A visit to the Boeing Factory was high on my priority list for our recent trip to Vancouver and Seattle. This tour did not disappoint, and here’s why I genuinely think it has to be the best tour in the world for aviation enthusiasts.
Future Of Flight centre
Tours commence in the Future Of Flight centre, where you can indulge in a range of interactive activities. Start by designing your own fighter jet, and then navigating a test course to simulate flying your own jet. Pretty neat, but if it was the real thing, I am pretty sure I would be dead! Jason absolutely kicked my ass!
Booking the Boeing Factory tour.
In peak periods it is wise to book in advance. There are just 52 slots per tour and even on a cold and damp February day, our tour attracted around 30 people. You can book the tour online and tickets cost $25 per person. Alternatively call the Future of Flight on 800-464-1476 (toll free in the US and Canada) between 8 and 5.30pm.
Finding the Boeing Factory tour
It is wise to print directions beforehand. The Boeing Factory is not especially well signposted, and the site is huge. We spent over twenty minutes driving around the site getting lost. I couldn’t even get directions from within a Boeing facility due to security screening and air pressure checks. Security is necessarily tight as you can imagine!
The Boeing Factory tour
Once you get your tickets, prepare to be enthralled. The Boeing Factory tour is utterly fascinating. I was gripped from start to finish, and Jason and I are hardly museum enthusiasts.
You will discover some incredible facts during your tour. For instance, the Factory is housed in the world’s largest building. You can fit Disneyland inside and still have 12 acres to spare, and it’s equivalent to 75 American football fields. Pretty damn big basically!!
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We’re going #live in about one hour with @GEAviation on Instagram Stories. We’ll show you the #GE9X engine which we just installed on our first #777X and #GE will join us to talk through what goes into testing a new engine. Watch on your mobile and look for us in your Stories!
The Factory employs over 30,000 people and has its own fire department, security, childcare, gym and café plus a range of dining options. It produces 747, 767, 777 and 787 Dreamliner aircraft using lean manufacturing processes. We saw activity on several aircraft during our tour, each utterly spellbinding.
Dreamliner production line
On the Dreamliner production line, Dreamliner 827 was in pole position. Essentially planes move along the hangar as they take shape, eventually heading into pole position before being towed out of the hangar. Each aircraft has a designated number, so 827 indicates that this plane is the 827th Dreamliner to be produced. On our production line, aircraft 829 was immediately behind, so I was a little concerned that someone had lost a whole plane! It turns out that there is another site in Charleston that also builds the Dreamliner and number 828 is based there. Phew!!
That would be an expensive mistake given that a Dreamliner costs around £300 million.
Visiting the Dreamliner hangar was educational to say the least. I’d heard how this plane is supposed to reduce jet lag, but always thought it was utter nonsense. I’ve only flown the Dreamliner once, and can’t say I noticed a huge difference, but maybe that’s because I was unaware of the science.
It turns out the Dreamliner is made of 50% composite materials, carbon fibre-reinforced polymers rather than aluminium. This is a much stronger and lighter material, meaning that the pressure can be regulated to simulate a lower altitude. This means less ear popping for adults and babies alike, and your legs should swell less. Also, because these materials do not corrode in the same way that aluminium does, more moist air can be pumped into the cabin, preventing the drying impact you normally notice on longer flights. All of which is quite incredible!
747 production line
Pieces are moved around the hangar on huge suspended cranes, and during our visit, we were amazed to see a 747 wing being moved into position. Watching the precision and grace with which those cranes move was most definitely a sight to behold. I was as giddy as a four-year old on Christmas Eve!
We were also incredibly fortunate to see a 747 cargo plane. These planes have a hinged cockpit, which can be lifted to gain access directly to the underbelly of the plane. Seeing the nose of the cockpit lifted in such a way was nothing short of surreal!
Want your own private Boeing 747? No problem if you have upwards of £400 million in spare cash!
777 Production line
Now if all that excitement wasn’t enough, I seriously thought I might wet my pants with excitement at this stage in proceedings. Yes, we managed to catch a glimpse of the new 777-X. This plane will be the first out of the hangar and has yet to launch to the public, so we were super privileged.
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Can you spot all of the #777X flight test airplanes? We’ll give you a hint, there are 4! 😉 Our amazing teams continue to make progress as we prepare to roll out the world’s most efficient large twin-engine airplane. Rollout date coming very soon, stay tuned! #avgeek #aviation #Boeing
The plane is a longer version of the 777. Because of its additional length, it requires larger wings, but larger wings mean that the plane is too big for airport gates around the world. To overcome this major structural issue, engineers designed a wing which hinges. This allows the pilot to lift the tips on landing and thus access gates around the world. Folding wingtips also increase aerodynamic efficiency and reduce fuel use. The first 777X will seat between 400 and 425 passengers and have a maximum range of 14.075km.
Guess what though? When we visited, not only did we see that baby, but when we passed, the tips were up and the numbers 777X could clearly be seen, proudly displayed on the underside. The only people lucky enough to see this plane are those who have been inside the factory! Watch out for this beauty, as the official launch is due in a few months with the first planes scheduled for delivery in 2020.
Supplying the Boeing Factory
As our Boeing Factory tour came to an end, the outside gates slowly started to rise, and to our astonishment, parts started to arrive into the hangar. From our observation post, they looked like the wings of a space shuttle, but in fact were the wings for a 777. I have no idea where they came from, as they certainly weren’t outside when we had entered an hour before! Lean manufacturing in all its glory!
Supplying the Boeing Factory must be a logistical nightmare. Rail tracks and the local marina bring in containers full of parts from around the world. These include landing gears from Gloucester and engines from derby. These marked containers sit in huge holding areas until required. An engine or wing will only be delivered to the Factory as it is needed. We saw engines waiting to be delivered into the factory and our guide explained that these would likely be fitted the next day. New wing deliveries will be fitted overnight! This Factory never stops!
The best tour in the world?
So yes I genuinely do believe this has to be the best tour in the world.
Where else can you see a lifted cockpit, a 777X making its way towards launch, and floating wings? Where else will you learn such interesting facts about the journey of these magnificent creations? I was utterly spellbound for 90 minutes and even then, I could have stayed for much longer. I would have happily watched the entire metamorphosis of an entire plane given the opportunity. If you want to sneak a peek without a trip to Seattle (although seriously you should go!!) check out these videos from YouTube which give you an insight into some of the amazing sights we saw.
Even our guide was getting extremely excited by the various happenings in the Factory on the day we visited. So, I dare anyone to suggest that a tour of the Boeing Factory is not the best tour in the world. It’s going to take some beating for me!!
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A beauty from front to back! @upsairlines’s newest Queen of the Skies is fresh out of paint at our Everett facility. This Boeing 747-8 Freighter has more capacity than any other freighter in production and will allow UPS to upsize their network in both new and existing markets. #UPS7478F #avgeek #747 #boeing #queenoftheskies #boeinglovers #ups #aviation #cargo #pnw #airplane
Boeing Future of Flight is one of Seattle’s most-loved, premier attractions. Located just 25 miles north of Seattle, the Boeing Tour is a one-of-a kind opportunity to view 747, 767, 777, and 787 Dreamliners on the assembly line before they take to the sky.