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The Boeing Factory Tour: Watch Massive Jetliners Get Built

The Boeing Factory Tour is inspiring, a must-see, and the only public tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America.
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Paine Field: The Boeing Factory Tour, Warbirds, and More!

Recently, we covered Tacoma and its fabulous auto museum, just south of Seattle. Seattle itself is one of America’s most dynamic cities, and flying into SeaTac International Airport can be a blast. There’s nothing like landing next to a DC-10 on the parallel runway, and then have ground hold him short of the taxiway so you can amble on in front of him, as happened to us some years ago. It’s impressive looking up at a giant jet like that from the cockpit of a small plane. But if you really really want to be impressed, point your plane to Snohomish County Airport (Paine Field), just 25 miles to the north. At the north end of Paine Field’s runway, you’ll see a big building—a really big building. In fact, it’s the largest building in the world, by volume—472,000,000 cubic feet! It’s where the biggest Boeings are born—747 and 777 jumbo jets and 787 Dreamliners. Taking in the Boeing factory tour and super-sized assembly line will knock your socks off.

And as if that weren’t enough, Paine Field is also home to dozens of the world’s rarest and most authentically restored warbirds. See these rare birds close-up and meet some of the remarkable veterans who flew or restored them. Paine Field is an airplane lover’s dream come true.

Boeing jetliners being assembled as part of the Boeing factory tour at Paine Field.

The Boeing Factory Tour is inspiring, a must-see, and the only public tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America. What a testament to American ingenuity! You’ll start your tour in the 240-seat Boeing Theater with a short film and then board a bus to the assembly plant. Inside the giant building, you’ll see airliners in various stages of assembly, manufacture, and flight testing for customers from around the world. The scale and complexity of the operation is mind-boggling—it’s like a city inside. The tour lasts about 90 minutes.

The 73,000 square-foot Future of Flight Aviation Center features interactive displays, including one where you can design your own aircraft. Others show how passenger jets have evolved from the Boeing 707 to the 787. Try the XJ5 simulator, or sit in the cockpit of a 727 and compare it with the 787’s flight deck. Still more displays features engines, future concepts, and more. Don’t forget to go out onto the Strato Deck, which offers sweeping views of Paine Field as well as the Cascade Mountains from Mount Baker to Mount Rainier. You might also see one of four giant “Dreamlifter” aircraft parked outside. These massive, specially-modified jets are used to airlift large portions of the Boeing 787 Dreamliners, such as the wings, that are manufactured around the world, back to Everett for final assembly. There’s also a café and two gift shops. No personal items such as cameras, backpacks, purses, or cell phones are allowed on the tour, but lockers are available for a small fee.

Visitors at the Future of Flight museum at Paine Field.

The Future of Flight is open daily 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM; The Boeing Factory Tour begins on the hour, 9 AM – 3 PM. Admission rates including the Boeing factory tour are $9 – $20 (you must be 4 ft. or taller for the tour). To avoid being disappointed, I recommend advance tickets with guaranteed Boeing factory tour times, available by phone Mon – Fri 9 AM – 5 PM, weekends 10 AM – 2 PM, or online. Early morning weekdays are the least crowded times; pick the 9 AM tour and you’ll be done before noon. Address: 8415 Paine Field Blvd, 425-438-8100 or 800-464-1476

The Flying Heritage Collection

In 1998, Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame) began assembling an amazing array of important historic aircraft, now called the Flying Heritage Collection. These amazing aircraft are on display at their 51,000 square foot facility at the southeast corner of the field. A nearly unlimited budget means these planes are absolutely authentic; many are airworthy and are flown occasionally. The Burt Rutan-designed Scaled Composites White Knight, the launch platform and pilot training vehicle for the SpaceShipOne manned suborbital spacecraft, is on display. The 1934 Fieseler Fi-15b-C2 “Storch” has a stall speed of 27 mph and can take off in the length of its wings. The Polikarpov Po-2 LNB was built in Russia and flown at night by the first female combat pilots, who cut their engines as they flew low across enemy lines and peppered the German soldiers before turning back and restarting. If they crashed into enemy territory and survived, they shot themselves to avoid capture. After 50 years, their story has only recently come out. The V-1 rocket gave me chills, thinking of 9,000 of them raining down on London. The P-51D saw combat over Germany and was assigned to Lt. Harrison B. “Bud” Tordoff, who was reunited with his aircraft here in 2003. You’ll see an ultra-rare Navy Hellcat and the only flying Curtiss P-40C “Tomahawk” with the Flying Tigers paint job that saw combat (ask to see the bullet hole that took it down). Still, they’re all only so much metal without the heroes who flew in them, and if you are very lucky, you might meet one of those men. Art Unruh, awarded the Silver Star, escorted us and revealed each plane’s individual history while using his expertise to thoroughly explain its place in the larger context of wartime.

Aircraft are flown from May to September. Admission is $10 – $14, open daily 10 AM – 5 PM (Memorial Day – Labor Day), Tue – Sun 10 AM – 5 PM (rest of the year) Tours by appointment only, Fri – Sat 10 AM – Noon & 2 – 4 PM, $20, seniors and veterans $16, (360) 435-2172, www.flyingheritage.com

The Museum of Flight Aircraft Restoration Center

The Museum of Flight Aircraft Restoration Center is on the east side of the field, just north of the main entrance. It occupies two hangars and ramp area, with many unique aircraft on display. Some of the aircraft are airworthy and are flown regularly. Bill Wilkens showed us a de Havilland Comet 4 jet airliner (the first jetliner) currently being restored. The only flyable Boeing 247 in existence is here, and a combat-flown Grumman 4F Wildcat is being restored from the original drawings. About 50 volunteers work on these airplanes, share their treasure trove of knowledge, and clearly enjoy this as a labor of love. Many of them are former Boeing employees. We spoke with Jim Goodall, who has written twelve aviation books, including one on the SR-71, and has interviewed most of its pilots. Think he didn’t get to hear some amazing stories? Joe Polocz, who worked 33 years for RCA, spent some 20 here, and showed us a Link Trainer, thought to be the only fully operational model, which he helped completely restore. This was the first flight simulator, used worldwide to train pilots in night and instrument flying during the 1930s and 40s, saving lives and helping us win the war. It is amazing to see how perfectly it functions, with its old vacuum tubes glowing and bellows for movement.

Admission $3 – $5, open Wed – Sun 9 AM –4 PM (Memorial Day – Labor Day), Tue – Thu & Sat 9 AM – 4 PM (rest of the year), 425-745-5150, www.museumofflight.org/restoration

As you can see, Paine Field is a first-class airport with excellent facilities and is an integral part of the community. Surrounded by production and test operations of major aviation companies like Boeing and Pratt & Whitney, the Paine Field area is a significant aerospace manufacturing center. The two warbird facilities make a visit here even grander. Learn more at //www.painefield.com

After you’ve experienced all the amazing aircraft, there’s much more to do: how about hugging up to a baby kangaroo? Or you can visit a lighthouse, hike to a gorgeous waterfall, play golf, or look for birds in a wildlife sanctuary.

How Do You Get To Paine Field?

The doors to the Boeing factory at Paine Field, where you can take the Boeing Factory Tour

Snohomish Country Airport/Paine Field (PAE) lies just under the northernmost portion of Seattle’s Class B airspace, where the floor is 6,000 ft MSL. Arriving from the north or northwest, you can contact Whidbey Approach 20 nm out for advisories on 118.2 MHz. For reasons of national security, pilots are requested not to fly at or below 2,900 feet MSL over the temporary reserved airspace (TRA) above the marina area, about 5.5 nm north-northeast of the airport. The TRA is marked on the Seattle Terminal Area Chart (TAC) and the Seattle Sectional. The Chinook MOAs and R-6701 are also just northwest of PAE. Arriving from the south, you can contact Seattle Approach on 128.5 MHz for advisories. You can remain below the Class B floor by flying inland east of Crest Airpark (S36) and Lake Sammamish and remaining below 5,000 feet MSL. Alternatively, you can fly below 2,000 ft. along the coast from Dash Point, right past SeaTac and downtown Seattle. This route offers the best views, but you’ll have to navigate carefully to avoid the central core of Class B that extends to the surface within 2 nm of SeaTac. You’ll also have to contact SeaTac Tower on 119.9 MHz, and then Boeing Field Tower on 118.3 MHz or 120.6 MHz for a Class D transition. For flights in the Seattle area, a Seattle TAC is highly recommended.

Paine Field has three runways. For noise abatement, the two smaller runways (16L/34R and 11/29) are closed between 9 PM and 7 AM; be alert to converging traffic on base to final for Runway 16R/34L during those hours. Small aircraft fly east patterns over the airport. This is a noise-sensitive airport; pilots are encouraged to call 425-388-5125 or visit their website for noise abatement recommendations and traffic procedures.

On the ground, be alert to all runway crossing clearances, read back all runway hold short instructions, and don’t be shy about asking Ground for help at 121.8 MHz if you feel the slightest bit unsure about which way to taxi.

FBOs at Paine Field

Castle & Cooke Aviation is just southeast of the tower at 122.95 MHz and offers full aviation services, car rentals, crew cars, and a courtesy shuttle. They have no tiedowns but you are welcome to park at no cost on their ramp. They’re open daily 6 AM – 11 PM, 425-355-6600.

Regal Air is between Taxiway D and Runway 16L/34R, near the self-serve fueling area. They have tiedowns for $10 per night. Buy at least ten gallons of fuel from their truck and you can tie down free for a week. They don’t have a shuttle or courtesy car, however, and if you want a rental car you’ll need to make your own arrangements to have it delivered there. Open 8 AM – Dark, 425-353-9123

History of Paine Field

Paine Field was originally constructed in 1936, serving alternately civilian and military purposes until 1966, when the military pulled out and Boeing announced that its new jumbo jet, the 747, would be built there. After 1970, the area’s mainstays of farming and logging began to decline, but the 1990s brought technology industries, the U.S. Naval Station Everett, and Boeing’s announcement of a major expansion. Boeing had to construct a facility large enough to handle the job, and the Everett plant is the world’s largest building by volume, 472 million cubic feet!

More Fun Activities in the Area

Arlington drive thru espresso shack

Snohomish County is abuzz with energy (you can hardly look anywhere without spotting one of those cute drive-up espresso stands), excellent dining, and unique animal encounter and hiking opportunities. There are so many fun activities for pilots, spouses, and kids, everyone can be happy. Since I’m a pilot, a spouse, and an overgrown kid, I had a blast there. Snohomish County room rates are lower than in Seattle, parking is generally free, streets are uncrowded, and people have time to talk with you.

Bird Watching

Just north of Paine Field is the Narbeck Wetland Sanctuary, a 48-acre restored wetland. From a neglected swamp, it has been turned into a thriving habitat for ducks, herons, osprey, and bald eagles, while controlling runoff and erosion. Endangered sockeye salmon spend about a year in the estuary on their way from rivers to the Puget Sound. The small stone building adjacent to the parking lot contains a kiosk with information about the park. Next you will see a greenhouse, and then a shelter where you can observe and photograph the resident herons, blackbirds, and maybe catch sight of the beavers living in the 19-acre wetland pond. As you meander across the boardwalk, you will see how berms allow water to flow slowly, cleansing it of pollutants. There is also a 1.5-mile perimeter trail through a mature forest, perfect for a relaxing hike. You won’t believe there is a city anywhere near, much less an aircraft manufacturing facility. 6921 Seaway Blvd, 425-388-5108

The Mukilteo Lighthouse

The Mukilteo Lighthouse and Ferry - Paine Field and the Boeing Factory Tour

The Mukilteo Lighthouse was built in 1905 on Elliot Point in lovely, romantic, Mukilteo, about three miles northwest of the airport. The Victorian structure is made of wood, unusual for a lighthouse, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The grounds are open year-round, but from Aril through September, you can take a tour. Climb the 36 steps into the tower to closely examine the 150-year-old Fresnel fourth-order lens, which magnifies the tiny light so it can be seen up to twelve miles away. Like a VOR’s distinctive Morse Code signal, each lighthouse has a distinctive signal; this one is two seconds on, three seconds off. The lighthouse is open weekends and holidays, Noon – 5 PM (Apr – Sep), donation requested. 608 Front St., 425-513-9602

The Outback Kangaroo Farm

Girl holding a baby kangaroo

Have you ever hugged a kangaroo? It’s really fun, so take this opportunity to visit the Outback Kangaroo Farm off State Route 530, just northeast of Arlington. As a life-long animal lover, this was an unforgettable treat for me. You can visit and feed dozens of kangaroos, wallabies, and wallaroos, as well as ring-tailed lemurs, flying squirrels, emus, alpaca, and other critters. Joey and Ray Strom lavish these creatures with love, resulting in some very friendly animals, including calm, cuddly baby kangaroos you can hold. Tours are Wed–Sun at 10 AM, noon, 2 PM and 4 PM (Mar–Oct), by appointment for groups only Nov–Feb, $8 – $10; 10030 State Rte 530 NE, 360-403-7474

Visiting Snohomish County

It’s worth taking a day for a lovely drive east on Highway 2 from Everett. The exit toward the city of Snohomish, the “antique capital of the world,” is only about five miles east of I-5. Park and browse the antique shops and restaurants. Later, you can reward your kids for putting up with the antique shopping by taking them to the Reptile Zoo in Monroe, 16 miles east of I-5 on Hwy 2’s north side. It’s home to the northwest’s largest reptile collection, along with the world’s largest spiders and centipedes, and a two-headed turtle. Kids can hold ten different (de-venomized) snakes. Admission is $6.50 – $8, open daily 10 AM – 6 PM, 22715 B SR2, 360-805-5300

Hiking trail at Wallace Falls State Park

The drive just keeps getting prettier as you approach the Cascade Mountains, and twelve miles east of Monroe, you can hike in Wallace Falls State Park. We enjoyed a moderately strenuous six-mile round trip up Woody Trail, gaining 1,400 feet to the 265-foot thunderous waterfall, through a deep, dark forest of mature, moss-covered Douglas Fir. Open 8 AM – Dusk, off Hwy 2 in Gold Bar, www.parks.wa.gov

Legion Memorial Golf Course is enjoyed by golfers of all skill levels. It’s located at Everett’s northern tip, not far from the marina. Built in 1933 and remodeled in 1998, the course features views of the Olympic Mountains, Puget Sound, Mount Baker, the Snohomish River, and the Cascades. A peaceful forest surrounds the well-manicured course with five sets of tees ranging from 6,900 yards at the championship tees to 4,805 yards at the forward tees. The Clubhouse features a gift shop and the Greenside Grill, with a traditional menu. Greens fees are $16 – $40, 144 W. Marine View Dr., 425-259-4653

Snohomish County is loaded with fun for active people, including hiking, kayaking, fishing, rafting, climbing, parks, and more. For more information on activities, dining, and lodging, contact the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau, 425-348-5802

Where to Stay

For people who find marinas enchanting, the Inn at Port Gardner is right on the water within walking distance to nearby restaurants. A delightful fireplace decorates the lobby, which is stocked with freshly baked cookies. Another fireplace, as well as a wonderful view, is out on the patio. The 33 guestrooms and suites all have WiFi, DVD players, coffee, quality linens and toiletries, and complimentary passes to Peak Health & Fitness, so you can stay in shape. Some rooms have microwaves, refrigerators, and special tubs. A continental breakfast will be delivered to your door at the hour of your choosing, and they are pet-friendly. Rates are $129 – $289, 1700 W. Marine View Dr., 425-252-6779 or 888-252-6779

Silver Cloud Inn Mukilteo

Another beautiful waterfront hotel is the Silver Cloud Inn Mukilteo, mere steps away from the lighthouse, ferry, and great restaurants. Most rooms have panoramic waterfront views overlooking Possession Sound and Whidbey Island, some have fireplaces and Jacuzzis, and all are non-smoking with kitchenettes. Other perks include a hosted Tuesday evening wine and cheese reception, free breakfast, free parking, local area van shuttle, WiFi, free passes to a local gym, and a pier out front, perfect for fishing, strolling, and watching the sunset. 718 Front St., no pets, $149 – $259, 425-423-8600

The remodeled Best Western Navigator Inn & Suites sports a 727 wing and fuselage that serve as an awning, while the lobby and rooms are modern and top-notch (as is the service). Just a mile east of the airport, it also features a new pool, hot tub, free WiFi and breakfast, and free passes to the adjacent fitness center, $107 – $139, 10210 Evergreen Way, 425-347-2555 or 800-780-7234

If you only fly in for the Boeing factory tour, the Hilton Garden Inn is just across the street from it and Paine Field. Rates are $154–$249, 425-423-9000 or 800-445-8667

What to Eat

The Anthony’s family of restaurants has two establishments overlooking the marina, next door to each other. Anthony’s HomePort has a larger selection of seafood, but we chose Anthony’s Woodfire Grill, with specialties from its custom-built applewood rotisserie, applewood-burning oven, and an applewood grill. You can eat outside when the weather permits. There are nearly a dozen appetizers to choose from, including barbecued oysters, skewered shrimp or steak, crab, clams, or Portobello mushrooms. For dinner, St. Louis style ribs are dry-rubbed and slow-roasted in the rotisserie, served with parmesan mashed potatoes. The Fresh Wild Alaska Silver Salmon will make you realize how bland that farmed salmon you can buy at the grocery store is. This delicious fish is char-grilled with citrus butter and finished with sweet onion and wild mountain huckleberry sauce. Dinner entrées run $16 – $44, reservations are suggested, lunch Wed – Sun 11:30 AM – 3:30 PM, dinner Mon – Thu 3 – 9 PM, Fri – Sat 3 – 10 PM, Sun 3:30 – 9 PM, 1722 W. Marine View Dr., 425-258-4000

Another restaurant with stunning marina views is Lombardi’s, which serves modern, healthy Italian cuisine. Dine inside or out on any of eight different pasta dishes, numerous elegant pizzas, or other entrées like Chicken Saltimbocca, a boneless breast layered with prosciutto, fresh sage, and Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Dinner entrées run $19 – $36, lunch daily 11:30 AM – 3 PM, dinner Sun – Thu 3 – 9 PM, Fri – Sat 3 – 10 PM, 1620 W. Marine View Dr., 425-252-1886

Lunch at Arnie's restaurant in Everett, WA

If you stay at the Silver Cloud or visit the lighthouse in Mukilteo, lunch or dinner at Arnie’s is only steps away. Watch the ferry while you munch fresh Northwest favorites like calamari, Dungeness crab, or a hot seafood salad with scallops, prawns, mussels, clams, zucchini, mushrooms, bacon, and warm vinaigrette over wilted greens. The menu is extensive and includes everything from sandwiches, pasta, crab cakes, fish tacos, or other seafood to a number of different chicken or steak offerings. Dinner entrées run $17.50 – $46, lunch Mon – Sat 11 AM – 4 PM, Sun brunch 10 AM – 2 PM, dinner Sun – Thu 4 – 9 PM, Fri – Sat 4 – 9:30 PM, 714 2nd St., 425-355-2181

Another nearby favorite of the locals is Ivar’s Mukilteo Landing, right on the water next to the ferry dock. There’s a hatch in the floor; pop it and see the water below. For luck, touch the 7-foot wooden carp lost briefly in 2003 when a freak wave caused $2 million in damage. Try the Cedar-planked Wild Sockeye Salmon, or the Applewood Smoked Wild King Salmon with a blackberry port relish and cornbread pudding. Plenty of steaks, classic fish ’n’ chips, and a plethora of other seafood items round out the menu. Dinner entrées run $18 – $35, Sun – Thu 11 AM – 10 PM, Fri – Sat 11 AM – 11 PM, 701 Front St., 425-742-618

Transportation

Hopefully, you will have time to explore Snohomish County, so you’ll need a rental car. Enterprise or Hertz will drop off a car at either Paine Field FBO for no charge. When you return, give the keys to the FBO, and off you go. Enterprise, 425-438-0322, Hertz, $18–40, 425-252-9625

In Conclusion

Amazing things are happening in Snohomish County, but they wouldn’t happen without amazing people. Boeing is a force in the world, and you’ll leave the Boeing factory tour with respect for the vision, planning, and execution of thousands working together. People who care about preserving history for future generations have poured their hearts into bringing historic aircraft back to life, and they’re eager to share their excitement and stories with you. Animal lovers invite you to share their passions, and you’ll learn and have fun at the same time. Even the girls in all those drive-up espresso stands are ready with a smile, and you can’t help but smile back.

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