After spending my first day waiting for the 787 and admiring some amazing warbirds, it was time to go into the Boeing Factory itself. There are actually multiple Boeing factories, including the 737 factory in Renton, WA just a little to the south of Everett. At the factory in Everett they manufacture the 747, 767, 777, and 787. If I am not mistaken they will also be manufacturing the new KC-46 since it is a variation of the 767.
The tour starts at Future of Flight which is located in the Northwest corner of Paine Field. From there you board a bus which drives you around the runway and through the flight-line over to the factory. The building is the largest building by volume in the world, and once you get inside it is easy to see why. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take any pictures on the tour, but you can see some pretty cool ones from this year’s Aviation Geek Fest that is an annual event which takes place over President’s Day Weekend.
The tour takes you through two different sections of the factory where you walk on the catwalks to get a bird’s-eye view of these beautiful, massive pieces of machinery coming together.
The first area you see is where they build the 747-8. The assembly line takes up two of the huge bays which is understandable considering how huge the plane is. On one side they assemble the wings, wing boxes, and flight deck. From there all of the pieces move into the second bay where the whole thing gets put together.
It is incredible to see how many planes they are building at the same time, and how it all comes together before they pull it out the doors. They have a nice computer setup that allows you to look at all of the different processes and how the plane comes together in all of its different sections.
The second area provides views of the 777 and 787. What is really cool about the 777 assembly line is that it never stops moving. The planes are built on platforms that constantly move at something like one inch per hour. The platforms move in a U shape around the factory floor acquiring the fuselage, wings, engines, and finally landing gear and interior before they get pulled out the door.
In the past each aircraft had to be towed from position to position which took excessive amounts of time just in moving all of the pieces around. With this new method they have been able to speed the process along in a much more efficient manner.
After viewing the 777 you walk to the other side of the catwalk where the 787 is assembled. The 787 line is simply a straight line through the factory. The fuselage sections come off the Dreamlifters from the flight-line, and enter the factory on the north side. In the first station the three sections are put together. In the second spot, the wings are attached to the body, and in the last spot the engines are attached along with all the other finishing tasks.
While I was there they had slightly slowed production, though they probably would never admit it, but when they are going full steam they will put out a new plane every 4-5 days. That is pretty impressive, but not overly surprising when you consider that most of the fuselage pieces are assembled before they get to the factory.
They have also started painting the control surfaces on the tail and wings prior to assembly, which helps save time when it comes to painting them. What is cool about that is that you can now tell who the plane will be going to while it is still inside the factory. When I was there the first three British Airways 787s were going through, the first of which recently came out of the paint shop, and looks fantastic.
The painting takes place back on the south side of the road in three separate buildings depending on which plane it is. Right now there is a little bit of a backlog with the 777s with two of them sitting outside in their green protective coats.
I found the tour guide to be entertaining and informative. When I had the chance to just chat with him it was fun to get the perspective of someone who is constantly in the factory, something I would love to do. They have all kinds of generic fun facts for the tour, but they also have their own opinions and observations that are certainly interesting given their position.
The tour only lasts about an hour and a half, but I can honestly say that it felt like it was about 15 minutes long because I enjoyed it so much. I seriously could have spent hours in there just watching what was going on. I guess that is what truly describes us avgeeks. We can spend hour upon hour sitting around waiting to see something that lasts a minute or less. For that matter we are happy to see something that is just sitting there if it is something we have been wanting to see.
Speaking of sitting around for hours on end waiting for one particular plane, I found myself doing just that on my last day in the Seattle area, but that will be for another day.