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A 747-8 is born

Everett, Wash.--As part of its Paris Air Show Preview earlier this month, Boeing offered tours of its 747-8 production line at its factory north of Seattle.

The newest member of the 747 family, the aircraft will be offered in both passenger (747-8 Intercontinental) and freighter (474-8F) versions. The former made its first flight last March and should start to delivery to launch customer Lufthansa in late 2011 or early 2012. Inside the facility, which is the world's largest building by volume, the company also completes final assembly for 787, 777, and 767 aircraft.

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On the floor

As part of the tour, we also got to walk through a 747-8 still under construction. Here you can see the aircraft as we entered the factory from an adjoining conference room. Boeing wouldn't reveal delivery details except to say that the airliner was destined for a "VIP customer."

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Flaps

With the engines installed, the 747-8 is almost ready to leave the factory. From behind you can see the full sweep of the aircraft's 224-foot, 7-inch wing and the broad flaps extending almost to the floor on the left side.

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Engine

Technicians inspect one of the recently installed engines. The scalloped edges on the engine cowling help reduce noise.

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747-8 freighter

Across the factory floor was a 747-8 Freighter version still under construction. Currently, Boeing is building 1.5 airplanes per month, with production increasing to two per month by next year.

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Wing weights

Before the engines are installed, Boeing hangs 14,000-pound weights below each engine pylon (two on each wing). The arrangement is necessary to simulate the weight of the engines, or the wings will flex up and out of shape.

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Going in

We had a great view of the expansive wing, the engines, and the wing's control surfaces as we entered the main deck. The highly polished metal exterior takes on a sea green hue until it's painted. Beyond is the freighter seen in previous photos.

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Full length

Though the Airbus A380 is on the whole much bigger than the 747-8 (about 555 passengers vs. 450), Boeing's aircraft is slightly longer. This close-up view shows the details in the airliner's metal skin.

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Inside and around

T. Hazari, a regional director for passenger revenue analysis, leads us around the aircraft. Here he stands in the forward passenger compartment, where airlines normally place the first- or business-class section. Behind Hazari the cabin curves inward to the airliner's nose, while above his head is the cockpit and upper deck. We had to wear the plastic shoe covers to go inside.

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Main deck

A turn in the other direction offered a view of the entire length of the main deck. Without any passenger seats, galleys, or lavatories, the cabin has a remarkably spacious feel. The overhead luggage compartments have been redesigned to offer more headroom. Though streamlined, they offer just as much storage space.

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The way up

The staircase also has been redesigned, to offer a broader base and handrails. That, along with a higher cabin ceiling, offers a more spacious welcome as you enter through one of the main boarding doors.

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Mood lighitng

Dynamic lighting in the cabin is adjustable at the command of the flight crew. Brighter lights would be used for boarding and meal service and darker conditions for night flights. The lights can also be adjusted slowly to ease the transition between flight time and arrival. And if desired, the flight crew can even activate the "disco lights," as seen here.

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Upper deck

We had to leave the 747-8 and climb an exterior stairway to reach the upper deck. As seen here, the upper deck passenger door swings up.

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Though the upper deck was originally meant to accommodate the passenger lounge, airliners have long used it for business- or first-class seats. This is the view forward to the cockpit or flight deck.

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Flight deck

This view of the flight deck shows that it has been outfitted with controls and instruments. The seats, however, are still covered.

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Tail

The vertical stabilizer rises 63 feet, 8 inches off the factory floor.

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Flight line

Completed aircraft sit on the flight line outside the factory as they wait test flights and delivery. Here is a 747-8 Freighter painted in Korean Air colors. Just beyond is a modified 747 "Dreamlifter" that's used to transport fuselage sections to Everett.

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Boeing Field

Boeing operates a second flight line at Boeing Field. Here is a completed 747-8 Freighter used for test flights. The company will fly a 747-8 to show it off at the Air Show.

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