Touring Boeing’s 737 Factory in Renton

After SilkAir’s delivery ceremony for the airline’s first new 737-800 and the dinner at the Museum of Flight that evening, you’d think I’d be all geeked-out. You’d be wrong. I was extremely excited for what happened the following day, a tour of Boeing’s 737 factory in Renton.

[Disclosure: This trip was paid for by SilkAir]

This plant has a long and storied history dating back to World War II. All of Boeing’s narrowbody jets were built here, though today it’s only the 737 that remains in production.

Welcome to the Boeing 737 Renton Factory

The factory itself has three long cores with offices, hallways, restaurants, etc. One is on each side of the building and there’s one down the middle. In between those are two large production floors with big doors on either end leading outside. Today, there is one production line on each side, but that will be changing as production ramps up.

While this is a factory, these airplanes aren’t built from scratch in here. The fuselage is built in Kansas and shipped by rail. Wing work is done at the plant but it’s increasingly being moved into another building to make room for more final assembly. When all the pieces are ready, each airplane arrives at the front door to the final assembly building from where it will take 10 days to complete.

When the airplanes first come in, they are first put into an area where they are outfitted with a variety of electrical and mechanical systems. Then they get the wings and other appendages attached.

Random Airplane Parts

Above, you can see some random rudders lying on the ground, freshly painted and ready to go on to an airplane. (I’ll explain why that happens in the order it does later.) In the back, you can see a new American Airlines 737 tail coming together. To the left is a United 737 in progress.

Once the big parts are put together, the airplane is put on a slowly-moving assembly line (pioneered on the 717 in Long Beach, I believe) where work is done daily until the aircraft reaches the factory exit door completed.

SilkAir 737 Number Two

When we were there, we were taken directly to SilkAir’s second 737-800 already in production. In the photo above, you see the Transavia aircraft in the foreground with the SilkAir plane beyond. That empty space behind Transavia? We were there in the final days of their 38 aircraft per month production schedule. They were just ramping up to 42, and the line was set for that. But there were a couple of blanks in there until the ramp-up was completed.

Tail of SilkAir 737 Number 2

You can see on the rudder that the SilkAir logo has been painted but the rest of the aircraft is green. What’s up with that? Apparently the control surfaces are so sensitive that they need to paint them in advance and specifically test and balance them to make sure paint was applied evenly so it won’t impact the aircraft’s flying ability. The rest of the airplane will be painted after it leaves the factory.

Looking Under the Hood

If you’ve ever wondered what’s under a nosecone, you now know. Or not. They actually put weather radar equipment in there.

A Unique Side View

We walked up to the airplane and got an up close view of the insane number of rivets bringing the metal frame together. Sadly, this is a view we won’t see forever now that composites are being used more frequently.

Looking Down the 737

On the inside, it may look far from done but we’re actually only 3 days away from it rolling out of the factory here. The floor and side panels are in. Up top, you can see the black overhead bin casings. There are bundles running through the ceiling carrying a silly amount of wiring throughout the airplane.

Working on the Wing

Looking out the emergency exit, or where the exit should be, they’re still working on the wing.

As mentioned, in just three days the airplane will be on its way out of the factory. It will still need to be painted, and flight tested before it’s eventually delivered to the airline.

The idea that Boeing cranks out 42 of these per month is mind-boggling. But it’s going to grow even more. They’ve been clearing space on the floor so that they can start a third line on one side. That line will start building the 737 MAX in 2017. It will bring production levels up to 47 per month with the ability to go higher if needed. The old lines will begin making more and more MAXs as demand for the current NG versions dry up.

Thanks to Boeing for giving an excellent, close-up tour.


17 Responses to Touring Boeing’s 737 Factory in Renton

  1. CP says:

    I love that you can tell the carrier just by the control surface that’s been painted. 2nd picture, top left: United. 2nd picture, middle: American (new livery). Fun!

  2. A says:

    Pretty cool but I’d like to see the big ones get built up in Everett.

  3. That’s cool that they have the winglets pre-painted

  4. Andrew says:

    I think my favorite thing about Renton is the short runway that dead ends into Lake Washington.

  5. David SF eastbay says:

    amazing how big the inside of a 737 looks when it’s empty

  6. Arubaman says:

    The 737 will go down as the DC-3 of the Jet Age! Or, perhaps even truer, the DC-3 will go down as the 737 of the Prop Age!……At any rate, what a marvel of ingenuity, engineering, technology and vision! I, for one, think the men and women who fly these amazing machines should be compensated FAR greater than they are.

  7. R says:

    The difference between the narrowbody tour of the Renton plant and the widebody tour of the Everett plant is that the Everett tours are public. You can’t get into Renton without an invite from Boeing. I was lucky enough to tour the narrowbody plant about 10 years ago, when they were still finishing the last 2 or 3 757s. I believe the first aircraft built there was the B-29.

  8. Alan Green says:

    Whee! Thankyou for sharing!

  9. Not all of Boeing’s narrowbody jets were built in Renton.. The 737 is the exception to that. The early built 737s were put together at Boeing Field: http://www.seattlepi.com/default/article/Boeing-delivers-its-5-000th-737-1195654.php

  10. Vanessa K says:

    Look at all that legroom!

  11. dotti cahill says:

    nice tour thanks

  12. The Dude says:

    No doubt about it, the 737 is my favorite jet. I’ve ridden on everything from the 200 series with the stovepipe JT8Ds to the latest iterations. I still love the old -200 series; when those old turbojets would wind up, you knew you were going somewhere… I read somewhere that every 60 seconds, a 737 either takes off or lands somewhere on this planet of ours. That’s just cool…

  13. Nic H says:

    A few years ago I had the opportunity to take a special factory floor tour of the Everett facility, and I was able to crawl around a 787 to see all the parts I had helped design. This was definitely not the public tour. This was arranged through my work contacts.

  14. Eileen says:

    Great article and pics Cranky. I too was at AGF14 and the two tours were the highlight! I’m still seeing planes in my dreams ;)

Join the Conversation