Boeing Everett Factory and Museum of Flight

While in Seattle, I spent a few days with my friend Jack. He’s a fellow aviation enthusiast so we made the requisite “pilgrimage” to two Seattle-area aviation hotspots: the Boeing widebody factory in Everett and the Museum of Flight at the original Boeing site at King County Airport.

 

Boeing Factory Tour

Everett Factory
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The city of Everett lies about 35 miles north of Seattle. Since the late 1960s, Boeing has produced and delivered well over 3,000 widebody aircraft from this factory, which features the largest building in the world, measured by volume. The building is so large that 911 regulation NBA basketball courts would fit inside.

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Currently, the factory produces Boeing’s 747, 767, 777, and new 787 aircraft. Viewed above is the delivery flight line, where final systems checks are conducted before the test flights. The near row of aircraft are the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with some Boeing 747-8 freighters in the back.

The factory tour allows up-close views of the different production hangars, where you can see the jets assembled in what can only be described as an example of how manufacturing technology has evolved over the years. Unfortunately, video and still photography (along with all electronic devices) is not allowed on the tour, so I’ve had to borrow some pictures from the internet to illustrate. I’ve noted all borrowed images.

747 Production
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The first stop in the tour is the production facility for the oldest of the aircraft, the Boeing 747. The first flight of the original version of the 747 was in February 1969. The design has continued to be advanced over the decades and the current version, the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental is larger, longer, faster, and much more fuel efficient than the original version.

The manufacturing process has in many ways remained the same. Almost all components of the aircraft are actually built by Boeing there at the Everett factory. Sheets of aluminum are attached to spars and stringers and each section of the plane – nose cone, tail, wings, fuselage barrels – are rivetted together, piece by piece. It takes four month from start to finish for each part to be made and eventually married together.

With the introduction of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Boeing revolutionized the production process. The Everett factory is now the final assembly point for the airplane, with all of the component pieces being produced at other facilities (by bother Boeing and contractors) around the globe.

Dreamlifter
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These component pieces are large – lengthy sections of the fuselage, entire wings, etc. In order to transport them from factories in Italy, Japan, and Wichita to the final assembly facilities in Everett, WA and North Charleston, SC, Boeing commissioned four modified B747-400 aircraft, known as Dreamlifters. These ungainly looking aircraft significantly reduce shipping time.

We were fortunate to see a Dreamlifter arrive a few minutes after parking at the tour center. I captured the landing on video, above.

Dreamlifter 2
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To remove the components from the Dreamlifter, the tail section swings open. A giant tractor with a head-sized ball bearing is placed under the tail to hold the weight of the tail, preventing damage to the door hinges. It is an impressive feat of engineering!

787 Production
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Once all the components are delivered, they are fastened together in a process that currently takes about seven days. That rate will increase as Boeing become more familiar with the assembly process, but is quite an improvement over the four months it takes to build a B747-8 from scratch.

Needless to say, the factory tour was impressive. Even though it was Sunday, a relatively slow production day, I could have easily spent much more than the allotted 90 minutes standing there, watching the assembly process.

 

Future of Flight Aviation Center

The tour begins and ends on the other side of Paine Field at the Future of Flight Aviation Center. Compared to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, which we visited later in the day, the Future of Flight is relatively modest. Still, it provides several displays to help you learn more about aerodynamics and the airplane production process.

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Posing in front of the nose section of a former Eastern Airlines Boeing 727 with a cockpit section of a Boeing 737 in the background.

 

Boeing Field and Museum of Flight

Finishing with the factory tour just about lunchtime, Jack and I decided to drive back to Seattle and visit the Museum of Flight. Located at Boeing Field, officially known as King County International Airport, the Museum of Flight has an extensive display of restored aircraft and many interactive exhibits. It also features the original Boeing factory, a red wooden barn dating from 1909.

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A view of the main display gallery, which features a restored Douglas DC-3 in Alaska Airlines colors, a Lear Fan 2100 with its unique Y-shaped tail and push-propeller, and a Lockheed M-21 Blackbird spy plane.

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A reproduction Boeing Model 40B, the aircraft that enabled Boeing to win the transcontinental US Mail contract. The plane was able to carry twice the load of its competitors.

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A Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II, a combat aircraft from the mid-1950s that was so light and nimble, it continued to be used for 35 years. This particular aircraft flew with the Blue Angels, the US Navy’s aerobatic team. This plane made a special impression on me because in my childhood, I had the opportunity to see the Blue Angels perform several times and this was the type of airplane they used at the time.

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A restored Stearman C-3B, a rugged biplane from the 1920s that was used to grow America’s commercial air mail network. This one is painted in Western Air Express colors.

The Museum of Flight also features an outdoor display area across the street from the main museum galleries. There, you can walk around (and in some cases, through) many of the most successful commercial aircraft.

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Immediately at the entrance to the outdoor gallery is the Concorde, a limited-edition commercial supersonic jet that shuttled the rich and famous across the Atlantic Ocean for almost three decades at twice the speed of sound. This particular jet is on loan from British Airways and it flew the final commercial Concorde flight.

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The plane is on static display and you can walk through its cabin and peer into the cockpit. Here is a view from the front passenger door, looking to the needle-like nose, which was dropped about 10 degrees when the plane of was on the ground, so the pilots could see the taxiway in front of them.

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Inside, you get a sense of how cramped the Concorde was. The interior height was only 6 feet, 5 inches and the two-by-two seating was no more spacious than current premium economy seats. That said, flight time across the Atlantic was only three-and-a-half hours, so you arrived at your destination much more quickly than on a conventional airplane.

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The museum also has the first “Air Force One” – a Boeing VC-135B, the military variant of the Boeing 707. This particular aircraft was delivered when Eisenhower was president and was replaced just three years later by a more advanced version.

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The aircraft is also open for walk-through tours, giving you a sense of how the presidents and other VIPs traveled when conducting government business.

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Compared with the current fleet used to fly the president, variants of the widebody B747, this older Air Force One looks very small. Above, you can see staff seating with the presidential conference room in the background. 

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Behind the cockpit and front galley is a communication station which enabled the president to communicate securely from his airborne White House.

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The cockpit of the Boeing VC-137B, which looks primitive with all its dials and gauges, when compared to today’s “glass” cockpits with their screens and video monitors.

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The museum also has the first flight-worthy Boeing 747. Named the City of Everett in honor of its birthplace, this Boeing 747-121 served as a testbed for Boeing over the years and is sometimes open for display. Unfortunately, the day of our visit, it was closed.

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The final item of interest was a Lockheed 1049G Super Constellation. This piston-engined aircraft was one of the most graceful airplanes ever designed and the “G” version first flew in 1954. By that time, it was clear that airlines were moving in the direction of jet planes and the Constellation was one of the last piston-engine planes. This particular plane was delivered to Trans-Canada Air Lines.

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View of Mount Rainier in the hazy distance from a control tower exhibit in the museum. You can listen to the radio broadcast from the Boeing Field control tower and watch airplanes (mostly general aviation) land and take off.

It was a full day of aviation geekiness, probably more than most people could handle but, in my view, a day well spent.

 

Passing on Thai Highways

A few weeks ago I needed to do a border run. While I normally do this by flying somewhere, what with higher plane ticket prices I decided to try something I hadn’t done in a long while: the tour bus ride to the Cambordian border. Based on that experience, I think I’ll spend the extra money on a plane ticket in the future.

The story is told here in this two-and-a-half minute video:

Look, I realize that land-based travel is all that most Thais can afford. That’s perfectly understandable. And I don’t want to be one of those foreigners who insists that everything should be just as neat, tidy, and safe as it is back home. But…

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Sample of the type of images that regularly grace Thai news sources. Courtesy The Nation newspaper

…after taking this border run and being reminded of how dangerously Thai bus, van, and truck drivers operate their vehicles, especially when it comes to passing on the road, I think my chances of returning from my border run alive are significantly higher if I fly!

 

Bangkok Homes and Gardens Charity Tour

On Saturday the Dusit chapter of Soroptimist International, an organization that concerns itself with issues surrounding women’s welfare, held their biannual Bangkok Homes and Gardens Charity Tour.  We had the opportunity to visit three beautiful homes all located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River.  One was a prince’s home, another was a merchant’s, and the third was a nobleman’s.

I’ve compiled a very nice (if I do say so myself) eight-minute video.  Instead of duplicating the information below, I’ll post some pictures with very brief comments.

Wanglee House

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This Chinese house was built in 1881 by a rice merchant.  The Wanglee clan owns it to this day. 

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The house is built according to the principles of feng shui, facing the river.

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Designed in traditional Chinese courtyard style, the house represents a study of the Chinese culture brought to Siam by Chinese merchants during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Chakrabongse House

Pronounced “cha-kra-bong”, this house was built in 1908 by Prince Chakrabongse, the 40th child of King Rama V.  While studying in Czarist Russia, he eloped with a Russian woman, bringing her back to Siam unannounced. 

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The house is now owned and lived in by the prince’s granddaughter. 

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There is also a small boutique hotel built on the property closer to the river.

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We were provided a guided tour to the inside of the house.  No photos were allowed so I have borrowed other photos that appear on the internet.

Praya Palazzo

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An Italian-inspired mansion built in 1923 by a colonel in the customs bureau during an era in which Italian artists and architects were all the rage in Siam.

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The palazzo is now a very exclusive 17-room boutique hotel, accessible only by boat.  Very charming place.

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The unseasonable rain finally caught up to us and the hotel staff rounded up umbrellas to shuttle us back to the pier.  Made it back to the Shangri-La Hotel reasonably dry and appreciated the opportunity to get a peek at what life was like in Bangkok a century ago.

 

Traveling with Gary and William to Kanchanaburi

Even though Tawn and I had a chance to visit with them in Los Angeles just a few weeks ago, it was a pleasant coincidence that Gary and William had scheduled a trip to Bangkok for the end of June.  We were able to see them several times during their visit, and they invited me to travel to Kanchanaburi Province with them to visit the Tiger Temple.

First stop was the town of Kanchanaburi itself, about two hours northwest of Bangkok.  This town, located on Maenam Kwai (“River Kwai” – pronounced “kwae”), is the site of the bridge made famous in the 1957 David Lean film, Bridge Over the River Kwai.  We made a quick stop at the very good Thai-Burma Railway Centre, the better of two museums in the city about the building of the bridge.

Next, after a delay of about 45 minutes, we jumped on a train pulled by a 40+ year old GE diesel engine for a trip across the bridge and about an hour towards the Burmese border. 

Riding in a nearly antique (but still considered standard, third-class quality by the State Railways of Thailand) car, our interest quickly faded as the passing scenery blurred into a hazy green.

William, leaning out the window, takes a few shots of the countryside.  Fear not, we were actually stopped at a small country station when he did this.  Otherwise, he would have been whacked in the back of his head by overgrown bushes alongside the tracks.

A lone motorcyclist travels a country road as we pass a pair of houses.

Young rice grows a vibrant green in rich, volcanic soil.

Can you identify these crops?  Our tour guide disappeared for most of the train ride, but I was eventually able to learn that these are cassava plants, from which tapioca starch is obtained.

After much too long on the train, we disembarked at a dusty whistle stop and boarded our van, which had been chasing after us.  About twenty minutes later we arrived at the Tiger Temple.  The temple itself started out as a forest monastery in the mid-1990s.  Over time, the monks came to care for insured birds, an injured boar, and other animals they either encountered or were given to them.  The large grounds of the monastery developed into something of a wildlife sanctuary.

In February 1999, the first tiger cub was brought to the temple.  The cub had been orphaned by poachers and then had been sold to someone who was going to have it stuffed.  The cub survived the botched procedure to euthanize it and was brought to the temple.  Over the next few years, other orphaned cubs were brought to the temple and the head monk cared for them in following the principles of compassion for all living beings.

My last visit there was five years ago and the temple has developed quite a bit.  It remains a very popular tourist destination and the visitors’ fees go to support projects to protect the tigers.  The temple has also come in for some criticism from animal rights activists, which I won’t go into here other than to say that I did not witness any signs of ill treatment of the animals.

Okay, not a tiger, but a very large fire ant.  I was impressed with the macro focus on my camera!


The tigers, much like all cats, were napping in the warm afternoon.  There were about three or four staff members and volunteers for each cat and we were instructed about how to approach the cats and then the staff would take pictures. 

There were also plenty of other animals roaming about the large temple grounds, including this very friendly deer named Ta Waan – Sweet Eyes – who knows our tour guide because he always brings a bag of dried corn with him to the temple.

After feeding her, Ta Waan became our new best friend, following us around the temple.

Many of the tiger cubs are handled by various monks.  They play with them and keep them out of trouble.  This one made a lunge for Ta Waan, who bounded away, and the monk literally had to grab the tiger by the tail to keep him from running after the deer.

Since my last visit, the temple has introduced several programs that allow more interactivity with the cats, all for an extra price.  One of the programs was being able to feed and play with the cubs.  Gary and William opted for this and ended up with some wonderful pictures and great memories.  You’ll have to stay tuned to Gary’s site for those pictures.

Another program was being able to exercise the big cats.  Visitors are escorted by staff members into the exercise enclosure (Daniel in the lion’s den?) and get to play with them much in the same way you play with your cat at home: by holding something at the end of a stick that they will want to pounce on.  The enclosure has good vantage points from which you can see the big cats enjoying themselves.

 

As for the danger level, these are definitely wild cats and I observed that a lot of work is done by staff and volunteers to ensure that visitors don’t do anything that would startle the cats or cause their natural instincts to kick in, causing harm.  I suppose that also keeping them fed (boiled chicken) and happy do a lot to minimize some of the risks.

While I was standing there filming from the wall (standing about where the man in the white shirt is taking a picture in the photo above), I suddenly sensed that there was something just over my right shoulder.  Sure enough, the tiger cub (pictured with the monk several photos above) was walking along the top of the wall and had stopped because I was in his way.

This picture, one of three that turned out very nice, wasn’t taken with any zoom lens!  I was about two feet away from his whiskers.  Beautiful animal but a bit unnerving to be caught unawares.

I’ll leave you with this video compilation, about three minutes of footage of the tigers playing in the water.

All in all, I think Gary and William had a fantastic time and I’d include a visit to the Tiger Temple on the itinerary for other guests.  It is certainly an experience you won’t have at home.

Bicycle Riding in Phra Pradaeng

Since our guests are adventurous, outdoorsy sorts, I arranged for a half-day bicycle tour of the “Bangkok Jungle” through Spiceroads.  Located just across the river from the Khlong Toei district (which includes the part of Sukhumvit Road that I live in), this jungle is just that – an isolated and undeveloped section of the larger metropolitan area.  Joining us were a pair of expats, one American and the other British, who I know.

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The reason that Phra Pradaeng, the green patch nearly encircled by the Chao Phraya River, has avoided development is that it is actually part of Samut Prakan province instead of Bangkok.  Zoning laws were enacted to limit development in this section of the province.  The area is often referred to as the “lungs of Bangkok” and includes a large public park.

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Our starting point for the tour was a restaurant near the Thong Lo BTS Skytrain station.  We rode through a little bit of city traffic, although mostly on back sois (alleys), and then through the slum area of Khlong Toei down near the port.  Finally, we boarded a long-tail boat and left the city behind.

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On the other side of the river, any sign of the hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital quickly melted away as we rode along small roads and elevated concrete paths through banana, coconut, and lychee plantations.  Except for the occasional view of a skyscraper peeking over the horizon, you could easily forget where you were.

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We had time for several breaks, seeing some of the local sites (which are limited), feeding the fish in the park, and trying a Thai snack of sticky rice and starchy bananas steamed in banana leaf.

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Back at the pier as we waited for our boat, some local children swam in the edge of the river, showing off for us by performing ever more daring stunts.  Here, a double flip into murky waters.

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Back near our starting point, I peeked in the front gate of a complex that is usually closed.  I don’t know what it is, but it looks almost like a shinto temple.  Very beautiful.