By Dave S. Clark
When any inquisitive person sees a giant plane like a Boeing 747, he or she starts thinking about how it works, how it is constructed and what giant facility is needed to build such a vehicle. Those inquisitive people will love what is in store for them at the Boeing Factory Tour in Everett, WA.
My wife (Miss Wanderlust) and I were spending an extended long weekend in Seattle and we decided to rent a car and head up to the Future of Flight Aviation Center about 25 miles north of Seattle in Everett to check out the factory, which according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the largest building by volume in the world. The centre is full of real airplane parts on display and interactive flight activities, but more importantly, it’s where you depart from for the Boeing Factory tours.
We arrived at the Future of Flight centre with just over an hour to spare before our factory tour started, which gave us a good amount of time to check out all of the displays. There is one large exhibition room with some pretty amazing pieces. I had read there was a flight simulator, which really piqued my interest, so we beelined for that as soon as we arrived. The operator told us that it was a three-minute ride that you don’t control, that simulates a 1930s flying experience. If you have back problems or get motion sick easily, he didn’t recommend it. He said he can’t handle it himself. I had been feeling pretty ill already and I get motion sickness by just looking at a boat, so I decided to pass.
Beside the flight simulator is a complete cross section of a shell of Boeing’s newest technological innovation, the carbon-fibre 787. It was impressive to see how big around the body of the plane actually is when you take into account the cargo hold and everything else you don’t see from within the cabin.
The petrolhead in me loved the three jet engines on display which you could walk all the way around. They had a GE unit as well as two Rolls Royce units on display, rotating ever so slowly. If I was an art collector, I’d definitely shell out the $25 million to have one of these to look at in my gallery. Beside the engines was a complete, full-size vertical stabilizer from a 787. When you see these planes moving around amongst other planes from an airport window, you don’t get a sense of how big they really are. Standing in the shadow of a tail fin makes you realize how huge they really are.
There was a full nose section of a retired 727, complete with the real cockpit from the plane. I had a good time sitting in the captain’s seat, flipping switches like I knew what I was doing and trying to make sense of it all. There are a number of other interactive exhibits and dozens of computer stations with activities that could keep you busy for hours. Our tour was nearing so we decided to quickly head up to the observation deck on the second floor to get a glimpse of the oblong Dreamlifter, which is so bizarrely shaped its hard to even imagine flying.
The tour itself started with a six-minute video on Boeing and the facility, then it was onto the bus and over to the factory. It just looks like a really big warehouse from the outside. You don’t realize how incredibly huge it is until you are inside and looking down at complete 747, which is sitting beside another complete 747, beside another half assembled plane.
The 747 assembly line is exactly where you start. From a long, desolate tunnel in the basement of the building you take a freight elevator up to the sixth floor where you get a high level view of the production line of the 747 series. First you’ll see the nose cones, set up in jigs, so the can be assembled. They are then taken by crane and attached to the rest of the gigantic body.
Then you’ll move to the production line where the full planes slowly move through the facility, getting outfitted with wings, stabilizers and landing gear. The completed aluminum planes, covered in a green protectant, are then moved across the highway to enormous paint hangars to get the liveries of the airlines that ordered them.
After the 747 line, you get back on the bus and drive down to the other end of the building to the 777 and 787 production areas. Again, you take a freight elevator to an observation deck with a great view of the operations. They were equally as impressive and gave you the chance to see many disassembled sections of the planes as well as paint-ready aircraft.
Our guide gave us a ton of information on how the planes are built, who much they are worth ($360 million for a 747 with no engines or interior) and how big the building actually is. The bay doors that open up so the completed 787s can get to the paint hangar are actually the size of an NFL football field including the end zones.
Then it was back on the bus, driving by the paint hangars and by dozens of planes that were either in pre-delivery testing or ready for delivery. The whole Boeing factory tour was 90 minutes.
We visited on a Saturday and it was pretty quiet as production only runs five days a week. If you happen to visit during the week, it is apparently significantly louder, but I think it would add a different element actually seeing people working on the planes.
If you want to visit the Future of Flight Center alone, without the factory tour, it’s $10 per person. The tour is an additional $10. We booked our tickets 10 days or so in advance and there were still lots of available spots in a number of different time slots throughout the day. No cell phones, cameras or recording devices are allowed in the factory for obvious reasons. Photography is allowed at the Future of Flight centre.
The Future of Flight Aviation Center is about 30 minutes north of Seattle in Everett. It’s pretty easy to get to as well. Take exit 189 off of I5 and follow the signs.