EVERETT -- To watch the more than 500 Boeing employees who designed, built and tested the 787 walk together ahead of Airplane 24's roll to the gathered crowd of thousands for the first delivery to All Nippon Airways, I could not help but see a fitting bookend for this part of The Boeing Company's history.
On an early summer's night in Everett on exactly the same spot - with weather warmer and far dryer than today - Boeing employees who worked to assemble, and later disassemble and reassemble, Dreamliner One, walked the first 787 out of the factory.
It was just after midnight on June 26, 2007, and the first roll of the wheels out of Building 40-26 was met with spontaneous applause during the transition from second to third shift. Those on the factory floor would walk behind her wingtips as far as they could go before being stopped at the bridge over Route 526 to the paint hangar.
That moment would be captured by photographer Charles Conklin, and represented the 787's official, unofficial debut. Many more eyes would be watching on July 8, 2007.
Conklin's photographs would lead this page and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer the following day. The 787 story, and later its extended saga, solidified into a single idea that night, not disparate group of systems and structures from Boeing and its global partners, but it had - on that day - become an aircraft that would draw the world's attention to a single place: This factory.
Those of us who watched from the outside got to march along the journey in a small way, reporting its milestones and missteps. The biography of the Dreamliner is a snapshot in time of a transforming company and one whose birth comes amidst the backdrop of changing country, a changing world and its changing economy. At almost every turn, this aircraft and its story are linked in that change.
The next chapter in the 787 story is just as important, if not moreso, than the one just closed. Boeing must make good on its leap which it believes is the backbone for the next three decades. Making the 787 as good for Boeing as Boeing believes the 787 is for airlines is the central question of the airframer's long-term health.
The 787's necessity to connect the world's growing aerotropoli is at the heart of this shifting center of gravity; away from the mature economies in the US and Europe and toward those in Brazil, Russia, India and China, each with industries, and ambitions, to challenge Boeing and Airbus on the world's stage.
For its newly developed - and hard-earned - technological edge, Boeing has swum to the next island from its coming competitors. A swim that changed lives, both personal and professional, with each contributor different than when the journey first began.
The march for those who walked today with the 787 was stopped once again, except this time it is to see the aircraft off to its new home. They will remain here, to return to the factory and to the Towers to begin once again the march into Boeing's next chapter.
Second Photo Credit Charles Conklin