>Greetings avid reader. You have come back to the narration of ‘The Seattle Expedition’ – a chronicle of the awesome adventures experienced by my friends and me during the Labor Day weekend of 2008. In the last three episodes you read about the tale of our Great Trekking of Mt. Rainier, the disappointment at St. Helens and an intriguing blast to the space. This is the fourth and last episode in which I give you the events of our final day in Seattle when we see something that I never dreamt of seeing in my life.
Disclaimer: All names, places, accounts and events mentioned in the narration can be partially or entirely false. Reading this narrative can cause frequent Google searches, excessive nail growth syndrome and excessive nails. Other Side effects include loss of time, increased knowledge, read rage and erectile dysfunction.
THE SEATTLE EXPEDITION
September 1: The Last Crusade
Final day is always full of anxiety. All the exciting things that happened in the last few days keep coming back in our minds to remind us of all the fun we had, but there is that feeling of impending sadness that almost always accompanies a departure inching ever closer with every passed hour. For the past two and a half days we had such a great time that it was hard for me to even think about checking out from the hotel, and getting on the plane, going back to phoenix, getting home on a Monday night, and do nothing but thinking about getting up the next morning and going to work where I pretend to be busy but mostly do nothing.The grief evaporated soon after I was told that our first destination for the day was the Boeing Future of Flight Center. I thought about the numerous airplanes we saw the previous day at the Everett Flight Museum and before I could sarcastically roll my eyes and ask- “Airplanes…Again?” I was answered, much to my excitement; that-‘This is the place where Boeing actually makes all of its Commercial airliners’. I could almost hear the sweet sound of the Pratt & Whitney- PW 4062 engines on either side of a 747-400 (Wikipedia is awesome!!). It was a mildly cold Monday morning and after a satisfying breakfast I enthusiastically drove our Dodge Nitro rental car and at about mid morning we reached The Future of flight center.
We entered into a small parking lot and right next to the parking lot was the Welcome center proudly displaying the corporate insignia. Quite some distance away from it was a cluster of tall concrete structures in rectangular blocks, which looked as if they were designed by someone who didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘round’. The clusters were built wall-to-wall and had massive blue colored aircraft-hanger-type doors. Right outside the doors were some cars parked in a large parking space with a maze of white and yellow tracks made of reflective material. A few yards away, just in front was the massive open space which looked like a giant courtyard with no roof, with white striped lanes clearly marked in a similar reflective material and within those lanes were the brand new Boeing Commercial Passenger and Cargo Airliners fully built, neatly parked and ready for delivery to the clients- just like you would find cars parked outside a car dealership. From where we were standing it was quite a view to see all those tail wings with their owners’ logo sticking up in the air. As soon as we entered the Welcome center, for security reasons, we were asked to place all the electronic equipment, wallets, keys and any carry on items in a safety locker. Then came the standing in line for the tickets. With such a big company you would think there would be some sort of a Kiosk, but apparently they preferred a couple of girls in their late twenties for that job. After the wait and the tickets, we were directed to a medium sized auditorium where a short clip of Boeing’s history was played and once it was confirmed that we were at the edge of our seats with excitement, we were asked to board a bus just outside the hall.
With the tour guide happily narrating some trivia about the Company, the bus took us in a tour of the facility finally stopping in front of one of the rectangular blocks, which together with other blocks in the cluster holds the Guinness World Record for the largest building by volume (472 million cubic ft). We walked down the stairs and through a long tunneled corridor with a multitude of wires, pipes, lights, hydraulics, and a few exits attached to the inside of it. Then came the block-by-block tour of each unit in which the building of various aircrafts were done. We walked on metal balconies, more like viewing galleries, located a few tens of feet from the floor where about 4 planes (more or less per unit) were in their “production lines’, each in different stages of its construction. Just imagine a big car workshop, with planes and tools big and small. I found out that every rectangular block within the cluster we saw from the parking area was the assembly building for a specific type of plane- one each for 747, 767, 777 and the new 787.
As we looked on with wide-eyes and wider smiles, the tour guide, former flight attendant, explained how Boeing had innovated/improved a lot of design and development methods for these production lines starting from ‘the Ford Model’ to the ‘Moving Assembly Line’. The Moving Assembly Line, which is basically building an airplane on an industrial bed which keeps moving at constant rate from one station to another, has reduced the construction of a 777 from 26 days to a mere 8. We could see the planes in sort of a U shaped assembly line. In one end, was a new plane which has just started to be built and in front of it is another one with the fuselage half built and then one with wings getting attached until at the other end of the ‘U’ where a completed plane stands without engine- They attach the engines as the last job. We also got to see Boeing’s new addition to its catalog, the 787 – Dream-liner, which is expected to be a game changer in aviation industry. Its not yet released, which means we saw the first 3 of its kind as they were being built. For someone who never missed to look up the sky upon hearing the sound of an aircraft engine, which I still do, it was an unforgettable morning.
I bought a 747-model plane at the gift shop after the tour, and once we collected our belongings from the locker headed out to Pike Place market. Before the trip, I read something about it online and sort of imagined it to be a densely crowded public market with all kinds of shops selling everything from flowers to exotic spices and diners providing the freshest local dishes, Seattle’s most famous sea food collection and sweets to annoyed locals and completely rude and unapologetic tourists. It turned to be exactly that. It was almost as if I was back in Panagal Park, in Chennai. We had the fresh grilled salmon and fried Tilapias for lunch which was pretty good and bought some chocolate coated cherries for snacks. The time for our departure flight was getting closer and we desperately wanted to push it further, in vain.
In a final attempt to delay the return trip to airport, we stopped at Aki Beach and enjoyed the absolute beauty which the Seattle Coastal view. The Sun was shining with the right amount of warmth, with the Space Needle in the back drop, mildly cold wind blowing across from the mountains, it was ‘THE’ moment we were looking for. We reveled in all the fun things we did in the past 3 days and with satisfaction we headed to the airport after returning the car at the rental place.
My flight took off and landed on time in Phoenix and my friend gave me the ride back home. I went home on that Monday night and spent the night doing nothing but thinking about getting up the next morning and going to work where I pretend to be busy but mostly do nothing.
Thanks for joining me. Until next time.