By Jay Jones
Special to the Los Angeles Times
June 12, 2011
Reporting from Everett, Wash
It's not easy to get a mental picture of the world's largest building. But tour guides at Boeing Co.'s aircraft assembly plant in Everett do their best by using some mind-blowing imagery. At 98 acres, its footprint is as big as 75 football fields — which makes it larger than Disneyland.
But there are no whirling teacups here. The massive hangar, which rises 11 stories, is where Boeing builds its wide-body jets, including the new 787 Dreamliner. Airlines are expected to begin taking delivery of the new planes later this year.
To accommodate 32,000 employees, the plant has seven restaurants, a fitness center, a store for DVD rentals and even a dry cleaner. The walk from the parking lot to a work station can be as much as three-quarters of a mile.
Visitors also get a workout on the 2/3-mile, 90-minute tour of the plant. (Electric carts are available for people with disabilities.) Given the unique experience — this is the only place on the continent where people can watch giant jets being built — it's well worth the price of admission, plus a little shoe leather.
Tours of the facility depart hourly from the Future of Flight Aviation Center in the neighboring town of Mukilteo. After viewing a short film about the assembly plant's history, visitors clamber aboard buses for the short ride to Paine Field Airport and the largest building on Earth.
Parked outside are several assembled 787s with the logos of their owners: Air India, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways. The new Dreamliners are of particular interest to many visitors, for whom the tour provides a sneak preview of the future of aviation.
"This is the first aircraft to use 50% composite materials. Composites are very durable and also very light," said guide Mike Murray. Replacing aluminum with the porous composite saves 20% on fuel, he pointed out. And because the new materials don't rust, the 787s will be able to circulate air with a higher humidity level during flight.
"Maybe we will arrive at our destinations more refreshed," Murray said.
Guests also learn about other features as they watch the planes being assembled: The overhead storage bins are bigger, as are the windows. Shades are gone, replaced by technology that darkens the glass with the push of a button. LED lighting can create various scenes in the cabin, such as a soothing sunset. The 787s also have distinctive curved wingtips.
In another part of the plant, visitors look down on an assembly line where the latest version of Boeing's original jumbo jet, the 747-8 Intercontinental, is being built.
Slightly larger than its older siblings, the plane is also quieter and more fuel efficient. Tour guides boast that the 747-8 is a big improvement over its European competition, the Airbus A380. Of course, travelers will make up their own minds once the newest 747s take flight within a few months.
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