Boeing Frontiers
July 2003
Volume 02, Issue 03
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools

Where the winds come sweeping by the planes

Boeing Tulsa is more than OK; it sets the standard


John SnyderWhat comes to mind when you think of Oklahoma? Dust bowl, land rush, Will Rogers, cowboys, Indians, buffalo, football, oil? Granted, all those things could mean Oklahoma to you, but you need to add The Boeing Company and Tulsa to complete the list.

Today, Boeing Tulsa produces a long list of parts for Boeing products: horizontal stabilizers, vertical fins, slats, flaps, forward trailing and leading edges for the 737 commercial jet; fixed leading-edge components and Section 44 for the 747; slats for the 757; sheet metal parts for the 737, 747, 757 and 767; slats and floor beams for the 777; radome spares for the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft; and B-52 bomber and KC-135 tanker spares.

And forget the dust bowl image: In 2002, Boeing Tulsa passed its latest Aircraft Certification Systems Evaluation Program audit and became certified to the AS9100 and ISO 9001 quality management system standard. The Tulsa facility is among the first in Boeing Commercial Airplanes to achieve approval to this standard.

Located in northeast Oklahoma, Boeing Tulsa is adjacent to the Tulsa airport. The site occupies 1.6 million square feet of factory and office space. It includes two campuses with nine buildings and employs approximately 1,000 people.

Boeing bought the Tulsa facility from Rockwell International in December 1996, renaming it Boeing North American. In January 2000 it became The Boeing Company, Tulsa Facility.

Originating as North American Aviation, Boeing Tulsa opened its doors in April 1962 with 250 employees. By June, the company was working on the Air Force's Hound Dog, a cruise missile that could be launched against ground targets from B-52 bombers.

"We then began work on the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile and specialized aero structures as well and continued this work through most of 1963, when our workforce came near the 1,000 mark," said Don Carlisle, Tulsa facility managing director. "We also received what became the first of many assignments for the lunar landing [program] in November 1963."

Just as the world was beginning its fascination with space in the 1960s, North American Aviation was becoming heavily involved in the U.S. Space program.

"When I hired on at North American Aviation in November 1962, we were in a race to be first to land a man on the moon," said Bill Snoddy, a Materials and Processes engineer and one of five 40-plus-year employees still working at Boeing Tulsa.

J.D. StammerNorth American Aviation was NASA's prime contractor for the Apollo spacecraft, which included the Command Module that was home to the crew of three astronauts. Tulsa was responsible for manufacturing the Spacecraft Lunar Adapter, a 28-foot cone that housed the Lunar Excursion Module, and also built the main fuselage structure for the Service Module, which carried the fuel and engine for the final maneuvers to reach the moon and the boosting power to return home.

"A year after the SLA assignment, we were awarded the contract to build the structure for the instrumentation unit, a 3-by-21.7-foot section that fit between the boosters and spacecraft sections," Carlisle said. "During this time, we also began work on six major structural sections for the second stage of the Saturn Rocket."

In 1966, North American Aviation began its relationship with Boeing with a contract to manufacture bonded honeycomb panels for helicopters made by Boeing Vertol. A contract to build the fixed-wing leading edges for the 747 followed. The companies expanded the contract in early 1967 to include a mid-fuselage section.

"We are still building 747 parts," Carlisle said. "It is the longest-running contract at Tulsa and one that we are all proud of."

Manufacturing melting pot

In 1967, North American Aviation and the Rockwell Standard Corporation of Pittsburgh, merged and became known as Rockwell International.

"We began the 1970s by showing the best performance in terms of sales, profit and return on investment of any facility within Rockwell," Carlisle said.

The new company also received a large contract for manufacturing parts for the nation's supersonic transport, to be built by Boeing.

"Unfortunately, Congress canceled this project, so we began building doors and ground-support equipment for NASA on the Space Shuttle and parts for the B-1A for the U.S. Air Force instead," Carlisle said.

Other major assignments in the 1970s for Rockwell International included work on the XV-15, an experimental tilt-rotor aircraft built by Bell Helicopter under a joint NASA-Army research contract, and large cargo doors for the YC-14 cargo plane that Boeing proposed to the Air Force. Rockwell also made sound-absorbing liners for commercial Pratt & Whitney jet engines, wing slats for the McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II fighter, cables for the Air Force Minuteman missile, components for the Tomahawk submarine-launched cruise missile and structures for Sikorsky CH-53E helicopters.

"As if this wasn't enough, before this tremendously busy decade ended we signed a contract with Boeing in an interim venture to build fuselage sections for the first 17 757s," Carlisle said.

Super-sized support

Employment numbers in the 1980s exceeded 2,100, and the site in Tulsa began supporting the B-1B, building all or portions of the weapons bay doors, wing flaps, slats and stabilizers, fuselage component assemblies, weapon launchers, and fiberglass liners for the bomber's engine nacelles.

"Parts made in Tulsa accounted for 14.5 tons, or 16 percent of each bomber made," Carlisle said. "On this program we produced over 8,000 pounds of advanced composite structures each week."

Joe MetzelNot resting on its laurels, Boeing Tulsa continued to support myriad government, space and defense contracts such as the Peacekeeper ICBM and components for Global Positioning Satellites that encircle the Earth.

"In 1985, we received the Defense Department's Quality Excellence Award, the highest recognition that can be given a contractor by the Department of Defense, and won the U.S. Air Force Contract Management Division Manufacturing Productivity Award in 1987 for performance on the B-1B program," Carlisle said.

The 1990s saw an increased involvement in support to Boeing Commercial Airplanes, when in 1991 Boeing awarded Rockwell contracts to provide wing leading- edge slats and composite floor beams for the 777, making Rockwell one of only three U.S. firms to win contracts for major systems and structures on the program.

Performance on the 747 and 777 programs earned the Tulsa enterprise the Boeing Commercial Airplanes President's Award for Excellence in 1991 and 1993. The next year it won contracts for wing slats and outboard flaps for the new Next-Generation 737 airplane family and later began producing fixed leading-edge kits for the same program. Boeing added a contract to provide fixed trailing-edge kits in May 1998.

"By the end of the 1990s, Rockwell had supported nearly every major commercial airplane program at Boeing," Carlisle said. "And the military support continued as well."

Boeing Tulsa participated as a subcontractor on a variety of government and military programs during the 1990s, including the AC-130U Gunship, X-31 vectored-thrust aircraft and the National Aerospace Plane. It provided V-22 Osprey tooling support and the liquid hydrogen tanks and aft thrust structure for the X-33 space plane. The facility also performed composite wing design and assembly for the Tier II Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle under contract from Teledyne Ryan. Tulsa fabricated orbital replacement units, integrated equipment assemblies and connecting structure for the International Space Station electrical power and distribution systems.

"The Space Station work continued into 2001," Carlisle said. "And we supported major Boeing military programs such as the Joint Strike Fighter prototypes, a B-52 tail fairings manufacturing development project and production of F/A-18 electromagnetic isotope separation shields.

"There is no doubt that, beginning in 1962 and continuing today, the hard work and dedication of thousands of Tulsa employees has been the backbone of our 40-plus years of excellence and success in the aerospace business," Carlisle said. "We continue the tradition of building our products with dedication, precision, talent, skill and enthusiasm as the local representative of the best aerospace company in the world."


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