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Last week, TPG and I got to spend a couple days at Boeing’s impressive Dreamliner plant in Charleston, South Carolina. While this facility is not currently accessible to the public, we were able to get a behind-the-scenes tour (with photos permitted!) of the final assembly line, where we caught the company’s latest and greatest — the 787-10.
The first 787-10 Dreamliner rolled out with much fanfare (including a presidential appearance) on February 17, and two other aircraft are currently progressing through the various stages of assembly, with many more on the way — airlines have ordered some 150 copies of Boeing’s extended-length Dreamliner.
While other versions of the Dreamliner are also assembled in Washington, final assembly for all 787-10s will be handled in Charleston, since the extended center fuselage section is too long to be transported in Boeing’s 787 component transporter, the Dreamlifter. This aircraft delivers components from Boeing’s global suppliers — you can see how these break down below:
Various stages of assembly are completed in South Carolina, as you’ll see below.
Aft Body Assembly
Our first stop was Aft Body Assembly, where sections 47 and 48 are combined using fasteners and sealant.
787-9 and 787-10 sections are assembled simultaneously on the same line — see if you can spot the 787-10 fuselage section below.
It’s very much a joint effort by man and machine, with robotic equipment completing portions of the assembly as technicians monitor progress.
Mid Body Assembly Line
Next up is Mid Body Assembly, where sections 43, 44 and 46 are joined together. This building is simply enormous — from the entrance I could barely spot the other end.
Components are tracked throughout the process, with the airline customer identified on some fuselage sections. The below aircraft is Hainan Airlines’ 22nd 787, for example — we reviewed Hainan’s 787-8 last year.
This particular assembly line offers an interesting perspective, since you can peer directly into some of the fuselage sections scattered throughout the room.
Final Assembly Line
Then, last up is Final Assembly — as you might have guessed, this is where the remaining aircraft sections are joined together, interior components (such as seats) are installed, and nearly all remaining work is completed.
There was one 787-10 working its way through Final Assembly during our visit. Boeing reps wouldn’t confirm how long it takes to complete one plane from start to finish, partially because only the latter stages take place in Charleston.
This huge room gave us a close-up look at various components of the dash-10, including the unique flexible wings.
Some workers complete interior assembly as others work on the aircraft’s exteriors. There’s quite a bit happening at one time.
With the 787-10, Boeing’s Charleston, South Carolina plant has finally had an opportunity to get some serious time in the spotlight — you can tell there’s a lot of pride here; everyone we spoke to seem thrilled to be working on Boeing’s most advanced airliner to date.
It’s also quite an honor for Dreamliner deliveries to take place in Charleston. While some will continue at Boeing’s Everett (Washington) Delivery Center, most airlines will take possession of their new 787-10s in South Carolina.
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