Boeing Makes Last S. Calif. Passenger Jet
Sunday, April 23, 2006; 2:04 PM
LONG BEACH, Calif. -- The last Boeing 717 has left the factory. The slender airliner, trailed by dozens of the workers who built it, was rolled out before dawn last week and towed across a boulevard to Long Beach Airport.
Its delivery to AirTran Airways next month will mark the end of seven decades of commercial airplane production in Southern California.
At another sprawling complex nearby, thousands of workers still produce the Boeing C-17 military cargo plane. However, there are no new orders for the aircraft in the proposed Defense Department budget.
If congressional efforts to restore the program fail, the last of those flying warehouses will be delivered in 2008, and all airplane production would end in California _ once the center of commercial and military airplane construction in the nation.
"More aviation history has been made in Southern California than in any other place in the world," said Bill Schoneberger, author of "California Wings," a history of aviation in the state.
"But we've evolved. The aeronautics industry has moved from an airplane business into a systems business," he said.
Indeed, as corporate consolidation and defense cuts sent airplane production to Seattle, St. Louis and other regions, Southern California has moved from metal bending to aerospace research and development.
Today's workers build satellites, helicopters and unmanned surveillance drones while developing rockets and military jets that are made elsewhere.
Southern California aviation history dates to the early 1900s and features pioneers such as Howard Hughes, Jack Northrop and Donald Douglas, whose Douglas Aircraft built the DC-1 in 1933, one of the first commercial passenger planes.
With weather that accommodated year-round flying, the region drew companies that produced bombers and fighter planes during World War II. Later came jetliners such as the DC-8, DC-9, DC-10, MD-80, MD-90, MD-11 and L-1011 TriStar, and space vehicles that included the Apollo capsule and space shuttle. Boeing Co. acquired the Long Beach plant in August 1997 when it bought McDonnell-Douglas Corp.
As the nation's defense priorities shifted, Northrop Grumman Corp. went from building B-2 stealth bombers and other planes in the region to providing electronic warfare systems, including the Global Hawk unmanned surveillance plane, built in San Diego.
Boeing builds satellites in El Segundo. And at a research facility in Palmdale, Lockheed Martin Corp. is developing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the next generation warplane.