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Inside the Boeing 747-8 factory

Boeing's next-generation 747 passenger plane, the 747-8 Intercontinental will be formally unveiled Sunday. But first, CNET got a look at the plane's final assembly operation.

The first 747-8 Intercontinental that Boeing has built for its launch partner Lufthansa. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

EVERETT, Wash.--Boeing tomorrow will formally unveil the 747-8 Intercontinental, the next generation of the aviation giant's iconic jumbo jet. The plane is said to be perhaps the most fuel-efficient in the world, and replaces the 747-400 as the company's most famous jet.

According to Boeing:

The 747-8 Intercontinental is the only jetliner in the 400- to 500-seat market, stretched [18.3 ft] from the 747-400 to provide 467 seats in a three-class configuration and a [8,000 nautical mile] range. Using 787-technology engines, the airplane will be quieter, produce lower emissions, and achieve better fuel economy than any competing jetliner. The 747 Intercontinental will provide nearly equivalent trip costs and 13 percent lower seat-mile costs than the 747-400, plus 26 percent greater cargo volume...The 747-8 is more than 10 percent lighter per seat than the [Airbus] A380 and will consume 11 percent less fuel per passenger than the 555-seat airplane. That translates into a trip-cost reduction of 21 percent and a seat-mile cost reduction of more than 6 percent, compared to the A380.

Boeing today hosted a media event at its huge assembly plant here, a building that is said to be the largest by volume in the world. The aviation press was able to get a very rare view of the assembly process for both the 747-8 freighter, which made its first flight a year ago, and the 747-8 Intercontinental.

According to Elizabeth Lund, vice president and deputy 747 program manager, the 747-8 Intercontinental's first flight is expected sometime in early spring of this year, and its first customer delivery is expected sometime in the fourth quarter.

Stay tuned as CNET brings you more from the weekend's 747-8 extravaganza, including a look at an interior mock-up of the plane, and the formal unveiling tomorrow.