Detailed and absorbing memoir by the engineer who led Boeing’s development of the world’s most commercially successful airplane.
Not that anyone saw it that way when 44-year-old Sutter was offered the job of overseeing the 747 in 1965. Boeing’s hottest engineers and designers were tied up with the 2707, a supersonic plane that was expected to be the future of commercial aviation. But in the meantime, Pan Am wanted a really big jet for its increasing number of intercontinental passengers. Sutter had 28 months, two-thirds the usual amount of time, to design, build and deliver a plane “two and a half times bigger than anything in existence.” His nearly blow-by-blow account offers fascinating insights into Boeing’s internal politics and the power wielded by important customers like Pan Am chairman Juan Trippe. The 747 had public-relations problems from the moment Sutter decided that a single-deck, wide-body fuselage better served the aircraft’s safety requirements and its secondary purpose as a freight carrier: Trippe wanted a double-decker, and Boeing senior management wanted to make him happy. But Sutter’s philosophy, persuasively reiterated throughout his memoir, was that his job was to find the best engineering solution and make the client see that it was best. “If you don’t have the courage to face up to difficult situations—and that includes making sure unwelcome truths are heard and acted on,” he writes, “then you have no business being a chief engineer.” Readers will hope that today’s aerospace executives share the devotion to excellence and safety above all that Sutter displays throughout. (He was appalled by NASA’s cavalier attitude when he served on the panel investigating the Challenger disaster.) Despite his onetime maverick status at the company, the 85-year-old retiree is a Boeing man through and through, understandably proud of the manufacturer’s sterling record and candid about failures like the never-produced 2707.
Well-written and intelligent: a must for aviation buffs, and convincing back-up for Charles Lindbergh’s appreciative comment that the 747 was “one of the great ones.”