Thursday, May 25, 2006

Boeing Aircraft in Southern California: The End of an Era

This Los Angeles Times story on Boeing's last commercial jetliner to be built at its Long Beach plant hits close to home, literally. Boeing's Southern California commmerical manufacturing facility is next door to my college. I've had considerable interest in Boeing's Long Beach plant. It's an awesome facility housing one of the world's best known firms, and I can see the Stars and Stripes waving over the headquarters from one of my classrooms. Not only that, the Long Beach site was the original home of Douglas Aviation, which later merged into McDonnell-Douglas, and then McDonnell-Douglas with Boeing in 1998. I have no relation to my namesake, Donald W. Douglas, the founder of Douglas Aircraft, although people often ask otherwise, and I get a kick out of seeing my name up on the local street signs, directing drivers to "Donald Douglas Drive." I also feel and understand the sadness surrounding the plant's closing. For the photo of the 717's last flyover at Long Beach Airport, click here. Here's some background from the article:

Boeing announced last year that it would close the 717 line because of slow sales of the single-aisle jetliner. It was a plane that Boeing inherited when it acquired McDonnell Douglas Corp. in 1997, but the 717, originally called the MD-95, never caught on with major airlines. The Long Beach complex was part of Southern California's golden era of aviation as pioneers took advantage of the temperate climate and lots of open space to test their new flying machines. In 1916, the Loughhead brothers formed a firm that became Lockheed Aircraft and two decades later built planes for Amelia Earhart. In the '20s, Donald Douglas set up his firm behind a Los Angeles barber shop. A few years later a small San Diego firm started by Claude Ryan built the plane that Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Other Southland aviation pioneers included Jack Northrop and Howard Hughes, who built companies that bore their names and flourished. At its peak during World War II, the Douglas Aircraft plant in Long Beach employed 50,000 people and a new plane was completed every two hours. Its prosperity spawned new communities, such as Lakewood, to house workers. Among the early residents were couples such as Billy and Evelyn Dewees, who attended Tuesday's ceremony wearing their old McDonnell Douglas employee badges. Evelyn started working at the Long Beach plant in 1954 building the C-133 and then the C-124 military cargo planes. Billy was hired three years later. Evelyn's starting pay was $1.24 an hour, plus a bonus of 8 cents an hour for working the swing shift. That beat the going rate of 80 cents an hour for an office job, she recalled." They treated us well," she said, noting how aerospace helped spawn a middle class in the area. "And we got good pensions, better than most." The Deweeses retired in 1989, walking out of the factory holding hands. Aerospace manufacturing in the Southland peaked in the late 1980s before the end of the Cold War triggered a major retrenchment that led to consolidation of the industry as competition from overseas grew.

1 comment:

a.k.a. Blandly Urbane said...

Sharp, intelligent blog, I'll try to keep up. I've added you to my blogroll so that I can visit more often.