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From: Eric12/29/2014 7:11:54 AM
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Originally published December 28, 2014 at 8:17 PM | Page modified December 28, 2014 at 9:30 PM

Boeing calls tanker prototype’s first flight successful

A prototype for Boeing’s Air Force refueling tanker program made its first flight Sunday, taking off at Everett’s Paine Field and landing at Boeing Field in Seattle three and a half hours later.

Seattle Times business staff

Paul Gordon / Boeing

The first plane in Boeing’s program to develop an Air Force refueling tanker took off just after 9:30 a.m. from Paine Field in Everett.

A prototype for Boeing’s Air Force refueling tanker program made its first flight Sunday, taking off at Everett’s Paine Field and landing at Boeing Field in Seattle three and a half hours later.

The jet, a 767 with modifications that include a 787-style cockpit and extra fuel tanks but no military systems, is one of two planes to be used for initial Federal Aviation Administration certification. Military systems will be installed later.

Two additional planes with the full array of refueling systems will be the first true KC-46 tankers.

Boeing’s Air Force contract calls for delivering 179 tankers for $51 billion, starting with 18 aircraft by 2017.

The Air Force general in charge of the program estimated this month that the initial phase of Boeing’s fixed-price contract will go $1.5 billion over budget.

The first flight came six months behind Boeing’s original schedule. Causes for delay on the initial plane included complex new wiring that was repeatedly removed and reinstalled in order to meet Air Force specifications.

Boeing termed the flight “successful” but provided no details.

The KC-46 design includes an advanced refueling boom that can be hooked up to some jet fighters by an operator sitting at a station behind the tanker’s cockpit. Using a 3D video display, the boom operator will navigate the telescopic tip of the refueling tube toward the receiving fighter’s fuel receptacle.

Other jet fighters will be refueled via drogues extended from refueling pods on the wings and the tail.

Integration of the complex software systems that control this military hardware is a major challenge.

To meet its delivery schedule for 2017, Boeing must hand over the first tanker for the Air Force to test and evaluate in the fall of 2016.

Despite the program glitches this year, Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s vice chairman and chief operating officer, said at a Dec. 3 investor conference that company management is “feeling very good about where that program is at now.”

“We’ve got some of those technical issues behind us,” Muilenburg said. “We’ll now focus on executing the flight-test program under development, and then getting the program into production.”

Material from Seattle Times archives was included in this report.

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From: Eric12/30/2014 11:34:22 AM
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Originally published December 29, 2014 at 8:43 PM | Page modified December 30, 2014 at 8:07 AM

Boeing bullish, dismisses doubters, as record year ends After beating Airbus in jetliner deliveries again this year, Boeing looks to ramp up production at Renton, predicts abundant job openings in the years ahead, and dismisses worries raised by analysts.

By Dominic Gates

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times

Machinists Adam Fobes, front, and Andy Lee
insulate ribs in a 737 wing . The company has plans to boost Renton production from 42 planes a month to 52

As a record production year winds down at Boeing, executives shrug off analysts’ worries about a possible downturn and express full confidence in busy years ahead for Washington state’s aerospace industry.

With massive production hikes planned and a wave of worker retirements on the horizon, Pat Shanahan, Boeing vice president in charge of airplane programs, said the company expects to hire 20,000 to 30,000 people here through the end of this decade.

At the same time, Boeing is making big investments in new automation equipment that promises to transform the nature of blue-collar production jobs for those future hires.

Inside the Renton 737 jet assembly plant, where two assembly lines each pump out 21 airplanes every month, construction crews are installing the foundation for a third — the new 737 MAX line that will begin production in 2015.

Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times

Gary Laws, a team-lead mechanic who works at Boeing’s 737 wing-assembly facility in Renton, says an automated fastener machine has transformed his job.

On a tour this month, Shanahan predicted the Renton plant won’t miss a beat executing Boeing’s ambitious plan: “Going to 52 a month, introducing the MAX and changing our manufacturing process, all simultaneously.”

In the adjacent 737 wing facility, a shiny, new 25-foot-tall automated wing-panel fastening machine is being put through its paces to gain certification for initial operation in the spring.

Boeing is installing eight of these multimillion-dollar machines — designed and built by Electroimpact of Mukilteo — to make possible its plan for the astonishing Renton ramp-up to 52 jets per month, triple what it was a decade ago.

Meanwhile in Everett, construction is well along on two buildings that will house production of the Boeing 777X wings and fuselage. There, too, new advanced automated systems will pump out ever more airplanes.

Is everything awesome?

Airbus, equally bullish, has ramp-up plans parallel to Boeing’s.

Barry Eccleston, president of Airbus Americas, said he sees no waning of the prolonged aviation boom.

“We’re not seeing any weakness in the order book or any slowdown in the ordering rate,” Eccleston said.

The way both prime manufacturers paint a glowing picture of the industry’s prospects was lampooned at an industry conference earlier this year by Adam Pilarski, a respected industry veteran and senior vice president with consulting firm Avitas, who started his presentation by playing a “Lego Movie” song: “Everything is Awesome.”

“That’s exactly how Boeing feels,” Pilarski said in a year-end interview. “But airplane financiers respond: ‘What are you talking about?’?”

Wall Street analysts have repeatedly warned that production rates for the Airbus A330 and for Boeing’s 777 may need to be cut back severely before the end of the decade if the plane builders can’t find customers for the last of their current models as major upgrades are readied.

At the Airbus investor conference in London this month, executives presented slides showing the worst-case scenario of having to drop A330 production from 10 jets per month today to six per month for a couple of years.

That’s possible because Airbus has lots of empty delivery slots for the current model in the two years before it introduces a new A330neo in 2018.

A bridge to 777X

Boeing faces a similar issue with its star widebody jet, the 777, produced at a rate of 100 per year in Everett. The 777X, a major upgrade, is due in 2020.

Over the next six years, Boeing needs to win about 350 new orders for the current 777 to keep production humming until the 777X arrives.

In addition to these model-transition issues, Pilarski has a broader concern: “a reasonable chance of increased cancellations and deferrals” after years of airlines ordering more planes than the market requires.

This month, Air France-KLM management said it will defer five 777s due to be delivered in 2015 and 2016.

Pilarski puts the deferral down to “double-counting” of orders, meaning that legacy European flag carriers like Air France and the big new Middle Eastern carriers have all ordered planes that will compete with each other for passenger traffic.

In June, German flag carrier Lufthansa warned of an excess of airplanes on its long-haul routes due to “strong capacity growth by state-owned Gulf carriers.”

In Asia too, Pilarski said, low-cost startups and more established airlines have separately ordered hundreds of jets to chase the same passengers.

The combined order book of jets for the newcomer carriers and the older carriers is simply too many airplanes, he said.

“It’s all for the same traffic,” said Pilarski. “That cannot continue.”

While acknowledging that Boeing’s business is booming right now, he puts the chances of a production downturn by 2020 at 50-50.

“If I were Boeing, I’d be happy,” Pilarksi said. “But there may be some dark clouds on the horizon.”

Boeing executives brush aside such talk.

Vice president of marketing Randy Tinseth agreed that some legacy European flag carriers indeed find themselves “at a crossroads” because of competition from the Gulf carriers. But he said the company’s order book is so large and diverse — a backlog of more than 5,700 airplanes — that individual deferrals have minimal impact.

John Wojick, sales chief at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, insisted Boeing won’t have to “significantly change” the current 777 production rate.

Who’s No. 1?

Such optimism is backed by Boeing’s stellar manufacturing and sales performance in 2014.

“This year, Boeing is probably going to outdeliver Airbus in single-aisle jets for the first time since 2002, and we’re going to smash them on widebodies,” Wojick said. “It’s not even close.”

It’s true that by the end of this month, Boeing will have eclipsed Airbus in the number of airplanes delivered in 2014.

Heading to yet another all-time-high production year from local factories — and for the first time with significant added help from Boeing South Carolina — Boeing will beat Airbus in deliveries of larger widebody jets by a wide margin.

At the end of November, the U.S. jet maker had delivered 89 more widebody jets than Airbus this year.

According to Uresh Sheth’s blog that tracks 787 production, just before Christmas Boeing had delivered 108 Dreamliners this year, 31 of those built in South Carolina and 77 in Everett.

And as Wojick indicated, Boeing might close 2014 by building more narrowbody jets than Airbus — something it hasn’t achieved in a dozen years.

As of the end of November, Boeing had delivered 440 of its single-aisle 737s, compared with Airbus’s 436 of the rival A320.

This will be Boeing’s third consecutive year as the world’s leader in commercial jet manufacturing, after nine straight years of Airbus building more jets.

“We worked extremely hard ... to get back to being Number One in aviation,” said Wojick.

While Boeing wins big on production, the 2014 sales race is a closer call.

In early December, Boeing held a healthy lead in new orders, with 1,274 planes sold net of cancellations, to 1,094 planes for its European rival.

Airbus sales chief John Leahy could turn that around if he firms up some previously announced commitments in his typical year-end order rush.

But even then, Boeing will almost certainly come out ahead in the total value of 2014 sales, since a greater share of its new orders are expensive widebody jets.

Airplane strategy

Still, Airbus can point to significant strategic progress in 2014.

In the smaller-airplane segment, its A320neo family of jets continues to outsell Boeing’s 737 MAX family.

Eccleston said the Airbus advantage there is primarily due to its largest model, the A321neo, outselling the largest Boeing model, the 737 MAX 9.

Many analysts see the A321neo as the superior plane in this specific matchup. It carries more passengers and has better takeoff performance.

Boeing’s Wojick insisted that the vast majority of sales will go to the respective medium-sized variants — the 737 MAX 8 and the A320neo — and said Boeing wouldn’t be planning to build 52 jets a month if not totally confident in the MAX.

“This race has a long way to go,” said Wojick.

In large widebody jets, Boeing has been dominant for years. But in 2014, Airbus delivered its first A350 and launched the A330neo, key moves in challenging Boeing’s dominance.

Last month, Delta ordered 25 Airbus A330-900neos for its transatlantic routes, a strong validation of Eccleston’s argument that the ultra-long-range 787 is “too much airplane” for such medium-range routes.

Pilarski said the cost-effective A330neo — an aircraft with an older design but new engines — has the potential to sell close to 1,000 units.

However, Airbus appears to have a problem with its largest A350, the A350-1000 model, designed to compete with the 777.

Though that model has sold poorly, Eccleston insisted that Airbus has no plans to revamp or stretch it.

That’s welcome news for Boeing and its 777X.

Boeing workforce

For Boeing, 2014 began with intense labor acrimony over the eight-year 777X contract extension that froze the pensions of workers in the Machinists union.

Management later announced the company would move thousands of engineering and defense jobs out of state, heightening the animosity.

Many of those job transfers haven’t happened yet. But through November, Boeing employment in the state dipped to 81,099, a drop of just over 900 jobs.

In addition to cuts through attrition, Boeing said 236 employees transferred to California as engineering support work was moved, and 410 others were laid off.

One consequence of the recent labor strife is likely to be a wave of retirements in coming years, especially at the end of 2018 — when the particularly generous 401(k) matches in the first two years of the 777X contract run out.

For all the hiring that Shanahan promises is ahead, plans to massively increase automation probably mean that not all of those retirees will be replaced.

By the end of the decade, there may be fewer Boeing blue-collar workers in Washington state than there are today, and the work they do could be very different.

Gary Laws, 40, who operates an automated fastener machine in the 737 wing-assembly facility in Renton, offers a glimpse at the shifting nature of manual work at Boeing.

Laws described how the automation already in place has made his job dramatically easier and better since he joined Boeing 19 years ago.

Back then, he said, the wing panels were held in huge fixtures several stories high, and most of the drilling and riveting was done by hand — work that was very hard on the body.

Today he sits at an operating console, deciding which parts are loaded and when, continuously monitoring the machine and the tasks that it performs.

When a drill bit breaks in the machine, he’s alert to the change in sound.

Laws is proud of his role in the extraordinary increase in the Renton site’s productivity.

Fueling the remarkable 737 rate increases, he and his workmates constantly come up with ways to sequence the work more efficiently.

He’s no longer paid to punch rivets.

“I’m paid to think and for my troubleshooting skills,” Laws said.

“I can wear a nice shirt to work.”

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or

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From: Eric1/13/2015 5:19:04 PM
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Originally published January 13, 2015 at 7:56 AM | Page modified January 13, 2015 at 12:57 PM

Airbus’ 2014 sales tally shows Boeing is still No. 1

Boeing topped Airbus in 2014 airplane deliveries, holding onto its claim as the world’s No. 1 airplane maker. And though Airbus sold more jets, Boeing’s sales have a higher total dollar value.

By Dominic Gates

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

European jet maker Airbus released its final 2014 delivery and order data in France early Tuesday, showing Boeing — as expected — retains its claim to the title of the world’s No. 1 airplane maker.

However, in the latest strategic chess move designed to stake out a competitive advantage in the future, Airbus also formally launched a new longer-range version of its A321neo, threatening sales of the 737 MAX 9.

Boeing delivered substantially more airplanes than Airbus in 2014, rolling out 723 airplanes to 629 from its European rival.

For the third year running, Airbus sold slightly more jets, with 1,456 net orders last year to 1,432 for Boeing.

However, Boeing’s 2014 sales are skewed toward bigger, more expensive airplanes and so have a total dollar value about 45 percent higher than Airbus‘s sales.

Airbus ended the year with 135 net new orders for widebody jets compared with Boeing’s 328.

In terms of list prices — which are much higher than prices actually paid — Boeing’s 2014 net sales were worth $233 billion while Airbus’s total net sales were valued at $175 billion.

Based on real market pricing estimates by aircraft valuation firm Avitas, Boeing's 2014 net orders are valued at about $115 billion, while Airbus’s are valued at about $79 billion.

In a news conference in Toulouse, France, Airbus chief Fabrice Brégier said 2014 was “an excellent year.”

“The teams in Airbus not only delivered on, but exceeded their targets and commitments,” Bregier said.

Boeing, which announced its year-end sales and delivery data a week ago, issued a press release savoring its claim to be “the world’s largest airplane manufacturer.”

“What the Boeing team achieved in 2014 is truly unprecedented, especially in the face of fierce competition,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner.

In jet deliveries, Boeing came out ahead for the third consecutive year, after nine straight years before that when Airbus built more jets.

The value of Boeing’s 2014 jet deliveries, based on actual market values provided by Avitas, was about $58 billion.

In comparison, Airbus’s jet deliveries were valued at about $40 billion.

Boeing’s advantage lay in its rolling out many more widebody jets — especially 787s and 777s as well as 767s and 747s — than Airbus, which has only its A330s and a few of its largest model A380s in that big jet category.

Boeing handed over 238 widebodies to customers in 2014. Airbus delivered only 139 of these bigger jets, including 30 superjumbo A380s.

That means Boeing airplanes accounted for 63 percent of widebody jet deliveries.

In 2014 deliveries of the smaller, single-aisle jets, Boeing came close to matching Airbus, something it hasn’t done in a dozen years.

That’s because the 737 workforce in Renton reached unprecedented levels of productivity in 2014, ramping up to 42 jets per month.

Boeing delivered 485 of its single-aisle 737s, just shy of Airbus’ 490 deliveries of the rival A320s.

Will Boeing hold onto this 50:50 parity in the small airplane market?

Some in the industry believe Airbus is positioned better for the future in this segment because, despite the huge success of the 737 MAX, it’s still being outsold by the Airbus A320neo family.

The Airbus A320neo sales edge is most apparent in the largest model, where Boeing has only 286 firm orders for the 737 MAX 9 compared to Airbus’s 755 orders for the corresponding A321neo.

In Toulouse Tuesday, Airbus ratcheted up the pressure in this segment by formally launching a new long-range variant of the A321neo, with a committment from Steven Udvar-Hazy — the CEO of Air Lease Corp. and the world’s most renowned airplane market analyst — to take 30 more of this newest model.

“The longer haul single aisle market is a lucrative one that the A321neo will now dominate,” Udvar-Hazy said in a statement.

Airbus is pitching this long-range A321 as a replacement for the out-of-production Boeing single-aisle 757 that some airlines use, for example, on North Atlantic routes between the U.S. East Coast and Europe.

Airbus has suggested the market for this size and range of plane could be 1,000 airplanes.

In a teleconference with journalists Tuesday, Boeing marketing vice president Randy Tinseth dismissed that saying that only “50 to 60 757s are actually flying on these long-range markets today.”

“The thought of a 1,000-airplane market for an airplane of that size frankly is a little bit laughable,” Tinseth added.

Boeing sales chief John Wojick said the jetmaker continues to study the 757 replacement market and when the time is right will likely go with a new plane that is both larger and longer range than the 757 — in other words, a new plane category sized between the single-aisle 737 MAX 9 and the twin-aisle 787-8.

After a year when Boeing beat Airbus handily in deliveries, but just lagged in new orders, Wojick insisted that deliveries are what count.

The jet manufacturers get paid most of the price of an airplane on delivery. While orders indicate future potential deliveries, some will inevitably be canceled and never be delivered.

“Where the rubber really hits the road is when airplanes actually deliver,” Wojick said.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or

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From: Eric2/27/2015 7:38:58 PM
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From rust bucket to showpiece: Volunteers are rescuing the first Boeing 747

Originally published February 27, 2015 at 10:02 am
Updated February 27, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Ron Judd

After years of neglect, historic 747 Number One, parked at the Museum of Flight, was cleaned, sanded and given a fresh paint job to match the plane’s livery from its test-flight stage in 1969. Thanks to a passionate crew of volunteers, many of them retired Boeing employees, the historic plane is starting to resemble the engineering marvel that rolled from a hangar in Everett on Sept. 10, 1968. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

“No museum, anywhere, has ever faced a restoration project of this magnitude,” Museum of Flight curator Dan Hagedorn says of the historic plane.

Before last summer’s paint job, completed by workers on hydraulic lifts using foam rollers, the plane credited with “democratizing” global travel was in a state of sad neglect, with years of rain taking its toll on the plane’s aluminum exterior. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

TWO YEARS AGO, Museum of Flight curator Dan Hagedorn walked through the decaying fuselage of RA-001, the first Boeing 747, frowned and offered a frank assessment: “No museum, anywhere, has ever faced a restoration project of this magnitude,” he said, predicting a long, piecemeal rehab of the once-proud symbol of Seattle-area big thinking.

A couple months later, retired Boeing quality-assurance manager Dennis Dhein gave the musty bird a similar walk-through, shrugged, banged out a to-do list, recruited some buddies, and got to work.

Today, the historic plane looks a lot closer to the gleaming beast that rolled from a hangar in Everett on Sept. 10, 1968, than a plane one step away from a desert bone yard.

A maintenance manual explains how to adjust the front-entry door. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

Leaky seams have been sealed, carpeting replaced, lighting installed and equipment restored to return the plane to its unique test-flight configuration. Even more significantly, the hulking aircraft, which sits among other historic jetliners outside the museum near Boeing Field, now gleams in its original white, red and silver test-plane livery, thanks to its first paint job in decades.

“We have brought that beautiful airplane back from the brink,” Hagedorn says.

He offers full credit to Dhein and a crew of mostly retired restorers who have thrown their collective hearts, as well as dogged, seat-of-the-pants ingenuity, into restoring the machine that put the Puget Sound region on the map as a center of innovation — and whose progeny have kept it there for more than four decades.

The remarkable transformation of RA-001 from rust bucket to near-showpiece is a testament to the Puget Sound region’s vast reserve of accumulated aeronautical-engineering know-how. It also points to the equally vast pride of ownership of classic jetliners by former employees of the “old Boeing,” which built planes essentially from scratch, right here.

Dennis Dhein has replaced instruments, and repaired and painted several sections of the cockpit instrument panels, making them look like they did when the plane was new. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

In the late 1960s, the team of original 747 engineers, commanded by Seattle native and University of Washington grad Joe Sutter, became so legendary for the innovative design of the then-unthinkably huge plane they were nicknamed “The Incredibles.” Some of that same can-do spirit has been summoned to put the remarkable plane they built back together.

This good news for the plane is about to get better: “Number One,” as it’s known to generations of locals, is finally about to come in out of the rain once and for all. The Museum of Flight is poised to break ground on a massive roof to cover the 747 and other classic planes, including B-17 and B-29 bombers, the first jet-powered Air Force One, the first 787 and a Concorde supersonic jet.

While that project unfolds over the next two years, it’s unclear how much access the volunteer crew will have to their now-beloved 747 — which remains very much a work in progress. But don’t be surprised if Dhein’s crew finds a way to get inside the plane at its temporary parking stall to keep chipping away at that to-do list.

Volunteer restorers, on this plane and many others in the museum’s collection, tend to find a way.

Volunteer Tom Olsson helps guide a spare Boeing 747 door up to the cargo bay of Boeing’s first 747, RA-001, which is being restored at the Museum of Flight. Awaiting the door, which will be used for its spare parts, are fellow volunteers Tom Elliott, left, and Dennis Dhein. The door is being raised by a forklift. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

LOCAL AIRPLANE lovers have long lamented the decay of Number One, which made its last landing at Boeing Field on April 6, 1995. But getting enough of them, in the right places, to roll up their sleeves at the same time required a bit of serendipity.

The museum’s long quest to acquire a retired Space Shuttle ended in 2011, when it instead was awarded by NASA a mock-up shuttle trainer, now a popular display. That freed the museum to refocus on protecting its exposed collection of vintage jetliners, lined up just outside the shuttle building’s doors.

Months later, a September 2012 essay in Pacific NW magazine about the sad state of the plane lit a match beneath the museum and the local aviation-fan community, volunteer restorers say.

“When I saw that article, and they said they wanted volunteers, I said, ‘OK, that’s me,’ ” said retired Boeing engineer turned soiled-747-landing-gear restorer Ted Schumaker, 79.

Shortly thereafter, the museum’s board of directors approved a 747 overhaul. The timing was fortuitous: Dhein, Schumaker and others had been working for years to restore the museum’s iconic B-29 bomber. In late 2011, that project was put on hold when the crew lost its hangar space and the plane was shrink-wrapped for storage. Dhein and friends, some of whom had worked on the plane for more than a decade, found themselves “unemployed.”

Alert volunteer coordinator Carol Thomson, who manages more than 500 “passionate and enthusiastic” museum volunteers, called a meeting of dislocated restorers and asked for volunteer crew chiefs to head up teams for the big airpark jets.

“People jumped right away on some of the airplanes,” recalls Dhein, 72. “I thought surely somebody else might be interested in the 747. Nobody raised their hand. I said, ‘I’ll take it.’ I wanted a Boeing airplane.”

Volunteers Tom Olsson, Dennis Dhein and Tom Elliott, from left, reassemble a repaired 747 bulk cargo door balance mechanism, which had broken earlier this day. The three men are among the crew of volunteers who have turned the restoration of Boeing’s first 747 into a mission. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

Two others, Schumaker and Tom Elliott, immediately signed on. Volunteers Dale Thompson, Tom Olsson and a dozen others followed. In late 2012, the crew chief and his charges pried open the cabin door to the 231-foot-long piece of aviation history — and got an unpleasant dose of reality.

“It looked pretty bad,” Schumaker recalls. “It was an embarrassment to Boeing and the museum. But I figured, here was a chance to do something good.”

The crew kept adding — and continues to add — to Dhein’s list, which lives on as a spreadsheet on his home computer. It has grown to 118 items, roughly 60 percent of which are complete to standards the crew considers acceptable.

Many of these are big-ticket matters: Reinstalling electronic-equipment test racks in the main cabin. Cleaning the massive landing gear and replacing chest-high, threadbare tires. Finding lost pieces for engines and cowlings. Renovating landing lights. Replacing or repairing flooring and seals for hatches and doors.

Other items might be considered minor, but still matter for historical accuracy: New sheepskin for the pilots’ seats. Refurbishing the trademark spiral staircase to the upper cabin. Reupholstering lounge seats in period-groovy early 1970s fabrics. Installing display lighting and replacing broken or lost gauges in the cockpit. Replacing crumbling cords on intercom handsets. On and on.

Think of Number One the way the crew has come to see it — as a cherished, 47-year-old, three-story fixer-upper — one that had been abused mercilessly in a life span as a diverse test plane for future 747s, engine tests for future jetliners, and even a stint as an experimental jumbo refueling tanker. Many missing pieces have been donated by local airplane subcontractors and installed with savvy advice from past Boeing workers.

Most of the easy repairs have been made. Now the crew is down to replacing parts that, if they can’t be located, will have to be refabricated to make the plane complete.

“We’ve still got some really time-consuming stuff ahead of us,” Dhein says.

A mannequin wearing a flight attendant’s uniform stands behind glass inside the restored Number One. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

THE PROBLEM, of course, is that you can’t make a call to O’Reilly Jumbo Jetliner Parts and order a missing 747-100 series lounge ceiling panel. It’s possible that part either never existed, or was removed at some point and lost.

A test plane isn’t designed to look good — on the inside, at least. It’s pure functionality, and RA-001, the forerunner to the oft-posh “Queen of the Skies” long-range 747 family, reeks of that working-class ethic. In fact, the plane’s stripped-down interior, with flight-control systems, electrical wiring and air ducts visible in uncovered ceilings and walls, is part of its museum-piece allure: It provides a near-cross-section view of an airplane that very few people have ever seen stripped of ceiling panels, bulkheads, luggage bins and other interior finery.

“What gets most people is how big it is inside,” Schumaker says. “You can see the entire length of the airplane, and look up and see all that stuff in the ceiling. A lot of people are impressed by how complicated it all is.”

But restoring the plane to that test-bed configuration — complete with racks of manned electronic gadgetry and water barrels for ballast — has presented its own challenges. None of the original 75,000 design drawings created by Sutter’s team have been provided by Boeing; the 747, after some 1,500 planes delivered and nearly 6 billion passengers flown, is, for now still an active product line.

For fine details, restorers have turned to old test-flight photographs to see how the main cabin was arranged. Some similar electronic gear has been found and reinstalled in test stations that at least look period-authentic.

The greatest challenge has been finding exterior engine and engine-strut pieces for the plane’s four Pratt & Whitney JT-9D engines. RA-001 not only is one of a kind, it also is among the last surviving 747-100s still in one piece. Most of the other 250 planes of its class, all built in Everett, have long since retired from service; most have been scrapped.

Mining the network of global airplane salvage companies has become an ongoing adventure for Dhein, who worked for Boeing Commercial Airplanes for 27 years.

“I listed tires as something we’d need to replace,” he says. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to get tires?’

Plenty of them existed for 747-400s, many of which still fly. But they’re a slightly different size. Dhein put out the word on the airplane-restorer and subcontractor wire.

“We were lucky,” he says. “It turned out that the (Museum of Flight) Restoration Center at Paine Field in Everett had four of them. They were even mounted on wheels. Then I wound up getting two donated from an aviation company in Moses Lake.”

The Grant County connection led to a tip about another model 100 that was being scrapped in New Mexico, where a salvage-company employee told Dhein: “I’ve got nine tires I’ll donate. All you have to do is pay the shipping.”

Dhein, not wanting the tires to get away, sprung for the $600 shipping cost himself.

“We don’t have much of a budget to work with,” he says. “So that was my donation to the museum for the year.”

The team now has accumulated 15 tires — almost enough for new rubber all around. Installation will wait until the plane is permanently settled under the new museum airpark roof, at which point old Number One will roll to a final, dignified stop.

747 VOLUNTEER STORY 01082015 Last summer, the number one 747, sitting at the Museum of Flight in south Seattle, was cleaned and given a fresh coat of paint to match the original paint job from 1969. The historic first Boeing 747, once a step away from a desert bone yard, looks a lot closer to the gleaming beast that rolled from a hangar in Everett on Sept. 10, 1968 thanks to a crew of mostly retired volunteers who have thrown their collective hearts and souls into this massive restoration project. 144098

THAT ROOF might prove to be the plane’s salvation. Much of the completed repair work would be for naught if the 747, its old, riveted aluminum shell a magnet for seepage, remained exposed to the Seattle rain. Even after all the seams they’ve sealed, crew members continue to play Whac-A-Mole with leaks.

Not for long. The airpark roof project, which will span the space between the museum’s Charles Simonyi Space Gallery and Aviation High School to the north, is scheduled to be complete sometime next year. And Number One will be displayed beneath it with a new, gleaming exterior, thanks to a unique paint job completed last summer on-site by Global Jet Painting of Ojai, Calif.

The company, more accustomed to painting jetliners privately owned by rich people, was one of few equipped for this unusual job — repainting a jumbo jet outside, with foam rollers instead of spray equipment. Its crew, Dhein said, quickly embraced his own workers’ passion for the plane, putting extra effort and pride into a job they knew would be for posterity. The result is striking; the plane appears much as it did when it first rolled out of the Everett plant 47 years ago.

“The first morning after they’d finished, I walked out of the building and I swear to God the airplane looked like she was standing taller,” Hagedorn recalls.

An interpretive display inside the historic 747. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

When the roof is complete, visitors will be able to climb the steps into a piece of aviation history: The plane many credit with “democratizing” global travel, looking very much like it did when pilot Jack Waddell, co-pilot Brien Wygle and flight engineer Jesse Wallick first guided it into flight at Paine Field on Feb. 9, 1969.

Most visitors won’t get to the flight deck, because the spiral staircase, even restored, won’t handle the museum’s half-million annual visitors. But the refurbished plane is likely to be a museum draw for decades, showing, among other things, how rapidly technology has advanced since that first flight.

Retired Boeing quality-assurance manager Dennis Dhein, right, and volunteer Dale Smith look through Boeing 747 maintenance manual No. 52 to figure out why a cargo-door mechanism is stuck. They are working in the center fuselage. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)</>

“I have to admit . . . we’re surprised at what we accomplished in two years,” Dhein says. “In a way, it was almost scary when the museum took notice of what we had done and started promoting the airplane, wanting to open it up.”

During limited public openings last year, Dhein and his friends got a glimpse into the plane’s future: Scores of visitors, ranging from international tourists to Boeing employees who worked on the Everett production line, were “tickled pink,” Dhein says, to be able to finally stroll through the plane that revolutionized modern air travel. Among the most visibly moved were former pilots and line workers from the 747 program.

Like its original builders, the small, dedicated crew still working to make the plane a showpiece is a testament to the Puget Sound region’s still-active love affair with making big machines fly, Hagedorn believes.

“They love that airplane; that’s what sets them apart,” he says of the 747 crew. “They’re worth their weight in gold.”

Ron Judd is a Pacific NW magazine writer. Reach him at or 206-464-8280. On Twitter @roncjudd. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

Ron Judd's 2012 essay
Read the September 2012 Pacific NW magazine essay that spurred action:
The world's No. 1 jumbo jet languishes, looking for a savior

Did you work on 747 production in the early days? Or do you have vivid memories of the first time you saw the plane or boarded one? If so, please use the comment thread below to tell us about it.

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From: DanD8/26/2015 12:33:47 PM
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Standpoint Research Initiates Coverage on Boeing at Buy, Announces $160.00 PT

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From: Eric1/29/2016 1:06:02 PM
   of 3362
Boeing’s 737 MAX takes off on first flight

Originally published January 29, 2016 at 9:48 am Updated January 29, 2016 at 9:50 am

Latest Renton-built version of Boeing’s narrowbody jet carries with it the company’s hope for staying competitive with Airbus in the short-haul market .

By Dominic Gates
Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Just over seven weeks after it rolled out of the paint hangar, Boeing’s first 737 MAX — the “Spirit of Renton” — flew for the first time Friday, taking off from its namesake city at 9:48 a.m.

It carried Boeing’s hope and ambition to stay competitive against Airbus for the next decade in the bread-and-butter short-haul airliner market.

The jet is set to land about two and a half hours later at Boeing Field.

The latest — and surely the final — revamp of Boeing’s stalwart domestic 737 narrowbody jet that first flew in 1967, the MAX comes in three sizes, seating 126 to 220 passengers.

Its chief distinguishing feature is the pair of much larger engines. These have a fan diameter of 69.4 inches compared to the 61-inch diameter fan on the current 737.

With these latest LEAP engines from CFM International, along with improved aerodynamics — including new split wingtips — Boeing says the MAX design is 14 percent more fuel efficient than today’s 737.

The first flight begins more than a year of flight tests to achieve certification of the airplane by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and then delivery of the first jet to Southwest Airlines in the third quarter of 2017.

Heated competition The MAX’s first flight comes just nine days after the first delivery of the rival Airbus A320neo to German carrier Lufthansa, underlining the fact that development of the Boeing jet is running more than 18 months behind its competition.

In addition to that head start, Airbus’s neo has consistently won more orders than Boeing‘s MAX, opening up a widening advantage for the European jetmaker in this market segment.

The current model 737s and A320s divide the market roughly 50/50. But at the beginning of this year, Airbus had firm orders for 4,471 neos compared with Boeing’s orders for 3,072 MAXs — a 59/41 market split.

Most of the Airbus advantage comes from the largest model of its neo family, the A321neo, which has more than 1,000 orders. The corresponding 737 MAX 9, which has just over 200 orders, simply cannot match that plane’s performance.

While that’s a big win for Airbus, the majority of orders are for the smaller Airbus A320neo or the Boeing 737 MAX 8 models, which is the part of the market that will ultimately determine the success of the MAX.

There, Boeing claims that it maintains a fuel-efficiency advantage on a per-seat basis over Airbus.

Future sales of the MAX will rest heavily on whether the flight tests in the coming year confirm Boeing’s fuel efficiency promise.

Renton factory The MAX also presents a manufacturing challenge, for which Boeing has marshaled impressive resources.

The Renton final assembly plant where the 737s are built has undergone a dramatic makeover aimed at lowering the cost and quickening the pace of production.

Boeing has automated the fabrication of the 737 wings by installing fastening machines designed by Mukilteo-based engineering firm Electroimpact and has shifted the fuselage installation process to a moving line.

At the same time, it has redesigned fixtures and moved equipment to make room for a third final assembly line that will be dedicated to production of the MAX.

So even as the early MAXs are built, Boeing will simultaneously raise 737 production from today’s rate of 42 jets per month to 47 per month next year, to 52 per month in 2018, and to 57 per month in 2019.

By then, most of the 737s coming out of Renton should be MAXs.

If Boeing is to maintain the 737 as a reliable cash generator, it must smoothly implement the transition to the MAX at these record high production levels.

On Thursday, Boeing delivered the 8,888th 737 to Xiamen Airlines of China — where the number 8 is considered lucky because it sounds similar to the Chinese word that means “prosperity.”

Soaring past any target a Boeing sales executive might have dreamed of in 1967, the MAX is set to to take future 737 deliveries well past the 12,000 mark.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or

Boeing coverage Live:

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From: Eric2/27/2016 10:28:33 AM
1 Recommendation   of 3362
Original Boeing 727 prepares for its final takeoff

Originally published February 26, 2016 at 6:25 pm Updated February 26, 2016 at 11:01 pm

Bob Bogash has spent more than two decades working to restore the first Boeing 727, which will be displayed at the Museum of Flight. Bogash, 71, a retired Boeing engineer, is seen in the cockpit, which was designed for a pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)

The first Boeing 727 — a model that became one of the company’s top-selling planes of all time — will take to the skies one last time after a 25-year restoration effort. It’s bound for its final home, the Museum of Flight.

Bob Bogash hopes that next week a dream he’s pursued for more than a quarter of a century will materialize: to see the first Boeing 727 — a model that became one of the airplane-maker’s top-selling planes of all time — take to the skies one last time. Bogash, a 71-year-old former Boeing engineer, has dedicated his post-retirement life to finding and restoring Boeing airplanes for the Museum of Flight.

“My wife calls (historic airplanes) my mistresses,” he said. “They have all the key characteristics of a mistress: good-looking, very demanding, and they cost a lot of money.”

Unlike other restored planes, the 727 was rebuilt solely to fly one last time. The plane is tentatively scheduled to take its final flight Wednesday — if weather permits — around 10 a.m. from Paine Field in Everett, where it has been sitting for the last 25 years, to Boeing Field.

“The airplane’s been sleeping, but we’ve woken her up and now she’s alive again,” Bogash said.

The first Boeing 727 will fly next week from Paine Field to Boeing Field, from where it go on display at the Museum of Flight. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)

The final ride will likely last less than 15 minutes.

Most restored planes lack the mechanical guts to ever fly again, but Bogash said he convinced the museum that flying it from the restoration center in Everett would be cheaper than dismantling it and sending it via truck.

The plane was delivered to United Airlines in 1964 and was in service until 1991, when the airline donated the aircraft to the Museum of Flight.

For the last two decades, dozens of volunteers led by Bogash have been working to restore the plane. FedEx, one of the restoration’s sponsors, donated new engines.

United paid close to $4.4 million for the line’s prototype, which generated more than $300 million for the airline and carried close to 3 million passengers in its 27-year career, according to the museum.

Bogash said the restoration was a multimillion-dollar effort, but much of that came through in-kind donations and volunteer hours. He estimated the actual dollar amount spent was less than half a million.

Bogash recalls the day in 1984 when he landed at O’Hare Airport in Chicago and spotted the original 727 as his plane taxied on the runway. That gave him the idea of asking United Airlines to donate the plane once it was retired, and the airline agreed.

Restored planes are like time capsules, said Dan Hagedorn, the Museum of Flight’s curator.

The original 727 feels less like an antique than like a home that was once state-of-the-art, but hasn’t been updated in a while. Hagedorn compares it to visiting a grandmother, and Hagedorn joked that, like an aged grandmother, it carries a “peculiar smell.”

The restorers wanted to keep the plane in its original condition as of when it went out of service. Its seats and wall panels sport brown upholstery with a multicolored pattern.

The overhead bins would be unable to accommodate many of today’s carry-on suitcases. Passengers of yesteryear used those bins for smaller items like purses and hat boxes, Hagedorn said. Ashtrays tucked into the armrests add to the feeling of a different era.

The original Boeing 727 First flight: 1963

Operator: United Airlines

Dimensions: 133 feet 2 inches long, wingspan of 108 feet

Top speed: 632 miles per hour

Passengers: Capacity of about 130; the plane carried nearly 3 million passengers during 27 years in service.

Total 727s produced: 1,832 at the Renton plant from 1962 to 1984.

Sources: Boeing, Museum of Flight

The cockpit was designed for a three-person flight crew: pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer, that latter role one that has since mostly disappeared.

Boeing introduced the 727 at a time when airline passengers flew either on large jets or smaller propeller planes. Large jets, like Boeing’s 707, could land only at major airports, which made it harder for airlines to service routes between midsize cities.

Enter the sleek, midsize 727, which brought the style, comfort and speed of a jet and could utilize shorter runways.

“There was lots of controversy about allowing jets onto smaller airports,” Bogash said.

The 727 won that battle, and the plane helped Boeing’s commercial business surge. It was the first Boeing plane to sell more than 1,000 units. Eventually more than 1,800 were produced in Renton.

“When Boeing came out with this airplane, it was a big leap forward,” Bogash said. The success of the plane also helped change the course of passenger air travel.

“What a transformation. It was like going to the moon ­— it was that different for the traveling public,” Hagedorn said of the travel experience on a 727 versus the smaller planes that were common at the time.

It’s also remarkable, he said, that a passenger jet like the 727 was developed within six decades after the Wright Brothers first took to the skies in wooden planes.

“In 60 years, we came this far,” he said.

The museum has planned departure and arrival ceremonies for celebrants at both ends of the 727’s final flight next week.

The Museum of Flight will park the plane outside until the fall, when it will move into the Aviation Pavilion, a 140,000-square-foot facility that will house about 20 restored aircraft, including the first 737 and first 747.

Starting Wednesday, the public will be able to view the plane and tour the interior on a limited basis.

Restoring aircraft is expensive, and the artifacts take up a lot more space than other museum pieces, but preserving planes is an important endeavor, Hagedorn said.

“In 1,000 years,” he said, “we’ll be remembered for being the first humans to leave the surface of the planet and conquer flight.

“This time machine shows how we did that. It documents human achievement.”

Blanca Torres: 206-464-2550 or

My comments:

I was a young kid in grade school when my dad took me and my brother out to Renton for that first flight.

It's amazing that 53 years ago that the original 727 has survived to come back full circle to end up near where it was built in Renton. A stone's throw away to end up at Boeing Field at The Museum of Flight.


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From: JakeStraw9/13/2016 9:31:20 AM
   of 3362
Boeing: China Will Be First $1 Trillion Aviation Market

"As China transitions to a more consumer-based economy, aviation will play a key role in its economic development," Randy Tinseth, vice president of marketing at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a release. "Because travel and transportation are key services, we expect to see passenger traffic grow 6.4% annually in China over the next 20 years."

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From: Eric12/27/2016 1:58:08 PM
   of 3362
Boeing reinvents the 777 assembly line while production cranks on

Originally published December 27, 2016 at 6:00 am Updated December 26, 2016 at 10:13 pm

Dang Vo, in blue at left, and other machinists build a 777 wing at Everett’s final assembly line. The line is being re-configured in preparation for 777X. The wings are propped up on hydraulic lifts to make construction more ergonomic for the workers. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

To prepare for the new 777X, Boeing is radically retooling major pieces of the assembly process for its big widebody 777. Despite a slowdown in the production rate, it can’t stop the assembly line, so adding and subtracting equipment requires a complex choreography.

Dominic Gates
Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Boeing is radically revamping how it will build the 777 widebody jet — a plane that still earns it vital profits despite a slowdown in sales and production rate, so it can’t afford to stop the factory while it retools.

An exclusive tour of the 777 line this month revealed a complicated manufacturing dance under way to solve this logistical puzzle. The remodelspansthree assembly bays inside the giant factory and will replace massive, decades-old fixtures with new, more flexible equipment.

Jason Clark, vice president of 777 operations, brimmed with energy as he described the chess-like moves he’s making around the assembly line that churns out the current 777, spurred by the need to get ready for the forthcoming 777X model.

So wide-ranging is the revamp that in one assembly bay, construction crews are busy digging up the old concrete floor and installing systems underneath a new 6-foot slab.

Clark pointed to the remaining patch of newly uncovered soil, where engineers had unearthed anchor beams from the static-test airplane on the original 747 jumbo jet.

“That dirt hasn’t seen the light of day since 1968,” he said.

Remodeling for bigger wing

In about a year, Boeing will begin building the first 777X, which has a carbon-fiber composite wing. Longer and a different shape from the current jet’s metal wing, that wing won’t fit on the fixture that joins the metal wing to the jet’s body.

So Clark’s engineers are setting up and testing new, flexible equipment that can handle any wing size or shape, progressively removing the old equipment, then shifting the new into the spaces vacated by the old.

Despite the looming production-rate cut next summer, all this extra work should stave off some of the job losses on the 777.

Hidden behind the widebody-jet plant’s giant doors is a frenzy of manufacturing innovation, encompassing four major projects:

• A new way to complete 777 metal wings.

• A new flexible system for joining the wings to the fuselage body.

• A planned new, temporary 777X final-assembly line.

• And an entirely new, highly automated system — designed and built by Mukilteo-based engineering firm Electroimpact — for assembling the 777X’s carbon-fiber wings.

This last piece is almost a replica of the composite-wing assembly setup Airbus has in its wing plant in Broughton, Wales.

“We’re very competitive with Airbus,” said Clark. “But there’s just things in industry where it makes sense to be common.”

The impressive restructuring of 777 final assembly is separate from the setup of the adjacent $1 billion plant where Boeing will fabricate the 777X’s carbon-fiber wings, which give the new plane a wingspan nearly 23 feet longer than the current model.

Meanwhile, Boeing is also working on the not-yet-smooth introduction of a new robotic method to assemble the 777 fuselages in another building on the site.

Intricate chess game

Though designed to accommodate the 777X and its giant carbon-fiber wings, the new production system is being introduced now for the current 777 with metal wings in order to fix any bugs in advance of the new jet’s debut.

About 80 to 100 current-model 777s will be built on the new system before the first 777X shows up, Clark said.

In the first piece of the puzzle, the metal wings are already being completed in a totally new way.

Mechanics formerly finished the wings by installing the control surfaces and engine pylons while perched high on the slanted deck of a monumental fixture where the wings are joined to the center-fuselage section.

This month, mechanics began completing the wings at ground level, able to walk around the 106-foot-long structure as it rests on hydraulic jacks that raise or lower it to provide access.

The wings now arrive complete and “fully stuffed” with all systems for joining to the center-fuselage section in that big monumental wing-to-body join fixture.

And already the next phase of the 777 plan is under test in the adjoining bay that formerly housed the extra “surge” line for the 787 Dreamliner: a new way of doing the wing-to-body join.

Boeing is testing a system with the completed wings each supported by three giant jacks. In computer-controlled unison, these move the wings along the floor into the attachment position next to the center-fuselage section, which sits on its own jack.

Once both wings are joined to the fuselage, the center jack is withdrawn, and the whole thing is supported only by the six jacks under the two wings.

This center-fuselage-with-wings section then pulses forward along the ground to the next station in final assembly, the jacks again moving the whole thing in unison.

Just before the holiday break, a faded center fuselage — retrieved from an old Japan Airlines 777 in a desert scrapyard — sat atop its jack for tests of this system.

Graffiti were scrawled in large, crudely painted letters across its side: “Not a production part” — as if there were any doubt.

Jason Clark is vice president of Boeing 777 and 777X operations. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

Clark said his team is ready to bring in a wing and do a check that everything fits during the Christmas production break.

In January, said Clark, “We’re going to actually join the wing to an airplane.”

When that system is perfected, able to handle any size or shape of wing, in about 18 months the old wing-body join fixture will be dismantled and torn out, Clark said.

Beyond the new wing-support jacks in this same bay, where the floor is being dug up, is where Boeing will put an initial 777X final-assembly line for production of the first couple of dozen aircraft.

Clark said this initial low-rate production line will be up and running in about a year. It will be used to get 777X assembly running smoothly, without slowing down production of the current 777.

By 2020, this temporary line will close, and both models will go down the main 777 line, complete with its new wing-to-body join system.

Imitating Airbus

When the temporary line is scrapped, that same bay is earmarked for the most dramatic innovation in the building: the plan to assemble the jet’s carbon-fiber wings.

But because that bay is full until then, Boeing is setting up the composite wing-assembly equipment in another temporary location, taking up 150,000 square feet one more bay over.

These large blue jacks known as “crawlers” are connected to a computer that will carry the 777 wing to the fuselage to be attached. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

From a balcony there, the four Electroimpact automated wing-assembly stations look eerily similar to the Airbus A350 composite-wing-assembly setup, also designed by Electroimpact.

Just as in Wales, the wing skin panels, spars and ribs are positioned and slid into a drilling and fastening cell where an Electroimpact robotic machine suspended from a gantry moves across the wing, fastening it together.

“The industry is starting to centralize around what’s the best technology,” Clark said, comparing the convergence to what happened earlier in the auto industry.

“You can walk into a BMW plant in Munich or a Ford plant in Detroit, and the production systems are very similar,” said Clark. “A novice couldn’t tell the difference.”

One difference from the Airbus system, he said, is Electroimpact has designed it to be movable. It’s bolted to the floor but will be uprooted in 2020 and moved to the bay where that 1968 dirt is being dug.

Renton revamp

Offering grounds for optimism that this 777 transformation will go well, Boeing has already successfully completed a similarly bold remake of the 737 production system in Renton to prepare for the 737 MAX, which should deliver ahead of schedule next summer.

Yet there’s also the less successful introduction of robotic assembly of the 777 metal fuselage in a building next to the main Everett assembly plant.

Teething problems there have resulted in the robots damaging irreparably at least one fuselage panel, and progress in getting the system up to production rate has been slow.

However, Clark said the team has learned from each glitch and made adjustments.

“We’re not completely out of the woods yet,” he acknowledged.

But he expects that in the first half of 2017, the new system will be rolling out 777 forward- and mid-fuselage sections at full rate, with aft-fuselage sections to follow by year end.

“The 777X gets the benefit of all that learning,” Clark said.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or

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From: JakeStraw2/22/2017 12:13:38 PM
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Boeing wants to turn satellites into a cheaper, highly-automated business

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