Behind the Scenes


Boeing 747-151 Forward Fuselage

A bit of luck

Northwest 747 - Photo by James CovingtonCentral to the story of the jet age is the Boeing 747 - the so-called "jumbo jet" - that revolutionized air travel. Originally, the plan was to build a replica of a 747 nose section to impress visitors with the sheer size of this remarkable aircraft. However, in a wonderful stroke of luck, Northwest Airlines called the exhibit curator, Bob van der Linden, in 1999 to offer the Museum a complete 747 that the airline was retiring.

Unfortunately, the Museum did not have room for the massive aircraft, but the curator asked that Northwest give the Museum the forward fuselage for the new America by Air exhibit. The answer was a swift "yes," and the rest, as they say, is history. (Photo of Northwest 747 in retirement, courtesy James Covington)

Preparation - it takes a village

Illustration of 747 Nose On DisplayThe gallery's design called for the forward fuselage to be installed on a wall next to the Albert Einstein Planetarium, which would allow visitors to enter it from the second floor using a newly constructed bridge.

Structural considerations for placing such a large object in an existing building are many, and required a large team of experts consisting of two architects, three structural engineering firms, two construction contractors, and sub-contractors. They worked in coordination with Museum design managers from the Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations and the Exhibits Division. (See list below.)

Calculations revealed that the gallery's floor had to be permanently reinforced to support the 26,500 pounds (11,793 kg) object and the weight of the bridge. In addition, temporary shoring would be needed to support the crane that would lift the pieces into place.

In January, 2006, workers from contractor MCA began building the bridge and the structure to support the forward fuselage.

In June, 2006, workers from Guard-Lee, Inc., began disassembling the forward fuselage at Charlotte Aircraft, Maxton, NC, shown in this series of photos. Northwest Airlines had sold the airplane to Charlotte Aircraft for scrap, with the stipulation that the forward fuselage would be saved for the Smithsonian.

  Charlotte Charlotte Charlotte



Arrival At The Museum

The pieces of the 747 - 11 to be exact -- arrived via truck at the west end of the National Mall building on January 8, 2007. Curator Bob van der Linden, taking photos, lighting designer and project manager Frank Florentine, middle, and exhibits production manager Dave Paper oversaw the work performed by Guard-Lee.

  Arrival Arrival Arrival




Installation of the outer portions took 14 days. Workers from Guard-Lee who remained in Florida enjoyed watching the progress through the video camera. Structural Engineer Rocky Styer checked the web periodically to ensure we were following his plan. Rocky later commented that he wished he could have a video cam on all his projects.

Fitting the 747 into the space not only required space for the plane but also space for the cranes to lift the pieces into place. Lifting straps were shortened to the minimum to avoid the wings of the Ford Tri-Motor.  The tightest lift by the installation crew came at the end of the assembly when the radome and the cone just behind the radome, about 4,000 pounds of weight, floated at the end of the crane and between the 747 and the existing Northrop Alpha airplane.  The crane operator slowly hoisted the pieces and the Guard-Lee crews gently pulled the last two pieces of the 747 together and installed the remaining bolts.  It all fit!

America by Air - Boeing 747 Forward Fuselage Installation
America by Air - Boeing 747 Forward Fuselage Installation
America by Air - Boeing 747 Forward Fuselage Installation
America by Air - Boeing 747 Forward Fuselage Installation


Visitors can now enter on the 747's upper deck - a revolutionary feature of the airplane that created the 747's easily recognizable "hump." Once inside, they can view the cockpit and marvel at the airplane's bewildering array of 971 lights, gauges, and switches, and gaze through the cockpit windows to view the other aircraft suspended in the gallery. Visitors can also see the spiral staircase leading to the lower level, a unique and much talked-about feature when the first "jumbo jet" was introduced.

Boeing 747-151 Forward Fuselage Fact Sheet

Boeing 747 Nose Section on display in completed America by Air exhibition (opened Nov, 2007)

Northwest Airlines 747 Forward Fuselage Project
Major Team Members

National Air and Space Museum Curator: Bob van der Linden
National Air and Space Museum Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations: Mary Kfoury, Michael Gavula
National Air and Space Museum Exhibits Design Managers: Vic Govier, Frank Florentine
Architects: Architrave PC., Robert Weinstein and Peter Kou
Engineering firms: McMullan Associates, Doug Bond; S3E Klingman, Rocky Styer; IES, Bob Johnson
Building contractors: MCA, Lee Barton; Guard-Lee, Inc., Tom Wilkes

Behind The Scenes