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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Future of Flight - day trip from Seattle

Boeing has a museum of sorts and a tour of their assembly line in Mukilteo, Washington.

It was impressive, to say the least. But we constantly learn that technology and grandeur alone are not enough to carry the show.

First the impressive stuff.

They had the Rolls Royce Trent engine on display. This puppy is supposed to be the latest and greatest to power the 787 (yes, we saw three being built on their assembly line and one near completion) but the guide did tell us that everyone is going for the more proven GE engines!

If you are a materials engineer who did work on composites and you are in the high tech industry, this is as impressive as it gets to watching materials meet mechanics with a whole bunch of electronics thrown in, and we are not even talking about those cool aerodynamic wing tip designers !!!

They had sections of the plane on display, and an evolutionary history of the 7x7 series we are so familiar with today, in a self tour bay.

Let us say that the new 787 is a smaller plane than the 777 but is more spacious and fuel efficient and can go from Vancouver to Sydney non-stop! How? How? How?

Well, they switched from Aluminum to Composites for the entire body, a thing that was the holy grail of materials scientists for over 25 years! You see, these composite structures cannot be welded that easily and cannot be reformed or reshaped either. So you have to get it right the first time and we all know how difficult that can be!

There is also a lot of ergonomic improvements. The whole cabin area looks streched in x and shrunk in y (might be a problem for tall folks, but my guess is finally Boeing and its customers have figured out that the average person is 5 foot 5 inches and it makes sense to go wider and shorter).

They had a nice display with the cockpit. Kind of cramped and your head just spins after seeing all those dials and knobs and makes you realize why the "driver" (Jr. slang for pilot) is so important.

There were no cellphones, cameras, anything electronic allowed on the factory tour. So no pictures of the half built planes I guess.. Also the release date of the completed 787 is a closely kept secret. All we know is the first plane goes to All Nippon Airlines and is having technical difficulties!

Now, for the comment earlier about not everything being perfect. Boeing does not understand the concept of customer service (being one of two companies that makes such monster planes, probably never had to understand the concept!)

We asked for six tickets for a tour and they gave us 3 each for two different tours and did not bother to mention that they split our group! So our subsequent plans got all messed up and they had a big issue with accepting the fact that they screwed up!

That episode apart, the tour guide was extremely nice and the rest of the tour was uneventful.

Expensive but if you are a high tech or flying enthusiast, a must see if you go to the Seattle area!


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I am not responsible for comments posted by others... At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous wrote...


i am currently reading a book 'ask the pilot' - it is an interesting read, if you can get your hands on it.

- s.b.


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