Despite recent wobbles, Boeing is one of the most iconic American companies and a globally recognized brand rivaling the likes of Coca-Cola, Amazon, or Apple. While the parts that make up its aircraft may come from many places across the world, all of Boeing’s final assembly lines are based in the US – with a bonus completion and delivery center for the 737 in China. Let’s take a closer look at what goes on where.
It’s a joint effort
The making of an aircraft is no mean feat. A Boeing 737 NG narrowbody consists of approximately 500,000 parts. Meanwhile, a 777 is made up of about three million different pieces. Of course, not all of them are made in the same place.
Accounting for the making of millions of parts would make for a very long geographical list. For instance, wingtips for the Dreamliner are built in Buzan in South Korea, its landing gear in Gloucester in the UK, and its horizontal stabilizer in Foggia, Italy.
Some of Boeing’s main subcontractors in the US include Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas; Honeywell in Charlotte, North Carolina; Triumph Group in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. The US is also home to its engine suppliers – General Electric and Pratt & Whitney – while Rolls-Royce is based in the UK.
However, let’s take a look at where they all come together and where the sum of all those parts becomes the mechanical engineering marvels that are Boeing’s commercial aircraft.
Everett – home of the Queen
Boeing’s major production facilities are located at three different locations in the US. The Everett and Renton facilities are both situated in Washington State, whereas the third plant is located in Charleston, South Carolina.
Boeing’s facility in Everett, Washington, saw the doors to its major assembly buildings open for the first time on May 1st, 1967. The planemaker built the plant especially to house the production of the 747 jumbojet, and the first specimen rolled out 16 months after the first working day.
The team working on the first 747-100 reportedly had to face several challenges as they were completing the aircraft while the factory was being built. Anecdotally, they even chased off a bear or two. For their troubles, they were dubbed with the honorary title – ‘The Incredibles’.
Today, Everett’s main assembly building has grown to encompass 472 million cubic feet of space over 98.3 acres. That is about five and a half times larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza and earns it the title of the largest building in the world by volume.
The 747 still remains in production (four 747-8Fs are going to Atlas Air, four to UPS, and one 747-8 that is rumored to be heading to the Egyptian government). However, Boeing is set to deliver the last of its iconic jumbojet in 2022.
Meanwhile, as the production of the Queen winds down after more than 50 years, the Everett facility will be far from idle. It also houses the assembly lines of Boeing’s newer dual-aisle aircraft – the 767, the 777, and, up until March this year, the 787 Dreamliner. The mammoth aircraft construction site is served by Paine Field Airport, one of the reasons Boeing chose the location in the first place.
Dreamliner consolidation in SC
The decision to shift all Dreamliner production from Everett to North Charleston came at the beginning of October last year in a move to increase efficiency. Let’s take a small geographical hop across the continent to check in with what else goes on at Boeing’s South Carolina location before heading back to Washington state and Renton.
Boeing first selected North Charleston as the location for the final assembly line (FAL) for the 787 in 2009. The very first Dreamliner rolled out through the doors on April 27th, 2012, took its first flight a little under a month later, and was delivered to Air India on October 5th the same year – four years behind the initial schedule.
Boeing’s South Carolina plant was the company’s first to function on 100% renewable energy. Up to 20% of the energy it consumes comes from solar panels situated on top of the Dreamliner FAL building, equalling about 20 acres (or almost 20 American football fields).
The Renton jet age
Pivoting back across the continent, we land back in Washington state and Boeing’s 737 construction facilities in Renton. The plant has a long history, which includes being the home of Boeing’s first turbine engine aircraft, the 707. The first prototype designated the Boeing 367-80, rolled out from the factory in May 1954.
Renton also served as the FAL for the Boeing 727 trijet between 1963 and 1984. To accommodate newcomer 737, the manufacturer built a new assembly line in 1966. All of the models of the 737 family have passed through it – with over 10,000 aircraft built. Renton also housed the production of the 757 between 1981 and 2004.
Today, production revolves around the 737 MAX aircraft. Reuters reported a few months ago that Boeing is targeting an output of 31 per month in early 2022, with a potential ramp-up to as many as a pre-pandemic 42 by the end of the year. Despite cancellations due to both the type’s prolonged grounding and the ongoing crisis, Boeing still has unfilled orders for 4,024 of the MAX in its various iterations.
Honorary mention of Zhousan
In 2018, Boeing opened a completion and delivery center for the 737 in Zhousan to better serve its Chinese narrowbody customers, which in 2017, represented 26% of its global aircraft deliveries. The Zhousan facility delivered its first plane, a 737 MAX 8, in December, to Air China the same year.
Have you ever visited any of Boeing’s main factories? What was it like? Leave a comment below and share your stories with us.