Hundreds of Boeing Wichita workers will gather Wednesday to bid farewell to a program that touched the lives of thousands of area aviation workers and marked a milestone for Boeing. Boeing Wichita workers have finished their work on the last 757 fuselage to roll off the line at the assembly building on MacArthur Road.
The 757 program, which was launched in the late 1970s, will officially end this fall when Boeing delivers the last 757 to China's Shanghai Industries.
The plane will be the 1,050th single-aisle, twin-engine 757 to be delivered since Boeing began shipments in 1982.
"We know there's something new that will replace it eventually," Boeing sheet metal mechanic Todd Shoemaker said on a break from installing floorboards in the fuselage last week. Still, "it's sad to see it go."
In the massive, once-bustling assembly building, only a handful of workers remained on the program late last week.
They were finishing up the last of three fuselage sections for the final 757 production plane.
Later this month, the section will be loaded onto a railcar to make its way to Renton, Wash., where the last 757 will be assembled.
Over the years, the 757 has been sold to 55 different customers and carried more than 1.3 billion passengers.
Today's ceremony to commemorate shipment of the final fuselage section from Wichita will undoubtedly bring back memories for scores of Boeing Wichita workers.
Nearly "everybody's been on the '57 at one time or another," said Mike Wakefield, supervisor of the 757 program in Wichita.
A proven success
Boeing launched the 757 program in 1979 with orders from Eastern Airlines and British Airways for 40 of the aircraft.
The plane was conceived during the early 1970s oil crisis to be quieter and more fuel-efficient than the 727 it replaced.
It was the first single-aisle aircraft that could fly both coast-to-coast and transatlantic flights, said Randy Tinseth, Boeing's director of product and services marketing.
One of the 757's design goals was to have a common cockpit with the twin-aisle 767. That allowed pilots to be certified simultaneously on both aircraft, reducing training costs, Tinseth said.
Teal Group aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia called the 757 a "fantastic program" for Boeing.
"It had narrow-body costs with wide-body capacity," he said.
In terms of efficiency, performance and sales, "boy was it a success," Tinseth said.
Indeed. The 757 is one of only five airplane models designed and built by Boeing to tally more than 1,000 deliveries.
But a U.S. market downturn and a growing number of airplane choices resulted in fewer orders in recent years.
Experts say the 757 also was a victim of its own success. Many 757s flying today are less than 10 years old and don't need to be replaced. Airlines are expected to operate them for years with Boeing supplying parts and support.
The increased capabilities of Boeing's newest 737 and its future 7E7 will fill the market now served by the 757, Boeing officials say.
In the beginning
When the 757 program began, Wichita built the forward section, body panels and hardware for the nacelles, or engine coverings.
In 2001, the plant's role expanded when it began building the center and aft fuselage sections. At that time, Wichita transferred body-panel work to Italy's Alenia Aeronautica.
Italian workers in the town of Pomigliano, near Naples, taped a written message to their Boeing Wichita counterparts on the final body panel they built.
"We are going to finish the last panel, but our mind runs near all the Boeing American who came to Italy (Alenia-Pomigliano) to do a genuine greeting," the message read.
"Hoping that this relationship based on friendship and collaboration will continue in the future, we wish you peace and serenity," it read. It was signed, "The Workmen."
As work on the 757 winds down in Wichita, employees are moving on to other programs, and equipment and tooling have been moved.
On Monday, the remaining 757 workers will report to work in other areas of the plant. The assembly and support building where they worked is nearly empty.
Boeing officials say the building could eventually be used for future parts production on Boeing's new jetliner, the 7E7.
But the 757 holds a special place for Stuart Miles, a sheet-metal mechanic who says the program helped support his family for the past 18 years.
He has worked on the 757 since Boeing hired him in 1986. His wife, Debbie, worked on the 757 for 15 years before she left the company.
"I've done nothing else," Miles said. "I hate to see it leave.... It's been a good job. "