There are a few sites that sit atop the list of any aviation geek’s top tours. One of them is, undoubtedly, the Future of Flight museum in Everett, Washington, just north of Seattle. The facility is the base for tours of the Boeing factory where the wide-body aircraft are assembled and the base tour is fun, but there are occasionally even better versions of the tour offered.
One such opportunity was this past weekend at Aviation Geek Fest 2012. Organized by AirlineReporter, the event hosted about 75 geeks and allowed us to share our love of aviation with each other, with Boeing and to gain access to some normally off-limits sections of the facilities.
One group headed off to the factory floor tour, walking under and around the planes rather than in the gangways overhead. This time around the tour also included the 787 Dreamliner line and the attendees were very much up-close and personal, getting to literally kick the tires and touch the planes still on the assembly line. A second group headed out to the Dreamliner customer center, where various interior options are on display, allowing airlines to compare the options available for the configuration of their planes. I’ve done the floor tour a couple times and I’ve been on the plane so the interiors bit didn’t really appeal to me. I went for option C, the Paine Field Fire Department tour. I think I chose the best tour.
They picked us up in their trucks and we got to ride across the field, occasionally stopping and getting out for photo opportunities around the runways and parking areas. We also got a tour of their fire house, including climbing around on the various trucks they have, playing with the lights and I even got to suit up with their full set of gear.
They showed off their foamer truck (used to extinguish fuel fires), demonstrating the two different water cannons that it carries, walked us through their living quarters and their command center, too. It has phenomenal views of the runway. They also talked about their response time requirements – no more than 3 minutes from when an alarm comes in to being fully suited up and in the middle of the runway, ready to work whatever problem they’ve been called in to work. After getting into the suit once on my own and knowing how big the field is, I’m very impressed that they can get it all done in time.
On the return trip from the station back over to the Future of Flight museum we drove along the taxiway, getting very close to the many, many aircraft that are parked all over the field. Boeing has pretty much rented out every spare chunk of tarmac to park planes as they are being pushed out of the assembly lines but before they are delivered. There were 787s from at least five different carriers, 747-800s in both cargo and passenger configurations and some other aircraft as well. And we got to take pictures up close of many of them.
After the tour we also got to meet with a group of engineers from Boeing’s Moonshine group. These engineers are responsible for solving various production issues in the assembly process, either in-house on the Boeing lines or working with their suppliers to help them solve issues in their production lines. They work outside the scope of normal mega-company bureaucracy, with projects set on very short timelines and deliverables created from scrap parts and imagination more than blueprints and budgets. Hearing about some of their solutions It was a very interesting experience and we also got a hands-on experience in optimizing the assembly process. It wasn’t the full-blown deal that they normally run with folks in-house, but we did get to take home a business card holder that we put together.
Finally, there was a raffle with a bunch of prizes for everyone to take home, ranging from squeeze-toys up to a 787 model for the big winner.
It was a great event and I’m looking forward to AGF13 next year!
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