an airplane in a hangar

The Boeing Factory in Everett, Washington is the largest building on earth. But- it’s so much more than that. Home to the 747, 767, 777 and state of the art 787 Dreamliner, it’s the origin of many of the world’s long haul commercial airplanes. As one might expect- things are absolutely humming inside the secretive factory. We received rare VIP photo access to the elusive factory, as guests of British Airways and are pleased to show you around…

a building with a large doora large engine on a truckLike something out of a sci-fi movie, or some clandestine Michael Bay film, the journey began before reaching the factory. Boeing sent a Boeing bus and Boeing driver to pick us up from our Seattle hotel. After passing security gates and having our individually vetted credentials verified, we were escorted onto the factory base and greeted by our private tour guide, a former Secret Service agent, once assigned to guard the President of the United States.a wall with many pictures of buildingsa blue and white sign with text and imagesThe largest building in the world is incredibly… large- and Boeing has a wonderful way of putting that into perspective. To begin our tour, we were shown the remarkable size of the factory via an image superimposing the building over famous landmarks. For the record, it’s larger than: The Pentagon, Sugarloaf Mountain, The Vatican, Forbidden City and Disneyland Park. Much to our surprise, we were told that any screws or fasteners found on the floor were ours to keep. At Boeing, once something hits the floor, it’s garbage- or a souvenir. an airplane in a factoryan airplane in a factoryIn three words: the factory is humming, electric and brilliant. No loud “bangs” or wrench drops, just a constant buzz of energy and efficiency. It was fascinating to learn that there are roughly 3 million components on the 787 Dreamliner, a nearly a million part drop compared to the building processes found on older airframes such as the 747. The factory is a seamless combination of robots, humans, artificial intelligence, vast machinery, powerful computers and enumerable parts both large and small. Just think: a minimum of three million pieces to each plane, and a factory with more than five 747, 767, 777 and 787 each being built simultaneously. Amusing to some, each aircraft group is so isolated that they have their own cafes. We weren’t able to experience the coffee at the 747’s “Queen Of The Skies Cafe”, but if the coffee is anything like the goings on of the workspace, it’s top notch. You can hear the sounds of the factory floor from this airplane in a hangara man wearing safety glasses and a vestIt was virtually impossible to understand the scale of the building until visiting the upper deck. Standing under the wing of one of the numerous 777’s in the production line, there’s just no real chance to appreciate the size.  After venturing upstairs, it all became far more apparent. If you’re wondering about the green coating on the planes, it’s to keep oil from human hands off the hull- so that painting goes smoothly after final assembly. The planes pictured above were nearing final stages, before heading off to Emirates and Qatar respectively. Though they’re not quite pictured, it was highly amusing to see $250,000+ seats, neatly ordered around the factory floor- waiting to be installed into the $100,000,000+ planes next to them. The economic, transportation and organizational needs of an operation like this are staggering. Can you imagine running the shipping or storage department on a plane with millions of parts? Multiply that!a glass display case with balloons and flowersan airplane in a hangarHearing first hand about the construction of the 787 Dreamliner, built from composite materials, was utterly fascinating. Anecdotally, during the stress test for the wings, the wings broke the testing machine. That’s right- the composite is so tough, it broke the powerful steel machine used to test them. As evidenced by the balloons, composites do more for passengers than just assurances. Because of the greater strength, the cabin can be brought to a higher pressure, offering an experience much more like that found naturally down on the ground than any previous aircraft. Anyone whose flown on a Dreamliner will absolutely have noticed noise reduction, more natural humidity and sound of crinkling water bottles. a building with glass walls and stairsa group of chairs in a roomHave you ever bought a car and waited around the showroom for the paperwork and delivery procedures to be finished? In a far more exciting way- picking up a multi hundred million dollar airplane is not too different. After completing our fascinating factory tour, we were taken to the delivery center- where the shiny, brand new British Airways 787-800 was waiting to take us to London. We were shown to a delivery “suite”, which is much like an airport lounge and remained there until all paperwork and preparations were final. Surreal, absolutely. a large airplane on the tarmaca plane on the tarmacAfter boarding completed, an unexpectedly emotional moment took over. As the aircraft tow was disconnected for the final time, sending us on our way to the UK for the very first time- a line of Boeing employees showed up to wave goodbye. Despite it’s 3,000,000 parts and components, the 787 Dreamliner takes only 40-45 days to roll off the factory line. While that’s an incredibly short amount of time for what it is- it was so powerful to see the emotional connection of building an aircraft, with a single registration number- that the employees can identify with forever. The Boeing Factory is one of the most impressive things we’ve ever seen, and their planes are no slouch either.

Thanks to British Airways and Boeing for this unique opportunity. 

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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