With great fanfare, Boeing Co. toasted Wednesday the recent opening of the renovated factory in Ridley Township where it makes the CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
Actually, the Delaware County factory where Boeing's signature tandem-rotor transport helicopter has been manufactured since the early 1960s never closed.
Production of the latest version of the aircraft for the Army, which began in 2006, hasn't been interrupted during the ongoing construction. Currently, Boeing produces four Chinooks per month for the military.
By 2014, when the $130 million project is slated for completion, Boeing will have transformed a building that originally was built in 1929 by Baldwin Locomotive to manufacture railcars.
Boeing acquired the building in 1965 as it ramped up production of the first Chinooks, which many speakers described Wednesday as the workhorse of the U.S. military, transporting personnel, equipment and supplies.
"I still bleed Chinook," Maj. Gen. William Crosby, program executive officer for aviation for the Army, told the workers, politicians and military personnel gathered for the morning celebration. He added that he believes he's the only active-duty soldier who has flown all versions of the Chinook, from A to the current F.
Boeing officials described how they reconfigured the production floor and opened up the building to let in more natural light. Floors were leveled, climate controls added, and now the Chinook plant is one of three Boeing zero-landfill facilities.
A tour of Building 3-61 showed off a brightly painted production line where assembly, test and integration work is done. The changes should enable the 223,000-square-foot factory to boost Chinook production, giving it the capability to produce six per month in 2012.
Chinook production provides enough work for three shifts a day, five days a week, for 2,000 Boeing workers directly. But Leanne Caret, Boeing vice president of H-47 Programs, said about two-thirds of the 6,200 people who work at the Ridley Township-based Mobility Division are involved with the Chinook program.
Though Phase II of the four-phase construction project was completed by Memorial Day, Boeing officials chose to celebrate the renovation on Wednesday — the 50th anniversary of the Chinook's first flight.