Seeing Boeing’s world

You’ll love Italy, they said. The food, the people, the history, the romance – and the shoes. Yeah, all the women are big on the shoes.

And Japan is nice, they added. But it’s better in the spring, when all the cherry trees are in bloom. Still, the “Iron Chef” fans say, you ought to be able to get some great sushi and some first-rate yakisoba.

Oh, and you’re going to South Carolina, too? That one stumps people, except for a colleague who pored over some pictures from there and reported back to me. “Charleston,” she said, “looks beautiful.”

All in all, it has the makings of an unforgettable summer vacation, a globe-spanning journey with stops in the charming and genteel Old South, the warm and sunny Mediterranean and the exotic Far East.

The sights will be fun. But most importantly, the trip is a chance to look at all the world’s newest airplane factories, on three continents, in one week.

Yup, that’s right. I’m going to Japan to tour airplane factories. Italy and South Carolina, too.

Sadly, there’s nothing amiss with my vacation planning. I’m leaving Everett this morning on a round-the-world work trip.

It’s a tour Boeing has organized to help its key 787 suppliers show off to a dozen or so reporters like me the new factories they’ve built, where they’ll assemble their sections of the Dreamliner.

Jules Vern went around the world in 80 days, but we’re going to do it in about 160 hours.

On Monday in suburban Charleston, S.C., we’ll visit brand-new factories – they opened last week – belonging to Vought Aircraft Industries and Italian manufacturer Alenia. They’ve formed a joint venture to build large sections of the 787 fuselage.

On Tuesday, we’ll arrive in Grottaglie, a small city in the heel of Italy’s boot where Alenia is building more 787 components.

From there we’ll fly on to Nagoya, Japan, where in just two weeks, Kawasaki Heavy Industries will start building the fuselage section and wing components that it will supply for the very first Dreamliner, which will be assembled here in Everett next year. We’ll also check in on Mitsubishi and Fuji, other 787 suppliers.

And then we’ll fly home. We’ll leave Japan on Friday afternoon, and in one of those fun time zone tricks, we’ll arrive back at Paine Field on Friday morning.

The Dreamliner is an all-new airplane being built in an all-new way, and Boeing organized this tour to explain that, said Yvonne Leach, who leads the public relations team for the 787 here in Everett.

“We thought it would be a point in time to take you into the factories, before they were up and running,” she said. “It’s perfect timing in terms of getting you guys in, showing you the factories and telling the story.”

And what is that story? Boeing wants to explain to us – to you – why it chose to outsource large pieces of the 787, and to turn over detailed design work that it use to do in-house.

“A lot of people have the impression that we’re just divvying up the work and hoping that plane comes together,” Leach said, “that we’re just giving it out because it’s a cheaper way to do it, and that’s just not true.”

This world tour is the best way to explain how and why the decisions were made and the process will work, she said. “There’s no other way to do it than to go out there and really do it.”

For the record, Boeing is supplying the transportation (in an antiquated 707 no less) and The Herald is picking up the cost of my hotels, meals and other expenses.

For 35 cents, you all are welcome to come along. For the next week, assuming I’ve absorbed enough from my crash course on using a Macintosh, and that I can figure out which pieces of my new World Travel Adapter Kit plug in where, I’ll be playing foreign correspondent. I’ll file updates and send photos as often as I can, both for the paper and for my Web log, which you can find at www.heraldnet.com/ blogaerospace.

And when I get back in the office, Friday afternoon, I’ll start pulling my notes together for a more in-depth look at the people and the places and the issues I learn about.

At least that’s what I’m telling my boss. Between you and me, after hitting three continents in six days, and enduring a 13-hour flight home across the Pacific, I’m going to need a good long nap before I start writing this particular essay on “What I Did for My Summer Vacation.”

Three continents in six days. Dude, I gotta get me a new travel agent.

Coming Monday: Boeing gives us a briefing, then we fly to South Carolina.

Reporter Bryan Corliss: 425-339-3454 or corliss@heraldnet.com.

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