BOEING'S VIP TOUR IS BIG, REALLY BIG
Pilots curious about the hump atop Boeing’s iconic 747 will learn why the jetliner sports a distinctive brow during a limited-availability tour for the first 100 to register for it before the AOPA Bremerton Fly-In Aug. 19.
Boeing is opening its six massive hangar doors for a special on-the-floor VIP tour normally reserved for customers of the $300 million jumbo jets. Separate tour registration for Bremerton Fly-In participants opens July 25 at 9 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time and is expected to fill up quickly.
AOPA’s Washington state fly-in participants will move among the giant airliners from a rare viewpoint. “To actually get down and get the perspective of the size of the aircraft, we do it for the people who buy airplanes from us and a handful of other VIPs,” said executive tour guide Mike Murray. “When President Obama came, we let him in on the floor, but that’s about it.”
It should be noted that the president travels in a specially outfitted Boeing 747 and that Boeing won the contract for the next presidential aircraft, though Obama won’t be in office when it comes online.
A worker is dwarfed by a fuselage under construction in Boeing's Everett, Washington, factory at Paine Field. Photo by David Tulis.
Pilots can thank Boeing chief pilot Stephen R. Taylor for their opportunity to walk near technicians laying out miles of control cables inside the jetliners while other specialists pound purple rivets into the skins of 747s or affix avionics to cockpit panels.
Taylor said his dad worked at Boeing “and I grew up in and around little airplanes because Dad was not only a Boeing guy but a GA [general aviation] guy. So for me, there was never any question that I was going to be in the flying business.” Taylor flies a Cessna 180, a Republic Seabee, an Aerostar, and each of Boeing’s jets.
The assembly building, Taylor said, “is about 100 acres, one kilometer east to west [six-tenths of a mile], half a kilometer north to south, and 90 feet up to the ceiling,” so be prepared for a lot of walking.
Boeing plotted the factory footprint on Google maps and made comparisons to iconic worldwide locations. Disneyland would fit inside it, as would the Pentagon, India’s Taj Mahal, and the Egyptian pyramids. Overall, 40,000 people work in the factory operating three shifts per day, Monday through Friday, and the facility is akin to a small city with its own security, fire, and medical teams. The Everett plant is so big it commands three exits from the nearby interstate.
David Reese, Boeing manager for business relations, said VIP tour participants “will get to see all of our wide body airplanes starting with the 747, also the 737, 767, 777, and our brand new 787.” Visitors will spend about an hour and a half walking though the factory and view “wings of triple seven’s being built here” with components including rivets, spars, and skins coming together in front of them.
“You’ll see the mechanics up in the airplane, you can hear all the riveting in the background, forklifts flying back and forth, and frames moving big pieces of the aircraft into position.”
The Boeing factory, Reese said, is also the largest export site in the United States. The completed airplanes are dispatched worldwide, “and the parts for these planes come from all over the world so it’s really kind of this node of trade and activity for the United States and for the global community.”
Three Boeing 747 aircraft are in various phases of construction at Boeing's Everett, Washington, factory. Photo by David Tulis.
The 747 factory has been in Everett for 46 years and Reese said “we’re now up to the 1,535thairplane that has come down the 747 line.” It takes about three months to manufacture each one of the giant hump-nosed four-engine jetliners.
Since security and safety starts before the first rivet goes in, guests are reminded not to wear open-toed shoes or high heels, wear the safety goggles they will be issued, and keep their cell phones pocketed. Photos and videos from the factory floor are strictly prohibited.
The company offers a public tour, which is limited to catwalk views from high above the factory floor. “They can sort of see down on this,” said Murray, but it won’t be as intimate of a look. Reservations for the regular tour are available online for $18 ($20 for walk-ups), “but it’s recommended to do it well ahead of time because it fills up quickly,” Reese cautioned.
And what about that distinctive fuselage hump? Reese said, “It’s there because the original design was a wing-high military transport airplane” with roll-on, roll-off capability. “We lost the contract but the engineers were licking their wounds and they said ‘Look, we can put the wing low, eliminate the nose door, and we’ll leave the flight deck up there just because we happen to have it there, and we’ll make it into a passenger plane.’ And the rest is history.”
Learn more about the AOPA Fly-In in Bremerton and find out more about all of the activities that will be offered.
Boeing's Everett, Washington, factory occupies the largest building in the world by volume. Photo by David Tulis.