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Boeing mechanics carefully join the nose section of the first 747-8 Intercontinental in Everett, Wash.

Boeing's first 747-8 Intercontinental takes shape

By Bernard Choi

By his count, Jonathan Missroon had a hand in building almost every one of the 528 Boeing 747-400 passenger jets.

787 Dreamliner windows

BOEING/Bernard Choi

Boeing mechanic Jonathan Missroon prepares his equipment for assembling the nose section of the first 747-8 Intercontinental.

"I was hired in 1988 and only two had come off the line," said the Boeing mechanic. "It's a really good feeling to see these big, graceful jets flying through the air and know you helped build them."

Now, Missroon is helping build a new generation of passenger 747's, the 747-8 Intercontinental.

"It's kind of exciting but there's a lot of work to be done," he said.

Last week, Missroon and his team began assembling the nose section of the first 747-8 Intercontinental inside Boeing's factory in Everett, Wash.

With a fuselage that is 18 feet (5.6 meters) longer than the 747-400, the Intercontinental will be able to seat 51 more passengers, for a total of 467 in a standard three-class configuration.

But stretching the plane was no small engineering feat.

"I think the sky's the limit. I'm looking forward to more of them in the future."
- Shelby Jenkins , Boeing mechanic

"You've made the airplane a lot longer," said Steve Brown, a Boeing engineer. "If you think of a balance system, you've now extended the arms, and if you put a little weight out here, you'll tilt your balance significantly,"

787 Dreamliner windows


With a new, more aerodynamic wing and a more efficient engine, the 747-8 Intercontinental will offer airlines the lowest operating costs of any large passenger plane.

Boeing engineers figured out how to lengthen the airplane and added other new features:

The Intercontinental, the only twin-aisle jet serving the 400 to 500-seat market, will be 16 percent more fuel efficient than the 747-400 and 11 percent more fuel efficient than the A380.

"Efficiency in the market today is everything and a 747-8 Intercontinental is a natural hedge for those airlines against a rise in potential fuel prices." said Randy Tinseth, Boeing's vice president of Marketing. "The 747-8 has just a fantastic value proposition for our customers: more range, better fuel efficiency, and lower operating costs."

There are currently 33 orders for the Intercontinental but Tinseth says there are more to come.

"Most of the airlines that are flying 747-400's today are perfect candidates for this airplane."
- Randy Tinseth, Boeing vice president of Marketing

"When you look at that market, most of the airlines that are flying 747-400's today are perfect candidates for this airplane. The 747-400's are just starting to reach that retirement age so, over the next few years, we'll see more and more of those airplanes reach the end of their lifecycle and replaced by other new big airplanes."

There's a similar sense of optimism inside the factory.

787 Dreamliner windows


Inspired by the 787 Dreamliner, the 747-8 Intercontinental features a roomier interior with a higher ceiling, bigger windows, and sophisticated lighting.

"I think the sky's the limit," said mechanic Shelby Jenkins. "I'm looking forward to more of them in the future."

But first, Jonathan Missroon says they have to get the No. 1 airplane right. And that is not easy. Even though they're building a jumbo jet, Missroom and his fellow mechanics are dealing with engineering dimensions where tiny fractions of an inch are significant.

"You have to be very alert, just check things two or three times to make sure everything is coming in, you know something's not coming in on the wrong side," Missroon said.

The first 747-8 Intercontinental is slated to roll out of the factory early next year.