Boeing Frontiers
November 2003
Volume 02, Issue 07
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Deep Roots Deep Pride

Boeing has been a fixture in the Wichita aerospace industry since 1929. Here’s what makes this site tick


Above: Two employees work on final panel closures for a B-52H modification in Wichita, Kan., where Boeing built 467 B-52 bombers between 1953 and 1962. Boeing Wichita has had a role in modernization and modification of the bomber for many years.
In September 2003, more than 200,000 people attended the Wichita Aviation Festival, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of powered flight. The anniversary is especially meaningful to many of the attendees because it would be hard to imagine what this city of 344,000 in central Kansas would be without this extraordinary invention, the airplane, and all that it made possible.

Wichita's aviation roots run deep. The foundation laid almost 80 years ago by the early aviation innovators and visionary leaders—among them Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna and Bill Lear—is still strong. And Boeing Wichita, which is one of the 21st century legacies of one of the founders, Stearman, continues to add yet more fascinating pages to the history books.

Deep Roots Deep PrideThe "big four" Wichita aerospace companies—Cessna, Raytheon Aircraft (formerly Beech), Bombardier Aerospace-Learjet and Boeing—today employ more than 30,000 workers in Kansas. Boeing Wichita, the largest private employer in the state, employs more than 12,500 and is a major factor in the local and state economies. Its payroll, at just under $1 billion in 2002, and the business it does with Kansas suppliers, $193 million last year, accounted for 17.3 percent of earnings generated in the Wichita economy. The health of the aviation business in Wichita has a significant effect on general economic conditions in the area.

Indeed, with a stake in high-potential future projects in both the commercial and defense businesses—along with a strong connection to the community—Boeing Wichita helps personify the transformation of the company into a broad-based global aerospace enterprise that's less vulnerable to economic cycles or downturns in any one business.

Boeing Wichita has evolved from a single plant that, when purchased by Boeing's parent company from Stearman Aircraft Co. in 1929, manufactured biplanes. Now, it's an expansive, modern facility that uses world-class technologies for commercial airplane production and military airplane development, modification and maintenance. The Wichita Development and Modification Center, part of Integrated Defense Systems Aerospace Support, is now modifying the first 767, to be delivered as a tanker to the Italian Air Force in 2005, and is prepared to modify up to 100 767s into tankers for the United States Air Force, pending congressional approval.

Deep Roots Deep PrideBoeing Commercial Airplanes Wichita Division is similarly prepared to take on a significant manufacturing and integration role for Boeing's newest commercial airplane, the proposed 7E7.

To compete for work on the 7E7, Boeing Wichita—which has historically participated in company commercial airplane programs as an internal supplier of large component assemblies—faced a new challenge. For this new airplane, Boeing wanted all potential global suppliers and partners on the program to provide their own funding for design, tooling, training and other development costs.

Although the Wichita Division was well-positioned to compete for work on the program with a trained and technically skilled work force and a modern facility, it lacked the means of independently raising capital for the program.

The need for a source for funding to be able to participate on the 7E7 program was recognized as critical not only to Boeing Wichita but to the city and the state. The need prompted what has been called one of the most innovative pieces of legislation ever passed in Kansas. In late March, with little time to spare before the end of the 2003 legislative session, a team was formed to develop funding concepts for state participation in the program.

Boeing Wichita Communications and State Relations organizations put together a comprehensive public education and communication plan, and Senate Bill 281 passed at the end of the 2003 Kansas legislative session. Known as The Kansas Economic Revitalization and Reinvestment Act, it will provide up to $500 million in bonds for Boeing Wichita to compete for participation in the 7E7 Program. The governor signed the bill on May 21.

Wichita at a glance
Thanks predominantly to its facility in Wichita, Boeing is the largest private employer in Kansas. Here's a quick look at the site's numbers.

Year joined Boeing: 1929
Employees: More than 12,500
Payroll, in 2002: About $1 billion
Supplies purchased in Kansas in 2002: $342.8 million
Key current products/programs supported:
Commercial Airplanes:

  • 737, 757 Fuselage
  • 747, 767, 777 Section 41
  • 737, 747, 767, 777 Struts
  • 737, 747, 757, 767, 777 Nacelle
  • Manufacturing Tooling

Integrated Defense Systems (Development & Modification):

  • Bomber Programs
  • Derivative & Tanker Upgrades Programs
  • Very Important Person/Special Aircraft Modification Programs
  • 767 Tanker Programs

In mid-June, Boeing Commercial Airplanes recognized BCA Wichita Division as a partner candidate to participate in designing and building portions of the 7E7. Today, a Boeing Wichita team is working on preliminary research and development for the future commercial jet. Boeing officials have not specified what components, systems or other services the site will provide for the aircraft.

"It is essential that BCA Wichita looks continuously to future programs," said Jeff Turner, vice president-general manager, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Wichita Division. "In today's global market, we compete with the world's best designers and manufacturers of aircraft structures and assemblies. So it isn't enough just to be good. We must show that we are competitive in quality and cost, and that we are world-class."

To develop and retain the expertise and processes necessary to be world-class, the division has focused over the past decade on the core competencies of designing and building fuselages, struts and nacelles, and tooling. "That approach is serving us well in several ways," Turner said. "In 2000, the Wichita Division's expertise in tooling was recognized when we were selected to be the company's strategic 'Center of Excellence' for new-tool fabrication."

Boeing Wichita composite research and production is also recognized around the world. In 2002, Boeing Commercial Aviation Services established a nacelles and composites service and overhaul center at BCA Wichita.

And during the past several years, the Kansas Award for Excellence has given many of the Wichita Division business units the highest-level rating. The statewide awards are judged using the globally recognized Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria.

The BCA Wichita workforce builds assemblies for every commercial Boeing airliner except the 717. Seventy-five percent of the 737, the best-selling jetliner in history, is built in Wichita factories. Employees in Plant II join the 737 forward and aft fuselage assemblies into one unit prior to shipment by rail to Renton, Wash.

Commercial airplane production, however, is only part of the picture in Wichita.

Deep Roots Deep PrideMany people think of military airplanes when they think of Boeing Wichita. More than 10,000 Kaydet biplane military trainers were built in the original Plant I between 1934 and 1945. More than 1,700 B-29s were produced here between 1941 and the end of World War II, when the plant employed nearly 30,000 people. Six hundred employees waged the wartime "Battle of Kansas" in March 1944 on the tarmac at Boeing Wichita and at the Army Air Corps training bases in Pratt, Great Bend, Walker and Salina, Kan. In that intense effort, they worked around the clock for 44 days, sometimes on makeshift scaffolds outdoors in bitterly cold and windy weather, to make critical engineering modifications to the B-29s that were needed to mount the bombing offensive against Japan in June of that year.

Today, the Wichita Development & Modification Center continues to modernize existing military products, including reengining and modifying the KC-135 tanker and performing upgrades on the B-52 bomber. The center's main areas of focus today are Bomber Programs, Derivative & Tanker Upgrades Programs, Very Important Person/Special Aircraft Modification Programs and 767 Tanker Programs.

Tom Stringer, site leader for the Wichita Development & Modification Center, said the Wichita IDS team's quality commitment has been its most durable trait. Last year, the center received the Kansas Award for Excellence highest rating, Level 3.

In October this year, the center was one of several IDS Aerospace Support sites to receive visits from Baldrige Award examiners—another step on the business-excellence path to which the WDMC is committed.

In all-employee meetings earlier this year, Stringer spoke about how seriously the center is committed to continuous improvement. "Quality and safety are key to everything we do. We have the tools, the procedures, the infrastructure, the connectivity to learn where the potential gaps are in our processes," he said, emphasizing that gaining insight into the business processes is a first step toward ensuring that continuous improvement is taking place.

The strong commitment to "execution," or performance, is vital to the success of many of the center's modification programs, Stringer said.

Deep Roots Deep Pride
Deep Roots Deep Pride
Some of the center's modification business is first-time or one-of-a-kind work, such as the modification of two 747s into U.S. presidential transports, known as Air Force One when the chief executive is aboard. And modification experts said the 767 Tanker Program and the U.S. Air Force Airborne Laser modifications being performed in Wichita represent two of the biggest, most complex aircraft modification projects ever undertaken anywhere.

Yet Boeing Wichita's standing in its community comes not only from the business it generates but also from the collective community spirit its employees express. The people of Boeing Wichita, through the Employees Community Fund and an array of volunteer programs including food, clothing and toy drives, have always given to support community needs.

The decline in commercial airplane and general aviation airplane sales following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States resulted in a major shock to the Wichita-area economy. Thousands of laid-off workers from the city's aircraft manufacturers needed support from the community's charitable agencies. After Boeing Wichita employment declined by 5,000 in 2002, it was feared that giving by Boeing Wichita employees would be reduced at the very time that the community needed them most.

Thankfully, however, employees proved those fears unfounded.

"Boeing employees have always been generous givers, but in the past couple of years, they have been especially sensitive to the growing needs in the community and have stepped forward time and again to help," said Debbie Gann, Boeing Wichita Public Affairs manager.

Gann pointed to the results of the 2003 Books & Backpacks drive as an example. Even though the size of the workforce has decreased, monetary donations to the drive were up 38 percent over 2002 totals. Donations of school supplies jumped 35 percent, and the number of backpacks donated by employees soared 60 percent.

More than 30 members of the Boeing leadership team in Wichita serve on the boards of community nonprofit organizations. Donations from Boeing and the Employees Community Fund make up more than a quarter of all giving to the local United Way.

The belief that no problem is too large to be tackled is also alive and well in a large Quonset hut-shaped hangar on the Flight Line at Boeing Wichita. There, a core group of 30 or so volunteers, supplemented at times by up to 300 others, is dedicated to a seemingly impossible task—restoring a Wichita-built B-29 Superfortress to airworthy status.

Many on this team are retired from Boeing and are spending large amounts of their free time renovating the historic aircraft, known as "Doc," which is thought to be the only restorable Superfortress left in the world. There is a sense that these people are working against long odds—there is always a need for parts, volunteers, and donations of any size. There is also a sense of urgency associated with the project, partly because the ranks of the men and women who built B-29s 60 years ago are slowly diminishing, and their expertise is critical to the success of the project.

But there is also unbounded optimism.

Max Parkhurst is typical of many of the restoration program volunteers. After a long career at Boeing and several years of retirement, he was drawn to the B-29 project. Now he concerns himself with 60-year-old wiring and electrical components—some being restored from the original, others being remanufactured. Parkhurst patiently immerses himself in the details he must derive from old drawings, manuals and photographs. When the airplane flies—in a year or so—it will be because of the dedication and ingenuity that so many dedicated volunteers, like Parkhust, applied to the project.

Aug. 15, 2004, will mark the 75th anniversary of the date that the Stearman Aircraft Company became a part of Boeing. At that time, Boeing Wichita aviation pioneers will be celebrated, along with the decades of progress made possible since that journey began.



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