Several Boeing 777X aircraft are seen in various stages of production during a media tour of the Boeing 777X at the Boeing production facility in Everett,

Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

Boeing will be temporarily closing its Puget Sound facilities in Washington as COVID-19 grips the state.

Multiple Boeing employees have contracted the virus with Washington having the greatest number of Boeing employees as the manufacturer has three facilities in the Seattle area alone. 

Production facilities in the region have produced Boeing’s most iconic aircraft including the 747 Jumbo Jet.   

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Boeing announced on Sunday that production at its facilities in the Puget Sound region of Washington state would remain temporarily shuttered as the novel coronavirus continues to afflict the Pacific Northwestern state and more of the manufacturer’s employees contract COVID-19. 

The aerospace capital of the US, Boeing’s Seattle-area facilities have produced iconic passenger aircraft since before World War II for private, military and commercial use. The region is the birthplace of nearly half the passenger aircraft flying today and its facilities produced Boeing’s greatest successes including the 747 and 777, but also its greatest failures including the 737 Max. 

Boeing boasts three massive plants around the Puget Sound including the Renton, Everett, and Boeing Field production facilities, keeping Washingtonians connected to and employed in the aerospace industry and giving Seattle the nickname of the “Jet City.”   

Around 70,000 employees report to work at any number of Boeing’s locations in Washington, including at Moses Lake in the heart of the state nearly three hours from Seattle. 

Now with production on hold, some of Boeing’s newest projects including the 777X, the largest twin-engine passenger jet ever to fly, and its more troubled products in need of repairs such as the 737 Max and KC-46, are left hanging in the balance. 

The Puget Sound region including Seattle is home to three of Boeing’s largest facilities that collectively have been producing aircraft for over a century.

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The Seattle area is home to three major Boeing production facilities.

Boeing Field is one of the manufacturer’s oldest Seattle-area production facilities, building planes since before the start of World War II.

A line-up of Boeing 737 aircraft at Boeing Field.

Boeing Field near downtown Seattle is home to what was once Boeing’s primary production facility building types including the 737 and B-17 Flying Fortress, the Seattle Times reported. After Boeing had entered the jet age with the 707, Boeing Field began producing the 737 until 1970 when production was shifted to a new facility in nearby Renton, according to Boeing.

After most production eventually moved to Renton and Everett, the Boeing Field facility is primarily tasked with final preparations for the 737 and 737 Max before delivery. Scores of the popular narrow-body can be seen around the airport awaiting finishing touches and are later delivered at the Seattle Delivery Center, a private terminal and event venue for customers to take hold of their newest jets.

The airport itself has become Seattle’s primary executive airport, an alternative to the busier Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to the south. Since the 737 Max grounding in March 2019, Boeing’s property at the airport and even parking lots have been overrun by excess Max aircraft awaiting a fix to the faulty software that contributed to two fatal crashes. 

Boeing’s Renton Factory located adjacent to Renton Municipal Airport helped propel the manufacturer into the jet age.

Boeing’s Renton factory at Renton Municipal Airport.

The Renton location has produced Boeing’s iconic narrow-body jet aircraft ranging from the 707 to the 737, according to Boeing. Boeing’s history in Renton dates back to World War II where bombers including the B-29 Superfortress, according to Boeing, were produced after the US government secured a larger facility for Boeing production.

Following the conclusion of the war, Boeing continued production of military aircraft but used the facility as a staging ground for its entry into the jet age. Boeing’s first jet prototype, the Model 367-80, was built in Renton, according to Boeing, and set the stage for jet-propelled aircraft that set the country and industry on a new course when it came to building aircraft.

The facility now primarily produces Boeing’s 737 aircraft, its best selling and longest surviving narrow-body jet, including the infamous 737 Max. Final preparations for the jet are made at Boeing Field, a mere 5-mile flight away, where the planes are delivered to customers.

Around 25 miles north of Seattle, Boeing’s Everett facility has been responsible for building the company’s largest and iconic jets.

Boeing’s Everett production facility.

Starting with producing sections for the B-17 Flying Fortress bombers during World War II, according to Boeing, the Everett facility eventually graduated to producing some of Boeing’s largest jets including the B-52 Stratofortress and KC-135 Stratotanker. Its since grown to one of the largest manufacturing sites in the world taking up nearly 100 acres and 472 million cubic feet of space, Boeing reported.

Once Boeing entered the jet age, the Everett facility was tasked with creating what would become the world’s largest passenger jet at the time, the Boeing 747. Later, the facility would be tasked with producing nearly all of Boeing’s other wide-bodies including the 767, 777, and 787 Dreamliner. 

The factory is adjacent to Paine Field, a small airport with growing commercial traffic thanks to a new passenger terminal, where most test and demonstrations flights are performed from. The airport also is home to Boeing’s delivery center for aircraft produced at the Everett factory. 

Take a look at some of the aircraft that originated in Seattle and that continue to be produced to this day. 

Boeing’s commercial division entered into the jet age with the 367-80, a four-engine jet prototype that became the basis for future Boeing aircraft.

A Boeing 367-80 prototype aircraft.

As jet engine aircraft were just beginning to become prominent in the world’s skies, Boeing developed the 367-80, known simply as the “Dash 80,”  in the 1950s to show the advantages of a jet-powered airliner, according to the Smithsonian. At the time, propeller aircraft were still traversing the skies that didn’t nearly offer the same capabilities as jet aircraft. 

The Dash 80 was built at Boeing’s Renton factory and debuted in 1954, Boeing reported, it would later become the basis for the Boeing 707 passenger jet and KC-135 Stratotanker. During a demonstration flight, Dash 80 test pilot Alvin “Tex” Johnson performed a barrel roll with the aircraft to help market and sell the type to potential customers. 

Only one of the prototype aircraft was built as the 707 program was launched shortly after.

The Boeing 707, a status symbol for many of the world’s airlines during the early days of the jet age, was then similarly produced in Renton.

A Boeing 707 aircraft.

Following the success of the 367-80 prototype, the mid to late-1950s then saw the production of the Boeing 707. A four-engine, narrow-body airliner, the 707 was a hit with many of the world’s airlines including Pan American World Airways, Trans World Airlines, El Al Israel Airlines, Air France, and the British Overseas Airways Corporation.

The aircraft revolutionized air travel and allowed for non-stop transcontinental and transatlantic flights, reducing journey times and offering a more comfortable ride above the clouds than the propeller-driven aircraft of the past.  Nearly 1,000 of the type were built in Renton with production ending in 1978 after over two decades since the historic barrel roll flight, according to Boeing.

The KC-135 Stratotanker military variant still remains in service the US Air Force and subsequent variants can also be found flying. Actor John Travolta famously purchased a former Qantas Boeing 707 for private use. 

Next came the Boeing 727, a three-engine aircraft ideal for shorter runways at smaller airports built at the Renton facility.

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 727 aircraft.

The 727 began development in 1960 with 40 orders for the plane, according to Boeing. Boeing was hesitant about the type as it faced numerous competitors and would have to convince airlines to abandon propeller aircraft. 

The T-tailed aircraft, though, eventually proved popular with airlines looking for a reliable jet aircraft to bring them into the jet age for use on short-and-medium-haul routes. Boeing crafted numerous variations of the type to satisfy customers including the extended fuselage and freighter versions. 

When production ended in 1984, nearly 2,000 orders had been placed for the type, the manufacturer reported, outselling the 707 that came before it and setting Boeing on a permanent course into jet aircraft.

Doubling down on short-to-medium-haul narrow-body jets, Boeing continued the trend with the 737.

A Boeing 737-100 aircraft.

The type was first produced at Boeing Field in Seattle before production was shifted to the larger Renton facility where it remains today, according to Boeing. 

A twin-engine, narrow-body jet, the 737 stood out from competitors by offering a wider fuselage capable of carrying more seats and underwing engines for a quieter ride. Offering six-abreast seating and similar amenities to the 707 and 727, the 737 proved to be a hit with airlines who ultimately wanted largely versions of the type. 

The overall look of the aircraft has remained largely the same with each new variant receiving upgrades whether it be larger wings or an extended fuselage. Boeing ultimately created nine variants of the type, not including those created for private, cargo, or military use, before giving the aircraft an overhaul with the 737 Max in the 2000s.

The 737 has since become the best-selling aircraft in the world and remains in production over a half-century since its first flight. 

Having dominated in the narrow-body market after gambling big on the jet age, Boeing made another bet with the Boeing 747.

The first Boeing 747 aircraft.

In order to build the new aircraft, Boeing constructed a new facility in Everett, Washington to house production. Though since enlarged, the Everett factory initially took up 200 million cubic feet making it the world’s largest building by volume, according to Boeing.

The capacity was required to build what would become the world’s largest plane at the time, a towering feat equipped with four engines and an upper deck. It gave airlines the ability to fly longer flights with more passengers and reshaped long-haul travel from its first passenger flight from New York to London with Pan Am in 1970. 

Similarly to the 737, the 747 outlasted most of its competition to be one of the manufacturer’s longest-flying passenger aircraft. The Queen of the Skies, as the aircraft is affectionately known, reigned supreme as the largest passenger jet until the arrival of the Airbus A380 in the early 200s. 

Airlines around the world have largely retired the aircraft in favor of Boeing’s more efficient, smaller offerings. The 747, however, remains in production with the 747-8i, the largest of the 747 variants, remaining popular with cargo airlines thanks to its increased capacity and efficiency over older types. 

After the success of the 747, Boeing continued to produce wide-body aircraft but on a smaller scale, creating the Boeing 767.

A Boeing 767-200 aircraft.

Built at Boeing’s Everett facility, the 767 combined capacity with efficiency thanks to its twin-engine, wide-body design. The twin-engine advantage of the 767 allowed airlines to carry more passengers on shorter routes without the greater expense of operating a three or four-engine aircraft.

Initially ideal for medium-haul flights, the 767 was able to greatly expand into long-haul flying once federal regulations were relaxed on twin-engine aircraft flying overwater routes. With its first flight in 1981, the type is still flying today with airlines such as Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and LATAM Airlines. 

As passenger airlines begin to retire the type in favor of more efficient models including the 787, the 767’s legacy will live on with cargo airlines and in the military. Boeing recently delivered a 767-based refueled, the KC-46 Pegasus, to the US Air Force, though the program has been fraught with delays and malfunctions. 

 

With the 727 nearing the end of its life span, the Boeing 757 was developed as a replacement aircraft.

A Boeing 757-200 aircraft.

Boeing built the 757 at the Renton facility, where the 727 had been produced before it. The 757 offered airlines the same capabilities of the 727, especially at smaller airports, with increased efficiency and fewer engines.

Unlike the 727, however, the 757 could seat more passengers and fly longer, capable of flying non-stop between the US and Europe or South America. The new jet was also ideal to serve hard to reach airports including those at higher elevations or with difficult terrain. 

Another popular seller, Boeing had sold just over 1,000 757s to airlines the world over thanks to its performance capabilities. The 757 is also known for its use in the cargo industry and its military variant, the VC-32, flies top US government officials including the vice president as “Air Force Two” and the Secretary of State. 

Once regulations were relaxed to allow twin-engine aircraft to fly overwater routes, airlines wanted a large, twin-engine plane to serve those routes.

A Boeing 777 aircraft.

An order with United Airlines sealed the deal for the production of the Boeing 777, to be built in Everett. A larger version of the 767, the 777 featured a larger fuselage and larger engines, giving it the longest range and capacity of any twin-engine aircraft produced by Boeing at the time. 

The 777 has since become Boeing’s best-selling wide-body aircraft and spurring the development of a new type, the 777X. Boeing ultimately created two variants of the type including the -200 and -300, offering extended range variants for both and a long-range variant for the -200. 

Still in use around the world flying passengers and cargo, the Boeing 777 now flies the second-longest flight in the world between Doha, Qatar and Auckland, New Zealand operated by Qatar Airways. 

The development of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner marked a final shift from four-engine aircraft to next-generation twin-engines for Boeing.

A Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.

The 787 Dreamliner project sought to continue on the manufacturer’s success with twin-engines success with a focus on composite materials and new engines to create a truly efficient wide-body. Produced in Everett, the Dreamliner first flew in the early 2010s and has since seen success around the world thanks to its revolutionary design. 

The efficiency of the type made it popular for ultra-long-haul routes and the aircraft is prominently featured on the list of world’s longest routes. Boeing continues to build both the -8 and -9 variants in Everett with the production of the largest -10 variant taking place in North Charleston, South Carolina.  

Continuing the success of the Dreamliner, Boeing turned to older aircraft to see where it could make upgrades to existing products.

A Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft.

The 737 Max was the first aircraft Boeing decided to revitalize as part of the next-generation revolution started by the Dreamliner and continued by Airbus with the Airbus A320neo family. Under pressure from American Airlines, Boeing rushed into the 737 Max project with production taking place in Renton.

Equipped with new engines, an advanced cockpit and aerodynamically friendly wings, the 737 Max was an initial success as it was billed as nearly identical to the 737 in use with countless airlines. Boeing pushed for commonality with the 737 as it would allow airlines to use both the 737 and 737 Max interchangeably with little additional training. 

Boeing’s shortcuts and failure to explain the two plane’s differences, however, ended up causing two fatal crashes of the type that have grounded the aircraft since March 2019. Production continued in Renton following the grounding but now excess planes have pilled up at Boeing facilities across the region and though it was believed the aircraft would fly again soon, COVID-19 is threatening to delay its grounding event further.

Boeing’s latest aircraft, the 777X, is still in development and its production may be delayed indefinitely as plants remain closed due to COVID-19.

A Boeing 777X aircraft before a test flight in January 2019.

Taking its first flight in late January, the 777X was the first new Boeing passenger aircraft to take flight since the 737 Max grounding in March 2019. A well-needed boost for Boeing, the 777X performed a successful test flight but is still undergoing certification tests further development.

The type was designed to be a reimagined, next-generation version of the popular 777 and already has orders from multiple global airlines including British Airways, Lufthansa, and All Nippon Airways. The delay associated with closing the Everett plant due to COVID-19 concerns may push back planned deliveries of the type even further. 

Boeing did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment on whether the manufacturer predicts delays with either the 777X or 737 Max. 

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