Boeing Plant 2
A reminisce by John Kuller
In South Seattle, the ghosts are stirring along the Duwamish. Yes
ghosts. The ghosts of all those almost seven thousand Boeing B-17
bombers which brought the Nazis to their knees, and the 277 B-52 bombers
which helped turn the tide in the Cold War.
are losing their birthplace, as Boeing has decided to demolish its
venerable Plant 2 airplane factory, where these B-17 and B-52 warplanes
were produced in incredible quantities.
I first visited Plant 2 in mid 1950, the wartime production of B-17
bombers, which actually reached 16 per day…every day, had long ceased,
the camouflage village erected on the roof to confuse Japanese bombers
had been removed, and the metal jigs and fixtures used to produce the
planes, had been cut up and sold for scrap.
only remaining evidence of this mighty production effort were the
thousands of nuts, bolts and rivets embedded in the plant’s asphalt
aisles, and the scars, dents and embedded metal in the maple floors of
the balcony, where the smaller pieces of airplane had been assembled. In fact, you could shoot a cannon down any of the main aisles with no fear of hitting anyone or anything.
listening closely, one could imagine hearing the whine of the lathes
and milling machines, and the thump of the presses, turning out the bits
and pieces, and then the earsplitting clatter of rivet guns, wielded by
hundreds of legendary “Rosie the Riveters”, assembling the parts into
complete airplanes. And finally outside on the apron, the scream of the
four big radial engines, as they were run up to full power, bringing the
big “bird” to life, at last.
Plant 2 didn’t sleep for long. The Cold War was soon upon us, along
with the B-52 bomber. That awesome machine, which is still in service,
could carry an H bomb to anywhere in the Soviet Union. Thus threatening unimaginable devastation upon that Evil Empire.
AAnd where was this monster built. You
guessed it, Boeing Plant 2. The airplane could barely be contained
inside the plant, and actually had to have the vertical tail folded down
to clear the doors. But the other Boeing plants were full of priority work, so the old gal was again pressed into service.
And serve she did, with 277 B-52s being built there in 8 years.
But with the transfer of B-52 production to Wichita, the old lady, who by now was showing her age, again fell into disuse.
had built a state of the art Developmental Center elsewhere, and modern
plants for producing jetliners, were sprouting like weeds at the Boeing
recent years, however, the place has fallen into almost total disuse,
with antique airplane storage and some Museum of Flight airplane
restoration being the only significant activities.
She did have a bit of a reprieve though, when the first 8
737s were built there in 1966. That was a couple of years before I used part
of this old factory to build and test a full scale seawater desalination
plant. While at about the same time, some other guys were building asphalt
processing plants elsewhere in the building.
though, it doesn’t seem quite right to rip down this iconic structure,
and recycle this irreplaceable bit of Seattle and airplane history into
just another park. Or Heaven forbid, a Shopping Center.
last B-17 to roll out of Plant 2. No, not 1945, but September 2010.
The airplane is a B-17 belonging to the Museum of Flight, which was
stored in the building.