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Take a tour of the largest airplane factory (photos)

At almost 100 acres, this Boeing factory is so big that clouds actually formed inside until an air circulation system was installed.
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By Andy Smith, Contributor on
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Everett, Wash.--Thirty miles north of Seattle sits Boeing's immense factory, where it builds 787, 777, 747, and 767 aircraft. At 472.3 million cubic feet (4.3 million square feet or 98.3 acres), it's the largest building by volume in the world.

Boeing first completed the Everett site in 1967, because it had no facility large enough in the Seattle area to build its new 747 jumbo jet. With 25 747 orders from Pan Am on the books, time was short and the building was constructed as the first 747 mock-up was constructed on the factory floor. Boeing had to move 4 million cubic yards of earth to build the plant and construct the steepest standard gauge railway in the Northern Hemisphere. Even at the time of completion, Boeing set records for building size, at 205.6 million cubic feet.

The building is so big that clouds actually formed inside until an air circulation system was installed. Today there's no air conditioning or heating system. Instead, the factory is warmed by the 1 million ceiling lights and cooled (if it ever gets that hot in Everett) by opening the doors.

In 1980 the factory expanded to 298.2 cubic feet for 767 production, and it reached its present size in 1993 when Boeing started building the 777. More than 30,000 people are employed at the factory (working in three shifts around the clock) and about 110,000 people visit each year to take the public tour. Here you can see the factory's giant doors, which feature the largest digital graphics mural in the world (more than 100,00 square feet).

Credit: CNET News

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The factory is so big that employees use bicycles, electric carts, and even vans to get around. Of course, they can walk as well.

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A 2.33-mile (3.7-kilometer) network of access tunnels runs beneath the factory floor. This passage leads from the stairs at the factory's exterior to the public viewing balcony.

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This map of the factory best demonstrates its gargantuan scale.

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On the public balcony, graphics show the stages of an airliner's production. After the various sections of an aircraft arrive on the production line (many of the parts are built elsewhere), final assembly can begin. Systems are installed, the fuselage sections and wings are joined together, tests are run, and engines and interior fittings are installed. The plane then leaves the factory for painting, test flights, and delivery to the airline.

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On the 787 side of the balcony, you can see a similar diagram.

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Here is a 787 destined for Japan Airlines (JAL). Since the Dreamliner is made of composite materials, its skin doesn't have the same sea green color that Boeing's metal aircraft wear before painting. Above the factory floor are offices and conference rooms, while a network of 26 cranes hangs from the ceiling. The cranes run on 39 miles of track and can lift up to 40 tons.

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A sign on the JAL aircraft identifies it as the seventh 787 for the airline.

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Further down the production line are 787s destined for Ethiopian Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA). ANA is the launch customer for the 787 and will receive its first commercial delivery by the third quarter of this year. Initial delivery was set for 2008, but the complexity of the aircraft, a machinists strike, and supplier shortages caused repeated delays.

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Here is a nose section of a Royal Air Morac 787. The cockpit windows are still covered by a protective film.

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The public balcony offers a great view of the 787's raked wingtips.

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A 787 airframe rests outside the factory's doors. The blocks hanging below the wings simulate the weight of the engines, to keep the wings from flexing up.

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This JAL 767 is the 56th such aircraft for the airline.

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Behind the JAL plane is a 767 freighter for UPS. When completed, it will be the 42nd 767 for the cargo carrier.

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With fuselage sections, equipment, parts, and nearly completed aircraft, the factory floor is a busy place.

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Across the factory is the 767 production line. Here is a 767 that will fly for JAL.

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The cockpit windows are installed on the nose section of a 767 nearing completion. The 767 line produces 1.5 aircraft per month.

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As this banner on one of the factory's huge doors says, Boeing recently built the 1,000th 767. The airliner has now been in production for 29 years.

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Here you can see up the access stairs and inside a 767 cabin.

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The facility includes several cafeterias and coffee bars. Employees can have their lunch on a balcony right above the factory floor. Immediately below the balcony are work cubicles.

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