787 begins with an end

FREDERICKSON – The Boeing Co. on Wednesday unveiled its first completed 787 vertical tail fin – the piece of the plane that will help guide the company’s 787 Dreamliner.

The fin, bound for Boeing’s Everett factory, will steer the Dreamliner program, said Steve Westby, vice president of manufacturing and quality for the 787 program, during a rollout ceremony at Boeing’s fabrication site in Frederickson, south of Tacoma.

As the largest piece of the Dreamliner built internally by Boeing in the Puget Sound area, the fin represents many of the company’s changes to its new jet. And, as emphasized by Boeing officials, the fabrication team met its schedule for the fin, guiding the 787 toward an on-time first delivery in 2008.

“Our customers have bought this plane based on a promise,” Westby said

Part of that promise was for Boeing to deliver its new plane on time. The point became even more important over the last year as Boeing’s rival Airbus failed to meet the promised delivery dates for its A380 superjumbo jet.

“The 787 has been wildly successful in the marketplace,” Westby said.

Boeing has logged about 475 orders and commitments for its 787, which is scheduled to take its first flight in August or September.

Like the 787 itself, the vertical fin is made of mostly composite material – material meant to make the plane strong and light. Boeing also increased its use of composites in an effort to make the Dreamliner more fuel-efficient than jets of a similar size.

For the 787 vertical fin, the Composite Manufacturing Center crew in Frederickson relied on its previous experience building the 777’s fin and horizontal stabilizers, said Pat McKenna, vice president of Boeing Fabrication.

For the Composite Manufacturing Center team, he said, the completion of the first 787 vertical fin represents all phases of a journey: beginning, middle and end.

When the internal Boeing unit threw its hat in fray to supply the vertical tail fin a few years ago, it did so knowing this project would be different. The center took responsibility not just for assembling the tail fin but also for designing it and managing other suppliers across the globe.

China’s Shenyang Aircraft Corp. produces the fin’s leading edge, while Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Group, also based in China, builds the 787’s tail rudder. The Center depends on nearby Toray Industries to supply the composite material.

In proving that it can meet those expectations, the first vertical fin marks a new path for the center, McKenna said.

But the crew is on a well-established route when it comes to lean manufacturing, McKenna said. The Center began using lean techniques – those meant to decrease waste and time in the manufacturing process – in 1996, resulting in a cost reduction of more than 62 percent over the past 11 years. Boeing has implemented moving production lines as one lean tactic. That part of the journey, McKenna said, will never end.

Clearly, the composite center has reached the end of a journey in producing the actual first fin. The tail fins will be transported by truck to Boeing’s Everett factory.

For the 787, Boeing will rely on suppliers around the globe to produce the major pieces that will be ferried to Everett on the company’s Dreamlifter fleet of converted 747 cargo jets. Everett workers will be responsible for the final assembly of the Dreamliner. Boeing anticipates rolling out the first assembled 787 this summer.

“This is the beginning of what we all hope is the longest run of any commercial plane,” McKenna said.

Reporter Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3454 or mdunlop@heraldnet.com.

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