The ungainly superfreighter that links Boeing's far-flung manufacturing network made its inaugural delivery Tuesday, landing at Paine Field in Everett with the horizontal tail that will become part of the very first 787 Dreamliner.
The giant customized cargo plane swung open on its unique hinge at 7:50 p.m. Inside the cavernous interior, a metal frame held the horizontal tail from Italy in five sections, the largest of which looked like a pair of folded wings. This was the initial cargo in what will soon become a fast-paced, round-the-globe schedule of shuttling large sections for the hot-selling jet.
As of Tuesday, Boeing has orders for 557 Dreamliners.
The tail section, built by Alenia Aeronautica, arrived from Grottaglie in southern Italy via a refueling stop in Scotland.
Like any cargo arriving from overseas, the 787 tail section had to clear Customs before it could officially enter the U.S. The paperwork and identity checks took about 40 minutes after the giant airplane parked in its stall.
That formality over, the entire tail of the Dreamlifter was swung aside and rested on a mobile stand.
The 42-foot-long frame carrying the tail pieces slid out of the Dreamlifter on a specially built 118-foot-long, 110-ton loading machine. During its development last year the loader was referred to inside Boeing as the "DBL Project," for Darn Big Loader.
The DBL's laser-guidance system lined up precisely with the holding fixtures that secure the 787 sections inside the Dreamlifter. It took 55 minutes, from the tail cracking open until the tail parts were completely out.
With floodlights illuminating the scene, the hold of the Dreamlifter seemed almost empty at first so small was the load compared to its capacity.
When the tail parts had fully emerged from the Dreamlifter, Kevin Wescott, who works on the 787 global logistics at the Everett site, led a round of applause from the dozens of Boeing workers surrounding the big freighter.
The horizontal tail, made out of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic in Alenia's plant in Foggia, Italy, is constructed much like a wing. For the 777, Boeing makes the horizontal tail from the same material in Frederickson, near Tacoma.
Unlike the other massive sections of the plane, which will be transported whole, Boeing shipped the horizontal tail section in pieces two winglike fixed structures, two moveable edges and the center piece.
Boeing had earlier considered assembling the tail in Italy, spokeswoman Mary Hanson said, but changed the plan because the "awkward" shape of the horizontal tail, a V-shape piece that's 32 feet front-to-back and 62 feet wide, makes it difficult to transport.
"It's sort of like a big triangle, if it were fully assembled," Hanson said.
Now mechanics in Everett will assemble the tail pieces into a complete part.
Alenia projects that when production is in full swing, about 150 people will work on the 787 in Foggia, including about 95 production workers.
Once it is ready, Alenia trucks the tail section to its larger 787 plant in Grottaglie, where workers load it onto the Dreamlifter for ferrying to the U.S.
It's expected that once the flow of 787 sections is running smoothly, the tail section will not fly directly to Everett but travel along with Grottaglie-built fuselage sections that must go to Charleston, S.C., for assembly there.
"Because the schedule's been so dynamic around these first major assemblies, this one ended up coming straight from Italy," Hanson said.
The Dreamlifter left Grottaglie half an hour after noon local time 3:35 a.m. in Seattle. After stopping for gas in Prestwick, Scotland, it flew nonstop to Everett.
There were 10 people aboard, including two Boeing test pilots and one FAA certification inspector. These delivery flights are serving also as flight tests for the Dreamlifter's certification.
Tuesday's initial delivery is just the beginning as the Dreamliner's global manufacturing network shifts to high gear.
Jet partly dismantled after July rollout to do interior work and big pieces not yet reinstalled.
Jet partly dismantled after July rollout to do interior work
With orders for the 787 set to pass the 500 mark, Boeing is planning beyond the climactic rollout of the first airplane in July.