787 Nose Construction Shows the Face of Future Composite Plane Factories

The 40-foot-long section is formed as a single piece by winding carbon fiber tape around a large mold. Tending the tape-laying machine, a computer-controlled marvel of technology, takes only three technicians.

Afterward, circular composite plastic frames made in Marysville, Wash., by C&D Zodiac are installed at intervals along the fuselage to strengthen the shell, and the passenger-cabin floor beams go in.

The big blue Brötje machines automatically drill holes and install fasteners that hold metal reinforcements at key points such as the door and window surrounds, as well as a metal cage around the cabin where the pilots sit designed to protect the cockpit from bird collisions.

Somehow, perhaps because it's punching through plastic rather than metal, the 35-foot tall driller is so quiet it won't disturb conversations on the floor below.

With the structure largely finished, Spirit then adds many systems from other suppliers. It installs the windshield, pilot's dashboard, flight controls, forward landing gear, passenger floor and sidewall insulation. It runs wiring through the whole fuselage piece.

"We call it fully stuffed," said John Pilla, Spirit's vice president in charge of the 787 program.

On previous Boeing programs, the Wichita plant "would basically ship a structural shell," he said. "This is a big step up for us."

The nose section rolled out Monday, however, is not "fully stuffed." As expected, some of its systems won't yet be installed when Spirit gets the call to ship its first piece to Everett on the huge Dreamlifter cargo freighter.

Boeing wants all the big pieces to arrive from its major partners within the next few weeks.

Inside the Everett plant where the 787's final assembly will also be very different from that of existing jets mechanics will then begin the sprint to fit together the first airplane for its scheduled rollout in July.

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