Stranded In The Southland

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Boeing Factory Tour

[In keeping with my previous vow to give up on strict chronological blogging, I'm not going to mention a very pleasant evening spent with my old college buddy in Seattle and his new (to me) wife and new child. Oh, wait...]

I disavow all responsibility for the Boeing Factory Tour. I'm here to say -- I didn't discover that it was offered, I didn't suggest that we go on it, I didn't buy the tickets a couple days in advance. It was all M., and I swear I had nothing to do with it.

I was kind of surprised by her enthusiasm, but I sure wasn't going to complain! Boeing has a nice little Museum of Flight, with a few bits and pieces of aircraft, and models of a bunch of airliners (even non-Boeing airliners) telling the history of commercial flight. There's even a fun little 727 cockpit. It was stuffed with excited kids, but I still got a chance to flick a few switches and marvel at the complexity of even an ancient plane like that when compared to the few little switches and breakers in the little Piper Cherokee that I fly.

The museum is fun, but not that remarkable. Getting a chance to see them putting together 747s and 737s and 787s (the new Dreamliner), though, was pretty darn exciting. I've been to countless places (mostly NASA) that claim to have the largest building in the world, but I'm inclined to believe Boeing. Their plant clearly dwarfed the gigantic 747s that were being assembled, and wandering around in the tunnels and riding the freight elevators was a blast.

It was pretty wild to see complex wing jigs that towered 50 feet above the floor, reminding me of my youthful attempts to build balsa-wood models. Pwhew! Doing it full-scale looks rather harder.

It was wild seeing the Dreamliner assembly line, since Boeing had just announced the day before that the first flight of the aircraft would be postponed by at least a couple months. They had two of the planes built and sitting on the tarmac, and it seemed like there were three of them nearly finished, and a whole bunch more that were coming along. Yow. Hopefully, they can fix their wing-attachment problem in those finished aircraft.

Just about every spot on the factory floor that wasn't taken up with airplane parts was taken up with cubicles for the hundreds of engineers working on the plane. We got to watch a shift change, complete with hotdesking, as engineers left and new engineers came over to take over. I had no idea that it took that much computing power to build a new aircraft, but I presume that there's a fair amount of process involved in putting together a $300 million aircraft that you'd like to last for 50 years.

There was plenty of the corporate cheerleading that you'd expect, but, all in all, it was a pretty fabulous experience!

Sleater-Kinney Road

Let me start out by saying that my all-time favorite band is Sleater-Kinney. It's a riot grrl band founded in the mid-90s, and named after the street in Olympia on which the members had a practice space. I knew that there was an interstate exit for the road, so I was determined to get a picture with the sign.

I had this idea that Olympia was a sleepy little college town, and that I could just step out onto a wide grass swale by the side of the interstate, get a quick shot, and haul ass before anybody was the wiser. Oh, well.

It turned out that the I-5 was eight lanes wide through Olympia, and Sleater-Kinney Road had two exits for east and west, and signs that were suspended 20 feet over busy roads. That quick shot just wasn't going to happen.

M. patiently drove a few blocks down and took a few shots of me with a street sign over my shoulder, as I giggled and tried not to look like the fan-boy I am. Fortunately, M. is pretty good photographer (I can't frame a picture to save my life), and they turned out okay, despite her constant ribbing of me while we were taking them.

Unfortunately, this stop just made us a little later for Seattle, and the 20 minutes that we spent waiting in rush-hour traffic to get back onto the I-5 didn't help. We pretty much had to circle around to a whole different exit, because the exit we used didn't let you re-enter. Argh.

I'm still delighted to have the photos, though!