'Incredible' Everett site turns 50 years young

Boeing's largest manufacturing site reaches half-century of gaining altitude

May 22, 2017 in Our Commitment

In May 1967, Boeing employees moved into a new factory built beside Paine Field near Everett, Wash. Thirteen months later, the group that became known in aerospace legend as “The Incredibles” rolled out the 747.

A half-century later, approximately 40,000 employees, customers and suppliers visit Boeing’s largest manufacturing site daily. The hub of widebody factories is home to the 747-8, 767, 777, 787 Dreamliner, KC-46 tanker and several derivative programs.

Building renovations and new construction tell a tale of continuous improvement and transformation — including the 1.3 million-square-foot Composite Wing Center — as today’s production system prepares for the 777X.

As the company this month commemorates 50 years of Team Everett’s contributions, those changes reflect Boeing’s continued investment in the region, company leaders say. Several employees who joined the Everett site in the 1960s added their unique perspectives about the past and future.

“The 777X represents a tremendous commitment, and 787 and our freighters are well-positioned — customers love them,” said Bill Rietkirk, a manager on the 767 tanker engine program who joined Boeing right out of college in 1966. He believes the site’s future is bright.

“If we can keep the other programs going, it looks like the company will be building planes in Everett for quite some time,” he said.

Cognizant of the “incredible” legacy they inherited, employees reflected on those first years at the site.

“Boeing was bringing a lot of people into the company,” Patricia Walters, a technical designer on the 767 program, recalled of the ramp up to support the 747. “It also seemed that we were always adding onto the factory and making the buildings bigger to accommodate the newest airplanes.”

Woo Lee, who works on the 747 program, was employed at Boeing’s site in Renton, Wash., in 1966 when the company announced plans to build the Everett site.

“I volunteered and got a job doing operational planning for 747 scheduling and have been here ever since,” he said, calling first flights and VIP visits the highlights of his time in Everett.

“It is always exciting to see dignitaries and U.S. presidents like Bill Clinton come to Boeing,” Lee said. “Naturally we were very proud of our products and always trying to sneak a peek to see what they were doing.”

Other dignitaries who have toured and spoken to crowds at the site in recent years include former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama; former U.S. Vice President Al Gore; China President Xi Jinping; and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

You can go see the factory yourself by booking a tour at the Future of Flight here:

Boeing’s Current Market Outlook forecasts that 9,100 new widebody airplanes will be needed over the next two decades — a $2.8 trillion opportunity. Employees and leaders said the 777X and other widebody programs, coupled with a sharp focus on quality and affordability, will help the company compete — ensuring the likelihood of Everett hosting more first flights and VIP visits.

By Terrance Scott and Jordan Longacre