Friday, September 15, 2006

Flying high

If you fly in the U.S., most of the planes you take were made by Boeing. Today you sent me to the Boeing factory tour, with a visit to its Future of Flight gallery.

You won’t learn any big secrets on this tour. The promotional films, factory visit and gallery are all clearly designed to obscure any details that might be useful to would-be terrorists and competitors. But you do come away with the sense that building airplanes is a complex business, involving a lot of people and computers, and that Boeing does it well.

The tour takes you to the factory where Boeing’s 747, 767, 777 and soon, its 787 planes, are put together. You never know who will be on your tour; our guide, Lynne Shrum, told us Microsoft chief Bill Gates turned up unannounced last week. His only question: How many employees does Boeing have in the state of Washington. Answer: 65,000 – more than Microsoft, which claims about 33,223, according to the Microsoft website.

The factory is a massive space, more than 110 feet tall, a half-mile wide and encompassing 472 million cubic feet. More than 24,000 workers toil here on three round-the-clock shifts. Some are assigned to bicycle duty; the factory is so huge that paperwork and small parts are delivered by couriers on bikes.

In the factoid department: More than 600 Boeing 777s have been built here, at a rate of 84 per year. Each requires about 5 months of factory assembly. The new 787s will use a far different process: parts will be manufactured in Italy, China and Japan, then shipped here for a final delivery process that takes only three days. Manufacture of the 787s begins later this year.

Back in the visitor center, you can buy Boeing gear: sweatshirts, pens, jackets, baseball hats – even toys. Boeing’s Future of Flight Gallery shows off engines, flight decks and more details about the new 787. Some 787 facts: These planes will be lighter (thanks to the use of composite materials), roomier, lighter and cheaper to operate. Each will have full Internet access onboard.

Whether we’ll all get more spacious seats, though, depends on each airline’s specific directions. I’m not counting on it.

Details: The tour lasts about one hour and costs $15 including the gallery visit. The factory is located about 30 minutes north of Seattle at Paine Field. Cameras aren’t allowed in the Boeing facility; photos here were supplied by Boeing.

1 comment:

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