Final Assembly of the First 737 Max has Begun


The first Boeing 737 MAX now has its wings, including distinctive new advanced technology split wingtips. The tail is coming soon.

Boeing said Tuesday that it has begun final assembly of the first 737 MAX on a new dedicated production line in Renton.

Photos taken Sunday show the wings attached to the fuselage, with the tail still pending.

“We continue to meet our plan on the 737 MAX program,” said MAX program head Keith Leverkuhn in a statement. “Seeing the new winglet design we validated in the wind tunnel years ago now on the first new airplane is incredible.”

The start of MAX final assembly is a milestone for the Renton plant, which is undergoing a remarkable transformation.

The first MAX is scheduled to fly early next year and then begin extensive flight tests. Launch customer Southwest Airlines expects to take delivery of the first MAX in the third quarter of 2017.

To meet that schedule, this first airplane must roll out complete by the end of the year.

The first fuselage, built by Spirit AeroSystems of Wichita, arrived in Renton by train on Aug. 21. Mechanics then installed wires, tubes and ducts for electrical, hydraulic and air conditioning systems, and lined the interior with insulation blankets.

Meanwhile, Boeing had built the wings in new automated tooling designed by Electroimpact of Mukilteo.

And at a new facility in Sumner, GKN assembled the new advanced winglets — a split design replacing the common upward-swept winglets that Boeing says will improve fuel efficiency by another 1.8 percent.

Now finally all these pieces are joined, and the plane looks a large step closer to completion.

Even as the new plane takes shape on this new MAX assembly line, Renton is simultaneously preparing to ramp up production of the current model 737s on two more assembly lines from 42 jets per month today to 47 jets per month in 2017, then 52 jets per month in 2018.

Handling that ramp-up while developing the MAX — a new model featuring advanced fuel-efficient engines and various aerodynamic improvements, including those split winglets — is a major challenge.

Boeing will build the first 737 MAXs exclusively on the new production line until the assembly process is perfected, then will extend MAX production to the other two production lines.

In another part of its strategy for the 737, Boeing also plans to send to China for completion those 737s destined for Chinese airlines.

That means that for up to a third of the 737s built, including the MAXs, installation of the interiors and painting of the exteriors will be done in China.

In total, the 737 MAX family has 2,869 orders from 58 customers worldwide.

However, it still trails its Airbus rival, the A320neo jet family, which has more than 4,100 firm orders.

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