 787 take flight.

But even after (if?) it the 787 succeeds next week, Boeing still has miles to fly before it sleeps. The FAA certification process ordinarily can take 12 months or more to complete, but Boeing aims to fast-track it in just eight months, delivering its first plane to ANA before the end of 2010.

That's the hope. Now here's the reality: Even as we hope a successful test-flight boosts Boeing shares next week, we must prepare for a failure or cancellation that could send Boeing into a tailspin. And even if the test goes well, history suggests that 2010 will be turbulent in the extreme, as Boeing races the clock to identify and fix new issues as they come to light.

Boeing books a win
What's an investor to do in the interim? Count your blessings, and be thankful for good news from wherever it hails. Last week, for example, we saw Boeing's Defense division step into the breach with a $6.4 billion contract win to build "Growler" e-warfare planes for the Navy. And this weekend, Boeing's civilian side booked a win of its own (and one that should cheer parts suppliers General Electric (NYSE:GE), Spirit AeroSystems (NYSE:SPR), and Honeywell (NYSE:HON).)

Just two months ago, we booed Boeing for taking $1 billion in charges for problems with the 787's sister program, the 747-8 upgrade. Also a cargo jet, the 747-8 has had difficulty selling itself to passenger airlines, but on Friday, Boeing announced it sold five more of the jets to Korean Air (its second such passenger-version sale.)

The 747-8 isn't Boeing's biggest earner by a long shot. In total, I suspect this sale will net less than $860 million in revenue. But it should help recoup some of that $1 billion charge, hastening the day when Boeing becomes profitable again.

Hey, it's a start.

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of Boeing, and Spirit AeroSystems Holdings is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.