In an afternoon ceremony on Jan 31 at Paine Field in Everett, Washington, Boeing filled an entire aircraft hangar with thousands of employees, customers, suppliers, and media to celebrate delivery of the final 747.
More than 54 years ago and 1,574 aircraft later, the iconic 747 – tail N863GT – was to be the last 747 to make its maiden voyage from the flight line at Paine Field, but not first without a celebration befitting a queen.
With iconic tunes spanning a half century of the 747 in flight, from Frank Sinatra crooning “Come Fly with Me” to a house band rocking modern hits, guests and VIPs were treated to a walk down memory lane as Boeing execs, airline representatives and key customers – not to mention a celebrity appearance from actor, pilot, and aviation enthusiast, John Travolta – extolled the many contributions the 747 made to aviation.
“The 747 will forever hold a special place in aviation history,” said Stan Deal, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “Atlas Air began operations 28 years ago with a single 747 and it is fitting that they should receive the last, ensuring that the ‘Queen of the Skies’ plays a significant role in the global air cargo market for decades to come.”
Joining in on the final delivery celebration, Hexcel sent a small delegation of well-wishers to pay tribute to the “Queen of the Skies,” and to extend congratulations to Boeing on behalf of all of the Hexcel employees that helped to make this program possible.
Tray Nickols, Sales Director; Thomas Tangredi, Process Engineering Supervisor; and Jim Wojciehowski, Vice President, Hexcel Aerospace Americas; met with Boeing officials and mingled with the leaders, engineers, mechanics, suppliers and customers who have been involved with the program since its inception.
Before the ceremony began, the crowd witnessed several videos of congratulations from various suppliers, including a 30-second clip featuring members of the Hexcel Pottsville, Pennsylvania team, which manufactures the engineered honeycomb core used on the General Electric GEnx engines that power the 747.
“Seeing that video footage congratulating Boeing, which received prominent viewing during the event, made us even more proud to represent Hexcel,” said Wojciehowski. “Awesome job!”
“When I was a kid, my dad, who was an aerospace engineer, took me to the Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix the first time the 747 flew in. We went up on the observation deck at the old Terminal 2 to watch the landing of this giant plane,” he reminisced. “It seems fitting that 50 years later as I am about to retire from my own aerospace career, I got to attend this 747 final delivery.”
Watch a video showcasing Hexcel Pottsville employees and their reflection on the 747 milestone: https://vimeo.com/798514334.
Members of the Pottsville team, while not present at the event, took time to reflect on the impact of the program, both personally and professionally, obviously taking a great deal of pride in the work they perform on the 747-8, the seventeenth and final derivative of the aircraft.
“This has been really an iconic program for the site, not only on the thrust reverser, but also doing parts for the inlet inner barrel and in the containment case for the engine. It's been an important program for the site,” said Stan Bolinsky, Vice President, Operations. “It's something that the team has been really proud to produce. You look at the technology that's in this, and the craftsmanship that's in there, it's really sad to see it come to an end. It has been such a part of the culture here, something that the team has really rallied around.”
One of the innovations featured in the aircraft’s structure was borne of the necessity to reduce engine noise. The combined efforts of the Hexcel teams at Casa Grande, Arizona, which produces advanced honeycomb core, and the team in Pottsville, which engineers the honeycomb core into the parts used on the engines, led to the implementation of Acousti-Cap®. That product deadens noise by embedding a septum in non-metallic honeycomb, providing superior acoustic performance without imposing a structural weight penalty.
Pointing at the inner trans cowl for the thrust reverser and commenting on the workmanship of the Pottsville team, Bolinsky added the work done on the 747 program “is arguably one of the most complex parts that we build within Hexcel engineered core sites. It's a combination of multiple types of Hexcel honeycomb cores.
From splice bonding to heat forming to machining, and the 747 being one of the early adopters of Acousti-Cap technology, we were on the front end in helping our customer reduce noise and being on the leading edge.”
Bond operator Jennifer Setlock echoed the pride of the Pottsville team. With responsibility for bonding the splices and different densities of the honeycomb core into a uniform assembly, she marveled at the durability, strength, and lightweight features of Hexcel products.
“The strength is unbelievable. You would not believe the strength,” she said. “Actually, what this is made out of and what goes into [making] an engine cowling … it's crazy how strong and light it is.”
Eric Trezise, a bond operator who has been the team lead for first shift for the last ten years, grinned when remembering a recent trip to the airport and explaining to his kids his role in supporting the 747 and other Boeing aircraft programs.
“Sometimes I just say, ‘Hey, Daddy built that part.’ And then my kids say, ‘You actually built the airplane we're going to fly?’ And I say, ‘Yes, yes, yes, I did.’”
With work on the 747 coming to an end, what lays ahead for Boeing and Hexcel?
While the final 747 delivery just occurred, the Pottsville team will remain busy on the program through the rest of the year. Hexcel continues to build parts for spare engines for the platform, and that workload will continue for a while longer to make sure the aircraft stays in service for years to come.
Ryan Setlock, Operations Manager, said that even though the Pottsville team is sad to see that work coming to an end, he knows there is plenty of work with Boeing still going on in the factory for military programs, including supporting the work on rotor blades for the AH-64 Apache, and for work on the F/A-18 Hornet.
On the commercial aerospace side, the future remains bright, he said.
“We're engulfed in 787, we're engulfed in 777X. We certainly expect to be a participant on the [future, next gen single aisle] aircraft, … and we've got other Hexcel sites that are working 737 Max,” he said. “So, the Hexcel relationship with Boeing certainly doesn't end with 747-8. In fact, you could say that in many respects it's close to the beginning. Whether it's honeycomb engineered core, prepregs, or other matrix products and carbon fiber, Hexcel is well positioned to continue that partnership with Boeing.”
Conor Keenan, Boeing Programs Director for Hexcel, summed up the sentiments of all Hexcel employees when reflecting on the bittersweet milestone of the final 747 delivery and anticipation for an exciting future.
“On behalf of everyone at Hexcel, Boeing, congratulations on the final delivery of the 747-8, truly the Queen of the Skies. We’re looking forward to our continued partnership and teamwork, and many more milestones to celebrate in the years to come.”
To watch a replay of the ceremony, click here: Last ever Boeing 747 delivery ceremony - YouTube