1997 - 2002 BCA
It was time to get to know the factory. The Boeing Commercial Airplane Company (BCA) was like a defense program that had blown up to gargantuan size. The balance of the organization was much more about manufacturing huge numbers of what it had developed.
A Boeing defense program would typically spend a few years developing some special technology, and then manufacture a few dozen or maybe a couple hundred of them at most. In Commercial, the manufacturing operations were geared around producing thousands of units, and they kept doing derivative products that would make a program last decades instead of a couple of years. The balance was very different.
The stories I will tell here are more about the things I learned while working inside the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company (BCA) as opposed to my specific projects. These stores will cover a lot of computing and networking history in the company. My role was much more that of a consultant and teacher. Someone would come to me and ask for help with issues they were having with computing support, or networking, or just to find out what I though about something. I spent as much of each day in the factories as I could, mostly Everett, but I put in hundreds of hours in Renton and the parts plants as well. I also spent a fair amount of time in the engineering buildings and at the BCA headquarters and training facility on the site of the old Longacres racetrack - the second horse racing venue in Boeing's history in the northwest.
Most of the issues I encountered were fairly simple, but every once in a while there would be one of those things that challenged the boundaries of the current state-of-the-art in computing or network operations. One particular story brings my factory networking experience with BCA into focus. Here I am departing from a purely chronological order so that the intricacies of this work are easier for the reader to understand. This particularly revealing episode started with a phone call while I was still supporting BCA factory networking, but had already moved on to another primary assignment. I'll touch on things that happened in my five years reporting directly to BCA's leadership throughout all of these stories.
Mike Kozak, an engineer on the 777 program, was working on their new mobile tooling for converting the 777 assembly line to a moving line that was flexible. This was Boeing relearning how the B-17 had been built during WWII. Mike wanted me to write a specification explaining what it took for factory tooling to be a good citizen on the Boeing Enterprise Network, or the BEN as we called our corporate intranet. My spec was to be handed to a supplier who was going to build some of the equipment for the new moving line. This was a return to my Boeing roots on the missile program. Once again, I would be digging into the world of control systems.
There are four parts to this story that need to be understood together, and in no particular order. One is about factory networking. Another is about the deep history of the company, and especially the B-17 program. Yet another one is about Boeing and the early history of the Internet. Finally, there is a piece about BCA's product development plans that crashed and burned when the greedy GE idiots took control of the company (that's about as charitable as I can bring myself to be about those folks). The part that explains what happened immediately after Mike Kozak's call is in "Factory Networking."