Superlatives always impress my family, so they perked right up
when I told them we were going to visit the world’s largest
building by volume. Better yet, it’s the only place in North
America where the public can tour a commercial airline assembly
plant, whose walls boast the biggest digital image ever made.
Our destination was the Future of Flight Aviation Center and
Boeing Tour, and the hype didn’t let us down.
Thirty miles north of Seattle, the Boeing plant manufactures
many of the world’s airplanes. Curious travelers have toured it for
decades, but since the adjacent $23.5 million Future of Flight
Aviation Center opened to the public in December 2005, close to
200,000 people have visited the attraction.
“The addition of the museum has made a big impact on our tour
numbers,” said Future of Flight marketing director Sandy Ward.
“Since the airline industry is constantly changing and coming up
with new products, we’ll continue to refresh the visitor experience
by incorporating what’s new into the museum, making it good for
The 73,000-square-foot museum is a lofty light-filled space
featuring hands-on exhibits, videos, graphics and interactive
stations. My daughter made a beeline for the design-your-own-plane
kiosks, customizing an aircraft from its wingspan and fuel capacity
to its logo and color. After testing the plane digitally, we picked
up a souvenir print of her creation in the gift shop.
Wearing 3-D glasses, we watched a movie about the making of a
plane, then climbed into a real cockpit and pretended we were
pilots. Another station explored the world of in-flight
entertainment, with games, movies, music and information at our
fingertips. For an extra fee, clients can climb aboard the XJ5
Flight Simulator, a rocking and rolling virtual ride that makes
them feel like they’re soaring at supersonic speeds like a top
As passengers, clients easily lose sight of an airplane’s size.
In the museum, however, they can walk up to various components of a
carrier and get a sense of its magnitude. We marveled over the
sheer mass of a real 747 tail, four stories tall, and came face to
face with one of the world’s largest jet engines, 14,700 pounds and
16 feet long.
Clearly, Boeing is excited about its newest product, the 787
Dreamliner, which promises to revolutionize air travel when it
enters service in 2008. We got a sneak preview of the 787’s
interior a life-size model where we learned that the plane provides
passengers with larger windows and a smoother ride. Officials call
it a green machine, because it enjoys 20 percent more fuel
efficiency while producing 20 percent fewer emissions. Thanks to
the strength of the 787’s composite materials, Boeing can set its
cabin pressure to a lower altitude, which increases the humidity
during flight and reduces passenger jet lag.
When it came time for our tour of the Boeing factory, we watched
a fast-motion movie that whisked us through the five-month airplane
construction process in about five minutes. Next, a bus shuttled us
over to the plant, where we walked through a long tunnel and rode
an elevator up to catwalks high above the assembly floor. Our guide
pointed out the different stations through which a plane goes
during construction, and showed us the crane system 90 feet above
the floor, used for moving wings and fuselages.
“Agents and their clients rely so heavily on air travel, so it’s
only natural that they’d want to learn more about the airplanes
they fly in,” said Ward. “This is the place where those planes were
I’ve driven by the Boeing factory many times, but our vantage
point on the indoor catwalk gave me a new appreciation for the
building’s size, and for the massive job that takes place inside of
it. Under one roof, its 98.3 acres could hold all of Disneyland and
12 acres of parking to boot. Employees get from one place to
another on bicycles and golf carts. Each hangar door measures
nearly the size of a football field. Since the superlatives don’t
begin to do it justice, your clients will just have to see it in
person to believe it.
Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour
Open daily from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., with tours on the hour from
9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Rates are $15 per adult, $8 per child ages 6-15 and free for kids
under 6. Children must stand at least 4 feet tall to go on the
By calling the attraction or visiting its Web site, travel agents
can establish a Future of Flight account that lets them pre-sell
the attraction and print out clients’ tickets before the
Commission: 8-10 percent