The 787 factory is officially open for business. And it’s time to start assembling the first 787 Dreamliners.
I have to say there’s no experience quite like watching a new airplane come together. I’ve been with Boeing for more than 25 years now, and I’ve been lucky enough to see the 757, 767, and 777 come together.
The nose of the 787 Dreamliner, at the start of final assembly yesterday in Everett.
All-new airplanes don’t come around often. For many Boeing employees today, the Dreamliner will be their first new airplane rollout.
We’re certainly getting closer, with the factory opening and start of final assembly yesterday, following the flurry of deliveries of major parts to Everett over the past month. Well, we call them deliveries, but you might just as well call them “arrivals.”
And I thought it would be interesting to review just how we got to this point in the assembly process.
The first major assembly arrived in Everett on the Dreamlifter at the end of April. Its tail door swung open, and we unloaded the horizontal stabilizer for the 787.
April 25 – The horizontal stabilizer is unloaded. Manufactured by Alenia Aeronautica in Italy, the completed assembly will have a span of about 62 feet and measures 32 feet fore/aft.
Then, about 11 days ago, three large all-composite fuselage sections arrived - the nose section (what we call “section 41”), and the two aft sections of the fuselage known as “section 47” and “section 48.”
May 11 - The composite forward section - in white – is manufactured by Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kan. It’s 21 feet in diameter and 42 feet long. The aft sections – in black – were manufactured and joined by Vought Aircraft Industries in Charleston, South Carolina. Section 47 is 23 feet long and 19 feet in diameter. Section 48 is 15 feet long and 14 feet in diameter.
Once these fuselage sections arrive, they are immediately taken off the Dreamlifter using a specially designed Cargo Loader and moved into the 787 factory. This delivery of three sections represents 40% of the 787’s fuselage. And it’s a very tangible sign that the Dreamliner is taking shape.
A few days later, standing on edge in custom-made tooling, the wings arrived from Japan.
May 15 - Very early morning arrival of the gigantic composite wings for the 787. Manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Nagoya, Japan, Each wing is 98 feet long.
Then, last Wednesday, the final major structure arrived in Everett - the integrated mid-body fuselage. This consists of “section 43,” a forward section made by Kawasaki Heavy Industries; “section 11/45,” the center wheel well and center wing tank, made by KHI and Fuji Heavy Industries and joined at FHI; and “sections 44 and 46,” the center fuselage sections made by Alenia Aeronautica in Italy. The sections were joined at Global Aeronautica in Charleston, South Carolina and then flown to Everett.
May 16 - The last of the major airframe components for the first Dreamliner arrived in Everett. Wrapped in black, this section fully filled the cargo bay of the Dreamlifter, with about six inches of clearance. This integrated section is 84 feet long and 19 feet in diameter.
What can’t been seen from these photos is the incredible work done by the “Global Logistics” team in Everett. They have the task of off-loading the parts and moving them into the factory. In just these first four deliveries they made remarkable progress in improving their turn time.
From the time the Dreamlifter touched down on the runway to the time the logistics team walked away from the airplane - product out and job done - here are the times it took the crew to complete the Everett deliveries:
- Horizontal Stabilizer: 3 hours, 27 minutes
- Sections 41, 47 and 48: 3 hours, 22 minutes
- Wings: 1 hour, 38 minutes
- Midbody fuselage: 1 hour, 23 minutes
It’s pretty amazing, and I think this team deserves a ton of credit for making these kinds of improvements on the initial deliveries in a brand new process.
All in all, after seeing these “arrivals” and now the start of final assembly, I’d have to second what Scott Strode, 787 vice president of Airplane Definition and Production said last week: “The Dreamliner is no dream anymore – it’s real, and it’s here.”