Maybe investors don't have to choose sides in the great global airplane sales race being run by plane makers Boeing (NYSE: BA) and Airbus. Instead of picking one or the other, they should look at a company with a foot in both sides of the ring. If they do, they need look no further than BE Aerospace (Nasdaq: BEAV), which outfits the interiors of planes from both companies.

This morning, BE announced second-quarter earnings that blew right by Wall Street estimates. Analysts who were expecting BE to earn $0.51 per share in the quarter were surprised to see it report $0.54 per share -- a 46% increase over last year's haul. Even more surprising, BE accomplished this with the help of "only" a 26% improvement in revenue, which, while impressive, was about 0.5% less than Wall Street had predicted.

Surprise! (Not)
Should they have been surprised? Perhaps not. Just last month, Fool reader bellbell63 wrote in to tell us that the "big winner" in Boeing and Airbus' sales race would be BE ... "who supplies high value seats, lighting systems, oxy systems for all these planes." Seems bellbell63 was right on the money with that prediction -- and considerably smarter than Wall Street.

What it means to investors
But what if you didn't take bellbell63's advice and you failed to buy BE ahead of earnings? Not to worry, Fool. There's still plenty of time. Perhaps it's the negative mood infecting Wall Street today; perhaps it's the stock's 27 P/E that's scaring folks away. Whatever the reason, investors seem so far to be missing the value in BE.

If you read past the company's "headline profits," you'll notice that BE is a whole lot more profitable than it looks. Free cash flow for the past 12 months comes to $257 million, or more than twice reported earnings. As a result, BE today sells for a quite modest 16.9 times free cash flow.

Granted, that's not as cheap as such defense-budget-challenged aerospace firms as Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) or Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC). It's more expensive than Boeing, too, and engine maker General Electric (NYSE: GE). But 16.9 isn't an unreasonable multiple to pay for BE, which analysts expect to grow at 14.5% per year over the next five years. And the price could be even cheaper (and the value greater) if BE continues making Wall Street's financial wizards look like country hayseeds with their overly conservative estimates.

My advice: Nibble now, and if we should happen to luck out and get a debt-ceiling-inspired sell-off later this week, prepare to back up the truck.

Make your task even easier: Add BE Aerospace to your Fool Watchlist so that when it does sell off, you're first in line to find out.

Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. The Motley Fool owns shares of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.