Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Aviation Geek Fest

I am not the kind of aviation fan who is a private pilot, nor one who spends his vacations traveling to airports to take photos, like my New Jersey friend Art. But I greatly enjoy flying. I am the guy who sits by the window and won't close the shade for the movie. I can see a movie anywhere, any time, but flying is a treat. I have always been proud of Boeing's aircraft and paid attention to what is going on in their marketplace (sales of the aircraft), their production and operation by the airlines. Being retired from Boeing I can no longer just drive to one of the production sites - Renton and Everett - then park and walk inside right beneath airplanes being built, like I could for 39 years, 10 months. So I jumped at the opportunity to spend an afternoon with other "Aviation Geeks" touring the Boeing Everett plant. Saturday, October 23, was the one-year anniversary of my last day working at Boeing and it was the date of the Aviation Geek Fest at Future of Flight Museum (FFM), a small aviation museum at Paine Field, Everett, Washington. It has a small collection - two other aviation museums at Paine Field have more flying planes than FFM has non-flying airplanes. More on FFM in a later post. The Geek Fest: First of all, it was a social time for people who love commercial aircraft. People traveled from Arizona, Denver, Colorado, Toronto, Canada and closer places including Eastern Washington. Almost everyone attending uses Twitter, so people introduced themselves by their Twitter handles. Boeing's official historian came from Chicago to give us the 45-minute version of Boeing's history from 1970 to today, by decade. He managed to not even mention the name of ex-CEO Phil Condit. It's pretty fast to go through 40 years of such a large company and McDonnell-Douglas and the part of Rockwell that Boeing bought. There was time for shopping in the FFM/Boeing store and/or the third-story balcony overlooking the runway and flight line. Then off to the factory. Fitting for "Ever Wet, Washington" it was drizzling, not rain, just a drizzle, as we boarded the bus. We drove through the flight line, but not pausing on our way to the factory. At the largest building in the world we entered through a regular-size door, picked up safety glasses then had a short safety orientation. Then to the production line. We got to see all of them: 747, 767, 777 and 787. The last 747-400 went through about five months ago. About ten 747-8's - the cargo model - have been built. We saw the first 747-I - passenger model - in parts, getting ready for wing/body join. It's quite a view to walk under the wing tip of the (new) longer wing of the 747-8. Photo We walked past one 787, but it was already built. It had finished the production process, gone outside, then came back in for some sort of rework. Our grand finale was the 787 production line. But, of course, access was restricted. So we went up a freight elevator for the view from a mezzanine - like the ordinary public tour. As well as the 777 and 767 (about 50 orders) production lines we saw the static-test 787. It is all strung and wired and inside a huge scaffold structure. Ugly, but interesting. It was been loaded to 50% above its maximum load without failure. Leaving the factory building we turned in our stylish safety glasses (some were) then the bus slowly drove past every airplane on the flight line - two of the monstrous Dreamlifters, several 747-8s, one or two 767s and several 777s, including 3 EVA Air 777s that are waiting for interiors! Then back to FFM for more time in its gallery and store. The museum has a small model helicopter that is powered by a laser. Think of Sunshine that's ten time more intense; it has a solar cell that powers its electric motore. And pizza, Coke and Red Hook. This second Aviation Geek Fest was put on and sponsored by FFM. But I wouldn't have known about it without David Parker Brown's AirlineReporter.com blog, which is also at the Seattle P-I (former newspaper). Photos: If you don't believe I was there see this photo. The white hair is me. And a group photo under the GE-90 engine of a 777. I am third from the left. Yes, the group is small. Attendance was limited to one bus load. Boeing did not allow cameras or phones in the factory. But the Boeing senior manager took these photos and shared them with us. But even he couldn't take photos of the 787 production line, of course.

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