From the expansive Atlas to the nimble Interstate 19 and the adventure-ready Interstate 24X, Airstream touring coaches each offer their own flavor of travel adventure. But what they have in common is a world-class manufacturing process that ensures unparalleled quality. While our riveted aluminum travel trailers are instantly recognizable and revered for their status as an American icon and a top-of-the-line recreational vehicle, our motorized camper vans built on the Mercedes-Benz® Sprinter van chassis are built with the same dedication to quality, hand-built craftsmanship, and attention to detail.
Whether you are a long-time Airstream owner or a newbie ready to hit the road on your first road trip, we encourage you to come to Jackson Center, Ohio, and visit “The Mothership” (as it’s known to Airstreamers far and wide). Here, you can take one of our popular public tours (offered in both the travel trailer and touring coach facilities) and see for yourself this complex, time-tested manufacturing process in action. Our new video tour gives you a sneak peak of what to expect when you come to Jackson Center, with an up-close look at this hand-made production process for our Mercedes-Benz vans.
Ready to see Airstream's Touring Coach Production Facility for yourself? Schedule a public tour today and Visit the Mothership to see this incredible hand-crafted process firsthand.
Building an Airstream Touring Coach: A Step-By-Step Process
When Airstream opened a new Travel Trailer Production Facility in early 2020, our touring coach production lines moved into the building our travel trailer line vacated. Built in 1971 and expanded in 2015, this 275,000 square-foot space provided more than eight times the amount of space our touring coach production lines had previously. That extra space meant more room for storage, new tools, and a re-imagined production line with plenty of space for our associates to focus on this hand-built process. The move also brought many of the materials and parts under one roof, eliminating wasted time moving materials from warehouses across town.
The new space features two production lines – one for Interstate and one for Atlas – with both lines running parallel from east to west across the building. In between these two bustling production lines is what we refer to as the “factory within a factory.” Here in the central area of the building, teams upholster furniture, assemble cabinets and wardrobes, and build the Atlas walls and rooftop. It’s the beating heart of this facility that feeds all the component parts outward to the main production lines.
Pre-production Chassis Preparation
Airstream currently builds five motorized camper vans on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van chassis:
Each of these models begin their lives in the Pre-production Chassis Prep area, where they are prepared for work that will eventually begin in earnest on the main production lines. Airstream receives two types of chassis from our partners at Mercedes-Benz: The Interstate is built on the Sprinter Van chassis with the complete van body, while Atlas chassis arrive with just the cab portion and a rear frame.
In the Pre-production Prep Area, Interstate chassis are lifted so associates can install components in the undercarriage, automotive windows are replaced with RV windows, seats are removed and taken to our upholstery department, and external holes are cut for RV hookups and other ports. The Atlas chassis is also prepared in this section, but because the Atlas chassis is just a cab and frame, work is concentrated on the undercarriage and cab. Once prep work is completed, each chassis is moved to the start of the main production lines where they begin their journey to completion.
Cabinets, Seating, Technology, and More: The Factory Within a Factory
While prep work begins on each motorized unit, associates get to work building interior components, walls, and rooftops. This work is done in the central area of the plant – a sort of factory within the factory that feeds out to the main lines.
Atlas and 24-foot Interstate units are equipped with a 7-layer laminated floor structure that’s built in this central area. Block foam insulation and plywood pieces are cut to size, and a half inch of plywood is laminated with a layer of glue applied evenly. Vacuum pressure is applied for several hours to ensure the glue is evenly distributed and metal raceways are added to guide internal wiring and plumbing components further down the line. Because it’s smaller and has tighter weight restrictions, the 19-foot Interstate 19 is equipped with a more lightweight flooring. The Atlas roof begins its life in this station as well, with a state-of-the-art glue and lamination process.
Nearby, the standard bucket seats that arrive in the Mercedes-Benz chassis are deconstructed and reupholstered. Each seat is disassembled, and the standard cloth upholstery is removed. Each piece of the seat is reupholstered with Ultraleather – one of the softest, most durable, and easiest to clean materials available on the RV market (the exception is Interstate 24X, which uses marine-grade Simtex-carbon seating). Once they are reassembled, seats are sent back over to the production line where they will be installed back into the van as it comes down the line.
The final piece of this factory within a factory central production area is the Interstate woodshop, where our skilled woodworkers hand craft every cabinet, wardrobe, and piece of furniture that goes into the coach.
That process begins on a high-precision CNC router which cuts out the pieces needed to construct the cabinets and furniture. The pieces are individually tagged with barcodes and loaded onto a cart which can move to various stations for additional work. Exterior-facing pieces are run through our edge-banding machine which applies a soft vinyl strip for comfort and style.
Finally, the component pieces are rolled over to the assembly area where craftspeople fit them together with screws and dowels which are made in-house. This method of construction ensures greater strength and durability than the standard staples which are used across the RV industry in furniture construction. And by tracking the individual pieces with barcodes we can ensure greater quality throughout the process.
How Airstream Builds the Atlas Touring Coach
Once the prep work is completed on the Atlas cab chassis, it’s moved to its own independent line where work begins building out Atlas’s expansive living space. Steel outriggers are added to the chassis frame to extend the width and form the foundational structure of the van. Wiring harnesses and initial plumbing lines are run through the chassis body while holding tanks and the generator are connected to the frame.
Next, luxury vinyl flooring is laid out and electrical, gas, and plumbing components are threaded up through pre-cut holes in the flooring. While this work is completed, the Atlas woodshop nearby is hard at work building cabinetry, wardrobes, and vanities. The assembled cabinetry is secured to the flooring and the frame while the interior comfort components like the furnace and the water heater are installed and attached to the plumbing and vent lines that run through channels in the floor. At the rear of the Atlas body, the spacious three-piece bath begins to come together with the installation of the shower base, toilet, cabinetry, and sink.
While Atlas is technically a Class B RV like its Interstate siblings, its wide body and spacious living area leads us to think of it as a Class B+. The Interstate is built inside the standard walls of the Sprinter van chassis, but Atlas undergoes extensive work building walls and a roof while the interior living space is built out. Custom-molded walls are attached to the steel outriggers to form the body of the living area, while nearby the roof is assembled with all necessary equipment, including the air conditioner, skylight, fans, vents, and solar panels. After the rooftop components are completely installed, the roof is lifted via crane so it can be connected to the wall panels via more than 100 rivets. A molded fiberglass piece is then installed to ensure a watertight overlap on the sides, which is then riveted to the rooftop structure. The fiberglass trim and back end are finished with custom-molded extrusions. Finally, the seams are taped in preparation for painting further down the line.
The final piece of the Atlas in-house production process involves installing the remaining furniture and building out the Murphy Suite slide out. The only Airstream product currently offered with a slide out, the Murphy Suite in Atlas allows for an expansive interior with a comfortable lounge when the slide out is retracted, and converts to a spacious bed when the slide out extends.
After the slide out is installed, the electrical systems go through an initial quality control check to ensure systems are operating correctly. Then, the Atlas is driven out the door and goes 20 minutes up Interstate 75 to Wapakoneta, Ohio, where it undergoes an extensive paint and bodywork process. Fifteen coats of cut and buff paint and finish are applied to the exterior, and fiberglass work removes seams and adds automotive styling. Once complete, the paint is inspected for quality before the van is brought back to Airstream for its finishing work.
Upon its return, the unit goes for its water check before undergoing a final quality inspection and a road test to ensure everything is working properly before it’s sent to the customer.
How Airstream Builds the Interstate Touring Coach
On the north side of our Touring Coach facility, our Interstate production line runs parallel to the Atlas line. Whereas Atlas receives a great deal of custom work building out the walls and rooftop, the Interstate line is built inside the pre-assembled Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van shell. But the process of outfitting these top-of-the-line RVs with Airstream craftsmanship and all the comforts of home is no less thorough.
After the Interstate vans complete their pre-production work installing undercarriage components, new RV windows, and new wheel rims, the vans go through an initial water check to ensure all windows, cutouts, and door seals are watertight. After that first water check, the vans make their way to the beginning of the production line, where initial electrical wiring and sound-deadening materials are installed before a pre-cut piece of luxury vinyl flooring is laid.
The second stop on the production line is stationed under a raised mezzanine where our associates work to install rooftop components like air conditioners and solar panels. They also install a custom awning and mechanism, including seismic sensors that automatically retract the awning when it detects high winds. Our wiring harnesses are pre-assembled by a professional wiring supplier before they are shipped to Airstream, where they are installed and connected to control panels, switches, and dimmers. Once wiring is completed in the walls of the van, insulation is tucked into all open compartments to ensure sound-deadening and heat retention.
With electrical lines run throughout the body of the Interstate, associates get to work installing furnaces, inverters, breakers and fuse boxes, and the wiring is completed in the ceiling. The Interstate vans move down the line to the plumbing station where the shower is installed and plumbing, gas, and drain lines are laid in pre-set channels in the floor as well as in the undercarriage.
While the Interstates make their way down the line, associates are hard at work in the woodshop building cabinetry and furniture. The assembled components meet up with their vehicle where they are secured to the flooring and walls with screws and bolts.
A little over halfway through the production process the vans undergo a second water check to ensure there are no leaks before they make their way into the final finish. Here, seventy-five hundred gallons of water are sprayed at the Interstates for an average of 30 minutes. In an effort to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly, Airstream recycles this water for reuse multiple times.
After the second water check, each Interstate touring coach is outfitted with more upholstered trim on the interior, and the lounge seats and bed are installed. The bucket seats that were removed for upholstery are re-installed and the van moves to its final finish station where finishing touches like the screen door are completed before the entire RV is released for its quality check. The interior is cleaned and inspectors go through extensive systems tests, checking to ensure everything is hooked up and working properly. Then it goes out on a road test before being cleared for delivery to a waiting customer in Airstream’s nationwide dealer network.
An Incredible Hand-Built Process You Can See for Yourself
For more than 90 years, Airstream has continually evolved its manufacturing process, always seeking to find new ways of improving our products. We continue to follow the personal creed of our founder, Wally Byam, who said that he didn’t want to make changes for change’s sake – only improvements. While we don’t always make Airstream RVs the easy way, we strive to always do it the right way. That means hand-crafted recreational vehicles built with premium components and attention to every detail.
Now that you’ve caught this glimpse of how we build them, head to an Airstream dealer and experience the end result of this hand-built process for yourself. Find your local dealer and schedule a visit today.
Ready to see how we build Airstream touring coaches in person? Visit the Mothership in Jackson Center, Ohio, and sign up for one of our popular plant tours. Walk the production line with an experienced tour guide for an experience you won’t soon forget.