Wednesday morning I went to Paine Field to to the Boeing Future of Flight tour. It is a big deal and involves probably more security than is strictly necessary. No "electronic devices" are allowed. This really means no cameras, mobile phones, laptops, etc. Digital watches are allowed provided you don't succeed in taking pictures with them. This also means that there is lots of locker space available which is much appreciated by the bicycle tourist.
Our guide had a snappy line of patter though much of it may of been scripted. The main building is the largest building by volume in the world and looks it. Among the factoids, there are about a dozen coffee shops in it, all run by Tully as they have an exclusive deal with Boeing. The guide added that this probably makes Paine field the largest area in Seattle without a Starbucks! The building also has 9 cafeterias each with it's own name in large, expensive, lit up signs. One of them was called the Dreamliner Diner, as it was on the 787 Dreamliner production line. That really surprised me as I think of the 787 as a very new product (which it is) and therefore the sign on the cafeteria was very new.
The building houses the production lines for all 4 of Boeing's widebodies (747, 767, 777 and 787), so it has to be big. In fact, it is so big that it has problems with rain clouds forming inside the building. (This is not something the guide mentioned.) The scale of production is incredible. There are "nerds" in cubicles out on the production floor. These cubicles have to be moved every so often in order to get out of the way of jetliners as they near completion, or at least near enough that they can be taken outdoors: there are an assortment of production glitches meaning that there are something like 40 787's waiting outside for various parts, including engines in some cases.
Afterwards, I toured a gallery section where one could learn about older aircraft and sit in the cockpit of a Boeing 727 and fiddle with the controls. You could also pose near full scale reproductions of the latest turbo fan engines, which are fricking huge. These babies are close to producing 100,000 lbs of thrust which is loosely equivalent to 100,000 horsepower.
Lockheed S-3 Viking which Boeing had apparently proposed to change into an odd-looking rhomboidal wing. That is from the wing goes back from the tip, to the tail.
I subcame to temptation and bought a Buff in Boeing colours. I resisted the urge to get a Dreamliner-themed cycling jersey.
Working my way counter clockwise around the field, I stopped at the Historic Flight Center. It is a relatively low-key affair and features a dozen or so aircraft, mostly of World War II vintage, in flying, or close to flying order. The highlight was being allowed to visit the inside of a North American B-25 Mitchell. I was initially reluctant to through the nose section of the light bomber, as the tunnel was narrower than I was happy with. But, encouraged by the guide, I slid my way into the nose section. It wasn't easy for my 6 foot plus frame to do it on the ground. God help someone trying to do it in the air in an emergency.
A littler further around the field was Paul Allen's Flying Heritage Collection. The docent at the Historic Flight Center was a little dismissive of Paul Allen's baby as some of the restorations weren't as accurate or authentic as the ones at his organisation. I am not in agreement with him as some aspects of the aircraft could be improved with little compromise. The technology of seat cushions has improved dramatically for example. As well, most WWII aircraft weren't designed with longevity in mind. There are various small tweaks that could be made to improve it along with safety.
Consequently, I also went to the Flying Heritage Collection where I saw some aircraft that while "Heritage", aren't likely to go flying anytime soon.
As in ever.
These were a Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet (a rocket-powered fighter) and a Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg (a manned version of the V-1 flying bomb). I teased one of workers at the Collection by asking him if they ever took the Komet up for a spin? One of the design compromises of the Komet was that in order to remove the need for an ignition source, its two (corrosive) fuels would combust on contact with one another. When this happened in the combustion chamber, there wasn't a problem. However, any leaks in the system could mean the plane could blow up. This was relatively common on landing. Hence, my question was facile sarcasm. Airplane geek humour.