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Feature Story

Sandy McDonnell & grandson

Courtesy of Sanford N. McDonnell

Sandy McDonnell, past chairman and chief executive officer of the Boeing heritage company McDonnell Douglas Corp. (left), stands next to his grandson U.S. Air Force Capt. William “Mac” MacVittie, a C-17 Globemaster III pilot at Joint Base Charleston, S.C.

Generations of pride

Sanford “Sandy” McDonnell

Randy Jackson/Boeing

Always present on the desk of former chairman and CEO of the McDonnell Douglas Corp. Sanford “Sandy” McDonnell is this framed photo of his grandson and himself, as well as a scale model of a Boeing-built C-17 Globemaster III.

As a 21-year-old U.S. Army soldier, the now-retired chairman and chief executive officer of the McDonnell Douglas Corp. Sanford “Sandy” McDonnell knew the meaning of the word duty.

During World War II, he spent two years in the New Mexico desert casting uranium-238 for the then-top-secret Manhattan Project, which developed the world’s first atomic bomb.

After the war, McDonnell joined McDonnell Aircraft Corp., started by his uncle, James S. McDonnell, and took on a number of jobs – from stress engineer, to aerodynamicist, to aircraft designer – before his first management position, where he played a pivotal role in developing the highly successful F-4 Phantom II fighter jet.

He now devotes almost 40 hours of his time each week to working with charities, including CHARACTERplus, which teaches character-building to more than 600,000 students in the St. Louis area.

But one of the legacies he’s especially proud of is his 27-year-old grandson, U.S. Air Force Capt. William “Mac” MacVittie, who pilots a McDonnell Douglas-designed, Boeing-built C-17 Globemaster III transport jet supporting U.S. military operations and humanitarian missions.

“I’m very proud of the outstanding young man that Mac has become,” McDonnell said from an office he still uses in Boeing Defense, Space & Security headquarters in St. Louis. “Every day, I think about where Mac might be, and it is most gratifying to know that he has chosen to devote his life to serve our country and fly one of our company’s heritage aircraft.”

MacVittie, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, is stationed at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., from where the Air Force deploys dozens of C-17s on missions worldwide.

“I decided on Sept. 11, 2001, that I wanted to serve my country and sent in my application to the Air Force Academy on Sept. 12,” MacVittie said in a phone interview. “My grandfather is a man who commands respect because he has dedicated so much of his life to ideas he believes in – not just engineering and aerospace, but character, education and the importance of integrity above all else. All of these traits are embraced by the Air Force core values.”

The young U.S. Air Force pilot has completed nearly 100 air combat missions in support of U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet he will correct you if you call him special.

“The real heroes are the men and women we fly in and out of the combat zone,” he said. “Those who step off our C-17s and spend their nights in the foxholes of Iraq and Afghanistan – they are the ones who deserve our thanks.”

Seventeen years ago as a 10-year-old, MacVittie was taken on a tour of the St. Louis McDonnell Douglas production line by his grandfather. It was a visit that would help ignite his passion for aviation.

One of his greatest pleasures, MacVittie said, was returning to the site in March of this year.

Led by his grandfather once again, he toured the C-17 cargo door and ramp assembly area, only this time, Capt. MacVittie returned and talked with the men and women who build the plane he now flies.

“I wanted to thank them for their craftsmanship and dedication we entrust our lives to on every mission,” the U.S. Air Force captain said. “There’s a lot of character behind that aircraft.”