“That’s a wrap!“
PilotsEYE.tv covers the delivery of Lufthansa Cargo’s fifth Triple Seven. Before its take-off for Germany in early February, a film team has been shooting a movie about D-ALFE at the Boeing Everett Factory this week.
Still covered in a grey-green protective coating, the machine has yet to receive its shining livery in Lufthansa white. The left engine still lies exposed without its casing, while the cockpit seats are hidden under rough burlap sacks. But appearances are deceiving, all the aircraft needs is a final polish from a handful of technicians at the Boeing factory in Everett near Seattle. Lufthansa Cargo’s fifth Triple Seven is almost finished and ready for delivery. On 11 February the plane will take off for Frankfurt and reinforce the cargo fleet. But it has already played a leading role, starring in the new PilotsEYE film. Producer Thomas Aigner and his film team got a peak behind the scenes at the Boeing factory last week. On the plane’s journey to Frankfurt they will be looking over the shoulders of the Lufthansa Cargo pilots and capturing the view from the cockpit.
One of these uniformed shoulders will belong to Manfred Schridde. The 49-year-old is a technical pilot at Lufthansa Cargo. After the first four, the deputy fleet captain will now be taking this – for the time being – last delivery for flight operations in early February. But right now “Manni” Schridde is talking shop with Boeing’s chief pilot Gary Meiser in front of D-ALFE. From the engine’s impressive interior to its thrust, fuel consumption and range, they are telling each other all about the special features and advantages of the 777F. Cameraman Claudio Capobianco keeps on shooting. And the director is happy: “That’s a wrap!” cries Thomas Aigner. There are virtually no repeat takes, everything is perfect, and the chemistry is fantastic. Manfred Schridde and Gary Meiser have known each other for years, they have performed four test flights together. “In the cockpit you get to know a person really well and really fast. I am delighted that Manfred is in front of the camera with me today, I think very highly of him,” underlines the Boeing pilot while showing Manfred Schridde around the hall.
Cargo and Boeing talk cockpit
As there will be no voice-over for the PilotsEYE film, the chat between the two men will explain the production facility to viewers and help them understand the technical details of the 777F. Small, highly sensitive microphones fixed to their jackets make the pilots’ voices audible. Noise levels in the busy hall are consistently high with sounds of buzzing, humming, banging and hammering emanating from each and every corner. The 399 million square metre hall is warmed only by a million lamps and around 40,000 staff members working in three shifts. There is no central heating. But nine canteens and various cafés await punters behind the wide-meshed security fences. A scent of fresh coffee wafts around the plant and is just as familiar there as the acrid odour of solvent and smell of hot metal.
The two pilots stop to look at an undercarriage standing on its own. Its strut stretches like a huge grey joystick into the empty air. As the structure is not attached to a fuselage, the wheels look even more enormous than they already are. A perfect setting! Suddenly an ear-splitting honk sends a jolt through the entire TV crew before and behind the camera, and everybody stretches their necks to look up. An empty overhead crane is moving on rails below the ceiling to pick up a load at the other end of the hall. The cranes at the Boeing Factory can hoist loads of up to 35,000 tonnes into the air. To make way and ensure that nobody down below comes to any harm, they sound warning signals to clear their path. Two wildly gesticulating staff members on the ground accompany this noisy journey und shoo the last inattentive onlookers out of the way.
Change of scene: The two pilots are sitting in the cockpit, cracking jokes about the white shoe covers everybody is required to wear by Boeing when entering the interior to protect the aircraft. “Keeps our machine clean,” quips Manfred Schridde. “Stylish and highly effective,” adds his counterpart with a pinch of salt. And then they have to rush, only 30 minutes are scheduled for the shoot in the cockpit. “If you start sweating, please use a handkerchief to dab it off, so that you don’t look all shiny “, asks Thomas Aigner. The electronic equipment in the semi-finished cockpit radiates a lot of heat, the air conditioning system is not turned on yet. Cargo sits on the left, Boeing on the right. Between the two men thick orange cables snake over the instruments: “All the orange gear you can see here is part of the test equipment,” explains Meiser. “With these two thick cables, for example, we check the “flight control” functionality.“ Then the two switch to pilot lingo, dissecting the technical details and instruments with words.
“My mission is to accept only top-quality work“
Thumbs up, the clapper falls and the show goes on: Now Manfred Schridde is standing with his Lufthansa colleague Markus Löhn on the visitors’ balcony. Next to them is a group of Japanese tourists, behind them the camera, below them the “moving line”. “Down here the aircraft gradually takes shape as it moves through five production stations,” Markus Löhn seemingly explains to his colleague, but in reality to the later viewer. As a permanent representative of the Lufthansa Group Fleet Management, Markus Löhn looks after every aircraft for the company – from the first screw to the final test flight - together with the Lufthansa Technik team. Staff members work in three shifts on the U-shaped production line. This process is very efficient: “Every two and a half days a Triple Seven leaves the plant – and the next aircraft can move up to the now free work position.
“Lufthansa Cargo’s machine has now completed the “moving line” as production number 1,274, but is still standing in the hall. The US aircraft manufacturer performs minor touch-ups demanded by Lufthansa as a discerning customer just before the purchase. “This can be anything up to 200 items; normally minor details that have no impact on flight operations. But my mission is to accept only top quality work,“ says Manfred Schridde.
Bound for FRA with a new aircraft and salad dressing
He has already visited the Boeing Everett Factory over ten times for Lufthansa, the technical pilot tells us on camera the next day. His gaze wanders to the gigantic production facility, the location of yesterday’s shoot, now serving as a backdrop. And what an impressive backdrop – surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks, flanked by countless aircraft of various airlines waiting for test flights or buyers. To capture this image, Thomas Aigner has decided to shoot from a hotel roof in the immediate flight line. Under the clear blue Everett sky, Manfred Schridde is to vent his thoughts – in complete sentences. “On taking delivery … team spirit is essential. Only if we work together can the whole thing come off without a hitch.“ And: “After delivery … I am happy if the machine runs smoothly und does a good job in Frankfurt.” And finally: “My wife is delighted when I fly to Seattle, because I always bring home Hershey’s chocolate with almonds and Caesar salad dressing. I have to work my way through the entire shopping list.“
Thomas Aigner will later add these bits and pieces to his film to make the cockpit flight more entertaining. But, for the time being, we can “call it a day“. Dense fog is rolling in from the south over Mount Rainier volcano towards the Boeing Factory. Only a few minutes later it already billows around the hotel roof. “Typical for this place,” says Manfred Schridde. “Once we couldn’t even find our own plane on the tarmac …“ Often test flights even have to be cancelled due to poor visibility, which causes delays in the tightly scheduled final acceptance phase. But he is optimistic: “On 11 February we’ll be taking our fifth Triple Seven home.”