A Week of Firsts for Boeing and Friends

Boeing (NYS: BA) announced Thursday that it's just finished assembling a 787 Dreamliner, destined to join United Continental's (NYS: UAL) fleet next year. When it does so, this will officially make United the first North American carrier to put the 787 into service. (Japan's All-Nippon Airways was first on the globe.)

In news related only by the company that's making it, Boeing also confirmed that it's delivered its first 747-8 freighter to Luxembourg-based Cargolux. The 747-8 made further news by virtue of its carrying the first four GEnx engines ever built by General Electric (NYS: GE) . Cargolux has orders in for an additional dozen of the aircraft, each powered by the GE engines. And even this is only the tip of the iceberg. All told, GE says it has orders for more than 1,300 GEnx engines, valued at $17 billion in total, to be installed in Boeing 787 and 747-8 aircraft over the next several years.

GE promises to build and deliver at least 140 engines by the end of this year, more than enough to support Boeing's target of 25 to 30 deliveries of 787s and 747-8s this year. Next year, GE expects to ramp up to 200 engine deliveries. That should suffice to outfit the 40 787s Boeing has already mostly finished, and parked around Everett's Paine Field in Washington, awaiting completion. (The real test will come in 2013, when Boeing says it expects to begin building Dreamliners at the rate of 10 planes per month -- which will require GE to more than double its rate of engine production.)

Win some, lose some
It's not all good news for Boeing, unfortunately. Last week also marked the definitive end of the company's contract to build a new "Ground Mobile Radio" for the Army. Boeing had been working with Northrop Grumman (NYS: NOC) , Rockwell Collins (NYS: COL) , BAE, and Harris (NYS: HRS) on this element of the Joint Tactical Radio System, you see. But faced with the need to cut defense spending, the Pentagon on Friday informed Congress that it's cancelling GMR. Boeing has already collected $2 billion for its work on the program, but it now looks as if the balance of this $19.5 billion program has been sacrificed on the altar of fiscal austerity.

So I guess it's lucky that Boeing has this sideline work, building airplanes, to help tide it over.

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At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorRich Smithdoes not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handleTMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 335 out of more than 180,000 members.The Motley Fool owns shares of Northrop Grumman. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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