787’s technology draws admiration from the president

  • By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
  • Friday, February 17, 2012 9:46pm

EVERETT — President Barack Obama got the ultimate VIP tour of the Boeing Co.’s 787 production line at Paine Field.

And Boeing got the ultimate praise during his Feb. 17 visit.

When a worker showed Obama how to dim the cabin windows of a United Airlines 787 with the push of a button, the president called journalists’ attention to it.

“This is cool,” he said. “Look at that. The thing goes dark on its own. Pretty spiffy.”

Watching it again, Obama called the technology “remarkable.”

Flanked by Boeing executives, the president got an close look at how company workers assemble the mostly composite 787, which Obama later called “the plane of the future.”

“And it looks cool,” Obama said during a speech to workers and dignitaries after the production-line tour.

The exciting hour began when the president arrived just before 11 a.m. in another cool plane, Air Force One, a Boeing 747-200 built in Everett. After greeting politicians at the bottom of the stairs on the Paine Field tarmac, Obama was whisked by motorcade to Boeing’s factory, the biggest building by volume in the world, a short distance away. The motorcade came through a side door off the 787 line, near the back of the factory.

The president was greeted by Boeing CEO Jim McNerney and Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Also in the mix were Machinist leaders, including Tom Buffenbarger, president of the international union, and Tom Wroblewski, president of local District 751.

“It was nice to be able to talk with him,” Wroblewski said in a later interview.

Obama complimented union and company leaders on their ability to work together, Wroblewski said. The Machinists and Boeing inked a new four-year labor contract in late 2011, nearly a year before the previous agreement was to expire. The deal guarantees Boeing will build the new 737 MAX in Renton and involved the union dropping a labor complaint that had drawn national attention.

“We talked about the assembly line and the amount of jobs here,” Wroblewski said.

Obama, with McNerney on one side and Albaugh on the other, then walked the production line, starting with the 58th Dreamliner in production — a 787 scheduled to go to Qatar Airways. Four employees waited to talk to the president in front of the wing.

After shaking hands with the president, one employee, identified later as Tamara McCord Smith, told Obama, “We’ve got beautiful airplanes.”

During Obama’s tour, noise in the factory was minimal. Automated riveting machines used on the 777 line next door were silenced. Production was at a standstill. Employees gathered on the balcony at the far end of the 777 bay trying to get a glimpse of the president.

As Obama proceeded down the factory floor, McNerney and Albaugh described how the 787’s fuselage comes together. The Dreamliner’s large sections are built elsewhere, in Kansas and South Carolina, in Italy and Japan.

At the next airplane, No. 57, which is also bound for Qatar, more workers waited to talk with the president. The aircraft’s landing gear and engines were sitting nearby, awaiting installation.

Obama asked each worker his or her name and how long they’ve been working at Boeing. One employee has worked at Boeing for 16 years, another 31. Another of the group, David Eddines, a seven-year Boeing employee, talked with journalists after the president’s speech had concluded. Eddines, who could be mistaken for a 787 sales rep based on his enthusiasm for the Dreamliner, said Obama’s calm demeanor put him at ease.

That demeanor was apparent later, when Obama met employees inside the United 787. That Dreamliner would serve as a backdrop for the president’s speech.

Obama met Boeing worker Nga Tran, who had nervously shuffled back and forth as she waited for the president to finish a look at the 787’s cockpit. Tran shook the president’s hand the entire time she explained her job, in Boeing’s quality department.

“You’re doing a great job, I can tell,” Obama told her.

Scott Fancher, vice president of the 787 program, explained the airplane’s advanced systems to the president.

The “software on the airplane actually diagnoses what’s wrong with it,” Fancher told Obama.

After he played with the dimming windows, the Dreamliner’s bin storage also got presidential praise.

“Bin space is pretty good,” Obama said, opening a bin. “I think I can fit my bag in here.”

A few minutes later, after descending a red-carpeted stairway outside the 787, the president delivered his speech, lauding Boeing and workers for the “thousands of hours of brainpower and manpower — and womanpower” it took to deliver the first Dreamliner.

“You said you would do it, and you did,” Obama said, paraphrasing a Boeing worker. “That’s the spirit we need right now.”

Editor’s note: Herald business reporter Michelle Dunlop was the pool reporter for President Barack Obama’s tour of the Everett Boeing factory at Paine Field, prior to his speech.