Boeing

BoeingIf you want to understand Seattle, there’s a couple of names that you will come across everyday, simply because so many people work for them: Starbuck’s. Amazon. Microsoft. Nordstrom.

And, of course, Boeing. Until it moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2001, Boeing was the largest company based in Seattle.

Though many jobs remained in the area, and with two large aircraft manufacturing plants in Everett and Renton, it remains the largest private employer in the Seattle metropolitan area.

Of course, Daniel and I had to visit the assembly lines! We pre-booked a tour and drove up to Everett on Saturday morning.

Just before the tour, we headed out and walked around the visitor center, trying to identify the livery of the many airplanes that stood around on the other side of the runway.

They are ready to be tested one last time and then handed over to their new owners: Thai Airways, a new 747-8 for Lufthansa, a Dreamliner for Qatar Airlines, a 777 for United, and a number of designs even us airline freaks could not name.

We were lucky and unexpectedly witnessed the take-off of one of Beings massive freighters, the Dreamlifter.

 

A truly ugly plane, like Airbus’ Beluga it is soley designed to transport huge parts of airplanes, like the wings or whole parts of the fuselage, to Everett, for final assembly.

The tour lasted for 90 minutes and took us through one of the biggest buildings on Earth, the 398.000 square meter assembly hall, where Boeing constructs its 747-8, 777, and 787 Dreamliner planes.

Our guide took us through massive underground tunnels and up onto the gallery, where we could see how they assembles six million single parts into a new 747, taking roughly four months.

The new Dreamliner though is mostly assembled in parts in other plants in the US and by partners in Japan, Australia and Italy, and flown over, so that Boeing only has to test the parts and then stick it all together.

In four days, the plane is ready to fly. That is about the same time it took me as a kid to assemble my latest Lego set into something vaguely resembling an actual place.

Unfortunately, no cameras or any electronics were allowed on the tour, as they might disturb the electric systems.

Believe that who wants, but I am sure they’re fearing Airbus spies.

I am not sure if this visit did something to reduce my latent fear of flying (yes, even though I am on a round-the-world trip).

Seeing how thin the aluminum airframe of a place actually is, and thinking of the 6 million parts to be assembles that can lead to trillions of possible mistakes, is a thought I’ll have to banish before boarding my flight to San Francisco on Monday.

The museum is definitely worth a visit, too, showing actual engine planes to a nice overview of the mail airplanes currently in use, and with the proper respect for competitor’s Airbus planes and achievements…