UP UP AND AWAY
Most of us have travelled in a plane, and most likely it was a Boeing aircraft. If you are curious on how jets are made, the assembly plant is just two hours south of Vancouver. The Boeing factory in Everett, Washington is where the famous jumbo jet 747s are built. Now the facility also makes the 777s and the 787s Dreamliner.
The company (www.boeing.com) was founded in 1916 by William Boeing, a transplant from the East Coast. Why Washington State? The 22 year old Boeing found work in the Pacific Northwest’s timber industry where he made his fortune. An interest in the nascent technology of flying eventually led William Boeing to construct a seaplane in his boathouse in Seattle.
Fast forward to 2012. The company offers public tours at its Everett assembly line, not in Renton, Washington where the 737s are built. You start your visit at the Future of Flight Aviation Center in Mukilteo, a third of a mile away, visually next-door neighbors to the Everett factory, across a landing strip, Paine Field. No personal items are allowed on the tour including: purses, backpacks, cameras, binoculars, and cell phones. Lockers are available in the Center for US$1.00. No still photos or videos allowed. In short, just yourself. Future of Flight tours operate daily, except American Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Year’s day. The tours start every hour, the first at 9 am and the last one at 3pm.
If you have spare time before or after the tour, take a stroll to the lower gallery of the Center where there are interactive stations for visitors to design their own jet, test it electronically, and if you wish pick up a souvenir print of your design in the gift shop. You can also feel Lilliputian standing before huge fuselage sections. You can touch the sections of the Dreamliner 787 and see how the number of rivets have been reduced, as well as thinner thickness of the fuselage compared to a Boeing 707. These presentations are all done in an easy-to-comprehend and fascinating manner.
When you do line up for your on-the-hour tour, you will be led to a theater, and be given the practicalities, such as no rest rooms (washroom) during the 90 minute excursion that involves a third of mile walk within the assembly plant. So go now if you have to. Then a short informative film regarding the history and impact of plane transportation on our lives, the Boeing company, and of course on building jets. After the film, you will step outside through the back doors of the theater, and board a shuttle bus for Boeing’s Everett factory, the largest building in the world by volume. It is massive.
Along the way you will see scores of sparkling brand new planes with their company logos on their tails, lined up for mile long or more. I was trying to spot a Philippine Air Lines – none within my vision.
Then you will disembark on one end of the assembly plant, walk through a tunnel, up a few floors in an industrial size elevator capable of holding 30 people or more, and exit to a balcony overlooking the production line. Workers in very casual attire, some in shorts, nary a hard hat, assembling fuselages, attaching wings, and installing jet engines - engrossing!
Because the factory is so big, you are shuttled by bus to the other end, where again you walk through a tunnel, take the elevator, and land in a balcony to see another production line of a different type of aircraft.
On the return trip to the Future of Flight Aviation Center Aviation Center you will pass by a hangar, not quite as big as the assembly plant, where the planes get a coat of painting.
Finally back at the Center strategically through a gift shop that sells a good range of flying paraphernalia including toy planes, classic leather bomber jackets, and travel gadgets. Currency exchange available.
Before you leave, don’t miss going up to the Observation or Strato Deck where you can take pictures or videos of the massive assembly plant you just have been to, as well as planes taking off or landing. Breathtaking!
For more information, call 1-800-464-1476, or see www.futureofflight.org. US$20 adults/US$14 youth, a few dollars cheaper outside summer hours or Christmas holiday season, and cheaper if you reserve online or by phone. Children must be at least four feet tall to take this English-only tour, no babies.
Best day to take the tour would be a working weekday. Weekends are more crowded and the factory is less busy. The tour can be done by wheelchair-bound and physically-challenged visitors with advance notice.
There is a café for snacks, sandwiches, and coffee but pricey. Better ask the Visitor Info Desk for local eateries nearby.
The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour is located at 8415 Paine Field Blvd., Mukilteo, WA 98275, Exit 189 on Interstate-5.
If you are not overloaded with plane tech, head down to the Museum of Flight in Seattle as what an Aussie pilot with me in the tour was planning to do. As for me, I was headed for Alderwood Mall in nearby Lynnwood, Exit 183 on I-5.