We had a great time today with my friend Keiko who traveled across from her home in the south eastern corner of Washington State to spend the day with us. She joined us for our day out to two of Seattle’s most outstanding sights – the Boeing Factory and the Chihuly Glass Sculpture Gardens.
I met Keiko on my last trip to Antarctica we sat at the same table for lunch while walking and kayaking through the Tierra Del Fuego National Park. We found out we were travelling on the same ship. We hit it off because of her Japanese heritage and our family’s interest in Japan.
This little lady is a pocket dynamo. She will walk your legs off, regail you with fascinating travel stories and invite you on her next trip to some other exotic location in the world. Since we met in Antarctica, she has been travelling / hiking in New Zealand, Bhutan, Ecuador and Cuba. At the end of the week, she is leaving for Vienna and Slovakia to hike in the nearby mountains.
The first place we voted today was the Boeing Factory. To come to Seattle and not see this, is a bit like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. The factory is simply enormous – large enough to create its own internal weather patterns. it is the largest building in the world by volume (13,385,378 m3) and it covers 399,480 m2 (98.3 acres). It is actually an assembly plant, taking components that are manufactured in many different parts of the world and assembling them into the planes we see everyday at the airport.
It has some amazing facts:
- It is like a small city, with its own fire department, security force, fully equipped medical clinic, shops, electrical substations and water treatment plant.
- It employs about 30,000 people and they work in three shifts around the clock.
- It is not heated or cooled. The internal temperature is regulated by two things, the weather outside and the light bulbs. If the factory is too warm, they open the factory doors and run fans to blow air into the factory. And if it gets too cold, they rely on the one million light bulbs above the production floor to provide heat.
- There are twenty six overhead cranes that run on a network of 64 kilometres of ceiling tracks throughout the factory. These ceiling cranes are used to lift and move airplane components and sections during the production process.
- There are 3.7 kilometers of pedestrian tunnels running below the factory. The tunnels are also utilised for operating the utilities such as water and electricity. They also come in handy during winter when getting around in the cold and snow can be a challenge.
- There are 1,300 bicycles and tricycles in the factory that are used by employees to get around.
- According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the mural on the six factory doors are the largest digital graphics in the world.
- Boeing actually has its own railway line running into the factory for the delivery of components.
We saw the production lines for the 777, 747 and 787 aircraft. This year, the factory will build one new Boeing 787 carbon-fibre Dreamliner every three days. They are built on a production line that moves about 10 cm every hour. After completion, every plane is taken to another building on the other side of the site to be painted. During assembly, the planes are covered in a thin green vinyl film. This protects the aircraft’s surface from damage. Even the scratch from a dropped screwdriver could provide a source for later corrosion. Before delivery, each plane goes through a four hour test flight (including engine shutdowns and restarts) before being handed over to the customer. Prices are obviously negotiated but the list price of a new 747-8 series is $374 million.
You are not allowed to take cameras into the plant, so I had to find some online images to show what we saw.
After the plant tour, Keiko shouted us to a delicious lunch in one of her favourite restaurants in Seattle – an asian fusion style restaurant with wonderful spices and flavours. Thanks, Keiko for a great choice!
In the afternoon, we went to the Chihuly Glass Sculpture Garden, located near the Space Needle. This exhibit which was opened in 2012 consists of three primary components – the Garden, the Glasshouse, and Interior Exhibits, They show off the work of Dale Chihuly – a famous glass sculptor. His works are considered unique in the field of blown glass because he moves it into the realm of large-scale sculpture. His chandeliers are huge and some bright and colourful sculptural pieces take up an entire room. They were simply stunning.
Just by the Space Needle is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This type of philanthropic organisation is virtually unknown in Australia. America has a justifiably proud history of philanthropy. This foundation is currently providing financing for many very worthwhile projects around the world. Two of the biggest are the fight against polio and malaria. They hope to have both completely eradicated within the next decade. This will change the world significantly. Their financials are staggering to me. The foundation has $57 billion in the bank (all donated by wealthy individuals). To maintain their tax free status, they have to give away 5% of this amount every year. That means they donate over $27 million each week to some form of charitable cause! Wow!
After seeing Keiko off on the monorail and then train to the airport, we head back to our hotel by taxi through the rather heavy late afternoon traffic.