[conspire] (OT) A year ago: Inigo Montoya tour

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Fri Aug 12 16:34:13 PDT 2016

A year ago, Deirdre and I were privileged to take this extraordinary tour:

Trip report follows (posted last year to a mailing list of frequent
travellers, including background details for their benefit):

----- Begin forwarded message -----

This is a story about time spans:  47 years, 59.2 seconds, a Saturday in
December 1968, six years, another 47 years, and a Saturday this July.

At 6:15 AM on Thursday, December 26, 1968, Pan American World Airways
Captain Arthur Moen had First Officer Johannes Markestein apply takeoff
thrust to Pan Am flight 799.  The plane was this beautiful Boeing
707-321C, the Clipper Racer:

Captain Moen was 47 years old, a married father of two.  47 was as old
as he was ever going to be:  59.2 seconds later, he and his crew of two
were dead from ground impact -- victim of a known but unfixed
manufacturing defect in the Boeing freight-transport jet.

That Saturday morning, two strangers rang the Moen residence's doorbell.
These were private detectives, arrived to dissuade Mrs. Moen from suing
Boeing, by threatening further harm to her family.  Big mistake.  Turned
out, this young widow didn't intimidate well.

The three Pan Am widows immediately filed in Federal court.  Boeing
stalled the court action for six years.  Dirty-tricks intimidation
tactics were tried, none worked.  Long story short, on opening day of
the trial in 1974, Boeing capitulated and settled on plaintiffs' terms.

Arthur's 10-year-old son Rick grew up dreading Christmas season -- the
anniversary -- and hating Boeing.

Roll forward 47 years to this past Saturday.  That's a lot of years;
all the principals are dead or long retired.  What sort of fanatic would
hold a grudge for 47 years?

Hi there.  My name is not Inigo Montoya, but I'm a Princess Bride fan.

This past Saturday, my wife Deirdre and I flew up to Seattle to join a
group of frequent flyers in two spectacular behind-the-scenes tours
at Boeing Company's production plants in Everett and Renton, followed by
a dinner inside Boeing's historic 1909 'Red Barn' original building,
adjoining the Museum of Flight
(http://www.museumofflight.org/event-space/red-barn).  As we circled
Seattle for landing, I commented to Deirdre 'One does not simply fly
into Mordor'.  The strangeness was beginning.

Our group was picked up by two Boeing Company buses driven by helpful
and pleasant bright young men in Boeing-branded light-burgundy company
shirts.  ('Ah, redshirts', I said.[1])  The strangeness was increasing.

I personally was indulging a private gag I've been sharing with Deirdre
all of our marriage, that some day I'd go on the Boeing factory tour and
sign in as 'Inigo Montoya'.  (Death by corporate negligence is blander
and more bureaucratic than murder by sword thrust, but you're just as

Obviously, tight corporate security made that impossible, but tactical
choice of t-shirt permitted the next best thing:

The kind redshirted employees drove us through tangled Seattle traffic
(where are our flying cars, fellows?) to the Boeing plant in Everett,
where all the larger models (787 Dreamliner, 747, 777, etc.) are
manufactured.  Unlike the standard public tours, ours wasn't limited to
looking down from public galleries; instead, we walked about a mile
through the middle of the production floor.  Our very engaging guide had
been a Boeing Company tour guide about 35 years; before that, she'd
taught music in elementary school.  Even though not an engineer, she
knew the answer to every question instantly.

Everywhere, you saw signs of a very appealing company culture:  These
are people who work hard on sound engineering and safety.  It's a
firm that is based on real achievement and not just PR.  This is
pocket-protector and sliderule America, the one I grew up in.

I was reminded very much of the late Michael Crichton's novel
_Airframe_, which I'm sure was based in large part on long hours spent
among Boeing engineers.  http://www.michaelcrichton.com/airframe/
The novel, fruit of Crichton's typically exhaustive research, describes
the investigation of a commercial airline disaster based closely on a
real incident, but paints an (accurate) picture of the industry as
highly scrupulous and delivering a fantastically safe product.  You'd
have to be very unlucky to be die from one.

A passing employee inside the Everett plant noticed my t-shirt and said
'Hey, it's Inigo Montoya'.  I brightly replied 'Yes, it really is.  And
you don't have six fingers.'

This building is almost unfathomably large, so large that it's really
difficult to keep a mental grasp on its scale.

After we exited, Boeing catered our group with some nice boxed lunches, 
compliments of the company.  At this point, I'm starting to feel...
let's call it gratitude with an asterisk.

Next stop was the Boeing company store -- authentic company merchandise
and collectibles.  http://www.boeingstore.com/  I was surrounded by a
thick forest of prominently Boeing-branded t-shirts, bomber jackets,
posters, pins, luggage,  airplane models, watches, books, refrigerator
magnets, hats, sunglasses -- feeling a bit like Indiana Jones at
a snake convention.  I was keeping a tight grip on myself, but unsure
I'd be able to keep breathing.

Deirdre showed me some nice leather jackets, suggesting I buy one.  I
recalled to her that my late mother had said I'd look good in a
WWII-style leather jacket and wanted to buy me one -- but I don't think
she had in mind one saying 'Boeing' on the front.  Deirdre asked if I'd
buy her a blue Boeing shirt.  I deferred the question.

I joked that the DC-3 model[1] might make a nice purchase because it
said 'Douglas' on it, but Deirdre didn't get my further implication.  A
few minutes later, I voiced the bit she hadn't gotten:  'About that
shirt: I never want to feel revulsion against you, and....'  She
withdrew the request.

We left.  I gradually felt as if I could breathe again.

Another trip in the comfortable Boeing Company buses brought us to the
Renton plant, small only by comparison, where the workhorse 737 commuter
jet and similar models are cranked out very efficiently.  Again, we had
an extremely knowledgeable guide.

At 4:30 pm, we made our last stop, at the Museum of Flight and attached
'Red Barn' original Boeing factory, now a museum and special events
location.  One highlight was the privilege of walking through several
historic aircraft outside:  a British Airways Concorde -- still iconic
but every bit as cramped as rumoured -- a 787 Dreamliner, Boeing's
finest engineering achievement to date, and, best of all, one of the
B-707 jets that served as Air Force One for Eisenhower and JFK.  This is
the first time since around 1972 I've been inside my dream and nightmare
aircraft, the Boeing 707, and it was like getting a little bit of my
boyhood back.  I was able to be just one small plexiglas crowd-control
panel away from sitting in the captain's chair, in the left side of the

Dinner was a fine catered affair inside the warm and inviting Red Barn.
I also wandered through the two-story building's museum exhibits.  The
upstairs portion was devoted entirely to the post-WWII era of flying
boats, propeller passenger planes, and early jets, i.e., my father's
career.  I was once again gut-punched with nostalgia and longing mixed
with lingering doom seeing my airline-family world in museum photos --
lovely and innocent, but, seen from my own perspective, like a Hirohito
scrapbook from that nice Hawaiian vacation.

All of these are outstanding places to visit if you can arrange it.
And, for me, it turns out that you can indeed fly into Mordor, and back,
and that Mordor's full of pleasant and guileless engineers working hard
and honestly to build a quality product.

But, on the whole:  Yay, Airbus Industries.

[1]  http://en.memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Redshirt

[2]  I'd have bought a B-707 model if they'd had one but they didn't.
(Of course, it _would_ have to be a model that comes apart.)

----- End forwarded message -----

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