Saturday, September 24, 2011

Boeing's Dreamlifter jet gives workers a giant show at Huntsville International Airport-Carl T Jones Field (KHSV), Huntsville, Alabama

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama - At 120 feet, the big airplane's cargo bay is as long as the Wright Brothers' first flight. Inside is room for 8 million cans of beer or 80 Mini Coopers.

They call it the Dreamlifter, a modified Boeing 747-400, and there are only four in the world. Two of those four are parked at Huntsville's International Airport this month, and they drew an excited crowd Friday.

The flying moving vans were built by Boeing to ferry parts from around the world to assemble the airline's new 787 Deamliners near Seattle, Wash. Their first delivery was in January 2007.

How big are the Dreamliners themselves? The Dreamlifters can carry only one mid-body fuselage section or pair of 787 wings at a time. That's still 115,000 pounds of wings, if you're counting.

Atlas Airlines, the company that operates the planes, moved two of its four-plane fleet to Huntsville from their home in Miami to keep them safe from hurricanes. They weren't being used this month for Dreamliner supply runs, a Boeing tour guide said, so the thinking was, "Let's get 'em somewhere else."

Alas Airlines cooperated with Boeing, the Port of Huntsville and the Transportation Safety Administration to open the gates for Boeing employees in Huntsville to see a Dreamlifter.

Six hundred of Boeing's Huntsville engineers have worked on the Dreamliner, and many of them were crawling over the Dreamlifter's interior Friday. More tours for Boeing workers and their families are planned today.

Inside the giant plane Friday, a tour guide who did not want to be named ran down a list of features that include this fact: It's 70 feet from the ground to the top of a Dreamlifter.

A giant bulkhead separates the crew cabin and cargo bay, because the bay isn't pressurized. Nothing living or flammable can be transported.

Nothing sits on the floor of the Dreamlifter. It all rides on two tracks operated by two switch-flippers in front and back who must agree or nothing moves. when the Dreamlifter is being unloaded, it only takes those two.

How do you get an jet airplane's wings inside another airplane? A tractor attaches to the tail of the Dreamlifter and swings it sideways on a giant hinge.

The Dreamlifter will leave Huntsville sometime around the end of this month, and it is not open to the public for viewing. But people wishing to see it can drive south on Wall Triana to the airport's cargo-handling area and see the plane behind the gates. It's impossible to miss.

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