THE BOEING COMPANY

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This is an extract of the article, with small photos. You will find the complete article with full-sized photos in my e-book View America: West Pacific

In the travel series View America, West Pacific covers California, Oregon and Washington. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

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The origin

Boeing is the world's largest manufacturer of commercial and military aircraft, and it controls more than half of the market for jet aircraft, next to military jets and helicopters, missile systems and space technology.

In 1916 William Boeing and Navy engineer Conrad Westervelt founded the Pacific Aero Products Company in Seattle, and they built the B&W seaplane. When one year later Westervelt was recalled to active service in World War I, the company was renamed to the Boeing Airplane Company. The contacts with the Navy proved to be interesting, because during World War I the company manufactured aircraft for Navy training and patrol.

Next to building airplanes the company at first also exploited an airline, and in 1919 they started the first international postal line between Seattle and Victoria in British Columbia. In 1927 Boeing contracted with the U.S. Mail to distribute the mail between Chicago, Illinois and San Francisco, California, and it built its first commercial airplane, the Model 40.

In 1929 Boeing merged with engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, and they founded the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation. Its growth was spectacular and it subsequently purchased several regional airlines, and in 1931 it was renamed to United Air Lines. But in 1934 they had to deal with federal antitrust actions and were required to split up the company into three different companies; the Boeing Airplane Company, Pratt & Whitney and United Airlines.

World War II

During World War II Boeing produced hundreds of the B-17 Flying Fortress, that became the main U.S. bomber. This airplane was cherished by the pilots, because even half shot to pieces it would still manage to remain in the air and safely return... Given the war effort, a large part of the workers were women, but nevertheless by 1944 the Seattle factory produced sixteen B-17 aircraft per day!

Another aircraft was the B-29 bomber, the most famous of which was the Enola Gay, that carried the first atomic bomb to Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. It was followed in 1952 by the B-52 bomber.

In the early 1950's Boeing had to contend with stiff competition from McDonnell-Douglas, which manufactured excellent quality propeller aircraft. Given to its previous military experience Boeing decided to fully play the card of commercial jet-aircraft.

Jet aircraft

In 1958 it brought out the 707, which would prove to be a huge commercial success, and this model was succeeded by the 727, the 737 and the 747. In 1961 the company diversified into other technologies, and it designed the first steps of the enormous Saturn rocket that brought the Apollo capsule to the moon.

In 1966 Boeing decided to build the largest commercial Jet-airplane in the world, the famous 747. But in order to house the assembly line for this very large airplane, a huge new factory needed to be built, which was finished in 1968. During the very same year, however, the first plane was delivered.

Boeing factory in Everett, WA 1 Boeing factory in Everett, WA 2

The Boeing Assembly Hall

The ongoing construction of the Assembly Hall took 20 years and occurred in three phases, because in 1979 it was extended to house the 767, and in 1990 it was extended for the 777. Its most recent offspring is the new 787 Dreamliner.

The Boeing Assembly Hall is the building with the largest volume in the world, with a surface of 98 acres (400,000 m2) and a height of 115 feet (35 m). The volume is an incredible 472 million cubic feet (13 million m3).

There is no heating or air conditioning, because the heat comes from the lights, the machines and the workers themselves, and cooling is obtained by opening the huge doors. The roof is simply a marvel of engineering, because throughout the vast hangar the only support columns are located between the 7 assembly lines.

Boeing Assembly Hall - 1 Boeing Assembly Hall - 2

Boeing series 707 to 777

The letters of the series 707 to 777 always begin with a seven, a number that was chosen only because it seemed to be the most appropriate, publicity-wise. A Boeing 747 is composed of more than 6 million parts, half of which are rivets and screws. The average unit costs roughly 200 million dollars, depending on the options.

The customer can choose from three engines; Pratt & Whitney, Rolls Royce or General Electric. The payment terms are a 33% deposit, 33% when it is painted, and the balance after the pilots test the airplane and deliver it. Between order and final delivery, the construction and testing of the airplane take about seven months to complete.

In 1970 the first Jumbo Jet was built with the 747, which could carry 490 people. Although this aircraft would become the most important transcontinental aircraft in the world, the enormous costs of development and manufacturing brought Boeing to the edge of bankruptcy. In 1973 Boeing had to let go almost 60% of its staff, but a revival of commercial and military orders helped it back in the saddle. The smaller Boeing 737 became the best selling jet-powered passenger aircraft ever.

In 1993 the economic recession and strong competition from Airbus Industries caused Boeing to again dismiss about 25% of its staff, and in 1995 the company also had to deal with a long and expensive strike. But in the same year Boeing brought the model 777 on the market, which was completely designed by computer. This model again became a blockbuster, and new orders yielded billions of dollars.

Boeing became the largest supplier of the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), and provides electronics, rocket stages and components for the International Space Station. In 1996 it purchased Rockwell International Corporation, through which it received contracts for the Space Shuttle and the engines.

McDonnell Douglas Corporation

In 1997 Boeing bought its arch-rival McDonnell Douglas Corporation for more than 16 billion dollars, the largest merger ever in the aviation industry. By doing so it was able obtain a unique position in military spending. However, afterwards the company had a serious series of setbacks.

Despite a large number of orders, Boeing faced a shortage of staff and a shortage of parts. The resulting delays compelled the company to halt the assembly lines of the 737 and 747 for one month. urthermore, the production of McDonnell Douglas's MD-80 and MD-90 passenger aircraft was gradually tapered out, causing a loss of billions of dollars, and the first annual loss since 1947.

In 1998 Boeing announced that the production of the MD-11 jumbo jet would end, whereby the 717 (formerly the MD-95) became the only remaining model of McDonnell Douglas. That meant the end of this strong competitor.

Boeing 747

Recent activities

In 2000 Boeing acquired the space and communications division of Hughes Electronics Corporation, and managed to control the world's largest satellite manufacturer. A year later its headquarters were moved from Seattle to Chicago.

If in 1970 it employed 35,000 people, by 2003 this number was reduced to 18,000. During the 1960's more than 600 aircraft were manufactured per year, but that number has dropped to 350.

Besides commercial aircraft Boeing also produces military aircraft and helicopters, including the famous Apache combat helicopter, the bogeyman of tanks around the world, and certainly an aircraft with exceptional technical qualities.

A few interesting facts. Boeing's largest customer used to be British Airways with 75 aircraft, and movie stars John Travolta and Bruce Willis fly their own Boeing series 700. In times of a national emergency, the American president can exceptionally call upon the aircraft of major American companies such as Federal Express, UPS, DHL, and all American airlines, to transport soldiers and equipment all over the world in about 48 hours!

Boeing 747 cockpit

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