Imagine a building so big, the doors are the size of a football field (and there are 6 of them). Visualize it with a ceiling 11 stories high, and with 98 acres (thatís right, acres) of floor space under its roof Ė thatís enough room for 74 football fields, 911 basketball courts, or all of the Disneyland Magic Kingdom theme park (along with 12 acres of covered parking). Picture it with over a million light fixtures, an $18 million annual electricity bill, and 24,000 people working under its roof. Imagine it as a factory with 26 enormous overhead cranes (some of which can lift 40 tons) that run on 31 miles of networked tracks, and that produces products that have more than 3 million parts each and that sell for up to $175 million apiece.
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Youíve just imagined an airplane factory Ė and not just any airplane factory Ė but the biggest in the world. In fact, youíve just imagined the biggest building on the entire planet (based on floor-space measurement). Itís a building immense beyond understanding, vast beyond comprehension and impressive beyond belief. Around half a mile long and nearly that wide, this is a building on a colossal scale Ė a structure so big, that you can not really comprehend what you are seeing. By my calculation, you could fit 15 of the big U.S. Navy aircraft carriers inside the building and have room to spare.
The Boeing Everett plant, located 20 miles north of Seattle is the place where Jumbo Jets are born. Every single 767, 777 and 747 ever made was produced in this very spot Ė and you can see it being done right before your eyes. Thatís right, you can step inside the factory (if only briefly) and watch as the giant aircraft are slowly pieced together (the pace is glacial however, so donít expect to see a whole of lot of action). The tour of the Boeing factory is an impressive experience for anyone interested in anything to do with airplanes (or anything just plain big). Tours run Mondays through Fridays (except for holidays and the week between Christmas and New Years) and last approximately 90 minutes. They start on the hour at 9, 10, and 11 AM, and at 1, 2, and 3 PM.
It used to be that in order to take this tour you had to show up early as the tickets were given out first-come, first-served and vanished quickly. Usually, by 10 AM all the tickets for the entire day were already gone. Now however, your can make reservations in advance by phone (groups of 10 or more MUST make reservations). Cost of the tour is $5/person ($3 for children under 15 or seniors over 61). There are price breaks for large groups. Note that children must be at least 4 feet 2 inches (127 cm) tall to go on the tour and no infants (even in carriers) are allowed. You should be in good health and be able to walk 1/3 of a mile. Note that Boeing takes safety and security very seriously, so no bags, backpacks, beepers, cameras, notepads or cell phones are allowed on the tour.
Even with reservations, I suggest you arrive early, for the waiting area contains a terrific assortment of photos and displays of aeronautical paraphernalia. You could easily spend half an hour or more reviewing this stuff. When the tour actually begins you are shepherded into a clean, modern theatre. Here supposedly, you will see a movie of time-lapse photography that compresses a plane's normal 6 to 11 month production time into just 15 minutes. The reason I say supposedly, is that each of the 2 times Iíve gone, we didnít get to see this movie (I donít know why), but according to everything Iíve read, thatís whatís suppose to happen. Hopefully, thatís what will happen to you, because I saw this video at work (I work for Boeing) and itís very informative, occasionally funny, and just plain fascinating. It also really helps you to understand more of what you are going to see on the factory floor.
Anyway, eventually, you are escorted from the theatre and herded onto waiting motor coaches (go to the bathroom first as there are no potty breaks for the next hour or so). Once on the busses, you will be driven out onto the tarmac of Paine Field to see the planes awaiting delivery and also given a view of the colossal paint hangers where the airlinesí distinctive paint jobs are custom applied to each aircraft. The best part of the tour of course is the trip into the factory itself. In order to do this, you must exit the bus and make your way under the activity on the factory floor via a long straight pedestrian tunnel that looks like something out of a movie set. Eventually you come to a large service elevator that lifts you up to an observation platform 35 feet above the factory floor. Here, in the incredible din of the factory (if you have sensitive ears you might consider some earplugs), you have a grand view of a ďsmallĒ portion of the plant (unfortunately, due to intervening walls, there is no place where you can look down the entire length of the plant). Here you can see 747 Jumbo Jets in various stages of development. Your tour guide will try to explain what is going on below, but unless you can squeeze your way in next to him/her, you probably wonít hear a thing. It doesnít really matter anyway, most folks are just staring agog out at the impressive view. Far too soon, your time in this interesting aerie is over and itís time to hike back to the bus for the ride back to the visitor center. There you can visit the Boeing store and purchase cups, hats, tee shirts and other souvenirs of your visit.
It used to be (before you could make reservations) that a trip to this factory took up most of the day, since you needed to arrive early, then find something to do (usually drive down to the Mukilteo waterfront) to kill some time until your tour started. With the new phone reservations available, that long wait should be a thing of the past, and you could probably do this tour in a morning. While not for everyone, this tour often impresses even those who thought they would have no interest in it, so you might want to consider it on your next trip to the Seattle area. For true airplane buffs, a great idea would be to combine a morning visit here with an afternoon trip to Seattleís terrific Museum of Flight located just south of the city at Boeing Field. In closing, I just have to say that a trip to the Boeing Everett Plant is a totally unique experience, something you will likely remember for years to come.
This is the link to the Boeing Everett Tour Center, where you may find additional information such as the reservation number, and driving directions:
Note as of 9/14/01: As an American citizen and proud Boeing employee, I was aghast at the use of my companies' products as weapons against my very own people. I can only say that if those who planned/did this hoped to make us timid, they have failed miserably. I have NEVER seen such indignation, outrage and determination in people as I am seeing now. There is an overriding conviction that we MUST make sure that such a thing NEVER happens again - not only on American soil, but to ANY nation. It sounds as if we are going to war. We did not want this, but we have NO choice. It has been thrust upon us.
In effect, we were already at war, we just didn't know it.
So be it.
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