There's nothing quite like the Everett facility in all of North America, the aircraft maker says. Each year, about 230,000 visitors experience the rare chance to see humongous pieces of aluminum and light-weight carbon composite transformed into speedy, sleek airliners. Watch huge wings join with plane fuselages. See workers attach powerful jet engines that will soon push the wings through the air.
Boeing's factory tour has developed an almost mythical status among aviation geeks. It's a must-see destination, like Disney parks are for many families. Actually, the factory is bigger than Disneyland, says Ward. The theme park could fit inside Boeing's factory -- and there would still be 12 acres available for covered parking.
Surprisingly, touring the titanic structure takes only about 90 minutes.
Adjacent to the factory, visitors can get all touchy feely about aviation at the Future of Flight Museum. Run your hands along the smooth surface of the 747's giant vertical tail. Sit behind the yoke in a cockpit of a classic 727 and play with its full array of instrumentation.
What else is big in Everett? In a word: Dreamlifter.
If the name sounds a lot like Boeing's new light-weight fuel efficient 787 Dreamliner, that's because the Dreamlifter is Dreamliner's Big Daddy.
It's phat. And it's fat. Dreamlifter is a 747 with a cargo hold custom enlarged to carry huge parts for the 787. At 65,000 cubic feet, Boeing says Dreamlifter's cargo hold is -- by volume -- the largest in the world. Compare that to the C-5's cargo hold at 31,000 cubic feet.
So -- in addition to Everett -- where can we track down the Dreamlifter? It's been seen in Nagoya, Japan; Italy and Boeing's other 787 plant in Charleston, South Carolina.
Boeing's testing ground
Everett visitors can find Dreamlifter at the airport right next door to the Boeing factory. Paine Field Airport serves as Boeing's testing ground for its new planes -- offering endless photo opportunities that draw aircraft fans from around the world.
"Boeing gets it," says Carter, who makes the four-hour drive from his Vancouver, Washington, home more than twice a year. Sometimes, he brings his grandkids along, ages 7 and 4. "Paine Field is actually set up for the aviation enthusiast."
On the northwest corner of the airport, Boeing's "Strato Deck" offers a vantage point with the spectacular Cascade Mountains popping up in the background. Audio from airport ground control is piped in so visitors can get real-time information about which planes are about to take off.
For other viewing options, Carter offers this tip: go to the north end of the airport in the afternoon. Generally, shooting from outside the fence line is OK, as long as you don't hang out for too long. Police "just don't like loitering," warns Carter. "They get a little grumpy about that."
The airport welcomes thousands every May for Aviation Day, when new machines take flight along with World War II-era planes and other vintage aircraft.
Paine Field is a plane geek's candy store all year round -- offering sweet photo op treats like airliners with colorful new paint schemes. In addition to Dreamlifter, other big cargo air freighters such as the Antonov An-124 often can be seen rumbling down the runways.
When these planes take flight or touch the ground they stop conversations. Fingers point upward. Many who never studied aeronautics suddenly remember: This is all a mystery. It looks like magic. How the heck does that thing fly?
Last year, the world's largest passenger airliner -- the Superjumbo Airbus A380 -- marked five years in service. Seating 525 passengers in a three-class configuration -- the A380 exceeds the 747-8 by 58 seats.
The four-engine airliner isn't too difficult to spot, if you're near its six destination airports in the U.S.: Washington's Dulles, New York's JFK, San Francisco, Los Angeles' LAX, Houston Intercontinental and Miami International.
At JFK, NYCAviation.com founder Phil Derner likes nearby Howard Beach for watching A380 departures from runway 31L. From this vantage point, he can see the Superjumbo make a big lumbering turn as it climbs. He can also hear its engines building up power and get a nice profile view while the plane banks 180 degrees.
"A century ago, aircraft were literally not much more than motorized kites," said Derner. "Now this thing comes along weighing in at a staggering 1.2 million pounds? It doesn't take an enthusiast to think that's badass."
World's largest airplane
Wanna get an eyeful of airplane? Track down the Antonov An-225 "Mriya," -- the Russian word for Dream.
This six-engine bad boy is a one-of-a-kind cargo jet often described as the world's largest airplane.
Built in the 1980s, Mriya was meant to shoulder a Soviet space shuttle. If you stood it up on its nose, it would be about as tall as a 27-story building.