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Watching mechanics maneuver giant sections of a jumbo jet is a study in precision. Every inch counts.
“A lot of times it’s a half inch that makes the difference between being able to continue forward or stopping,” explained Boeing mechanic Alan Hill.
"The process is like a carefully-choreographed industrial dance with giant airplane section gliding through the factory."
Hill was part of the team that joined the fuselage sections of the first Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, a bigger, more fuel-efficient 747.
From picking up and lowering the forward fuselage section - which is as big as a two-story house - to the wing and center section to the aft fuselage, the team must make sure they don’t damage the surface. (Links take you to videos from earlier moves of each section.)
“Everything is always close quarters and close tolerances,” Hill says.
To lift the front and back sections into the final assembly area, technicians strap steep cables along the fuselage. The cables are tied to two cranes that are suspended from the factory ceiling.
“We center up and then we make sure the section is going to come up level,” explained mechanic Pam Fithian as she double-checks the cable straps on the forward fuselage so it’s properly balanced.
Once a section is lifted up, spotters on the ground use hand signals to communicate
with the two overhead crane operators, who coordinate among themselves via
The process is like a carefully-choreographed industrial dance with giant airplane section gliding through the Everett, Wash. factory.
“It’s kind of cool. We’re the first ones to fly it,” said crane operator Ken McKnight.
In a few hours, all three sections are joined to form an airplane that stretches 250 feet or 76 meters long.
“It’s the first time we get to see the airplane come together,” said Elizabeth Lund, deputy program manager for the 747-8 program. “It’s becoming a reality.”
The 747-8 Intercontinental is 250 feet 2 inches (76.3 meters) long, which is 18 feet 4 inches (5.6 meters) longer than the 747-400. The additional space will allow airlines to seat 51 more passengers for a total of 467 passengers (in a three-class configuration).
“This airplane is going to provide tremendous value, the best operating
costs of any
airplane in its class. We’re putting in the brand new interior. It’s going to be a wonderful
addition to the 747 family,” Lund said.
“I think it’s pretty amazing. We build good airplanes,” Pam Fithian said before correcting herself. “No, great airplanes.”