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Pioneers in Aviation

Members of the Boeing, Douglas, Kindelberger, McDonnell, and Wright families gather at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., June 20, for a group photograph

Robert Ferguson/Boeing

Members of the Boeing, Douglas, Kindelberger, McDonnell, and Wright families gather at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., June 20, for a group photograph. It was the first time the "first families" of American aviation had ever been brought together at one place and time.

The names on the guest list read like a “Who’s Who” of American aviation. Boeing, Douglas, McDonnell, Kindelberger, the Wrights. On June 20, family members of the founding fathers of the nation’s aviation industry came together for the first time at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., to share their pride and their stories.

The backdrop for the event was the premier of the high definition version of the critically acclaimed PBS television documentary, Pioneers in Aviation: The Race to the Moon which captures the life and times of the aviation icons.

It was John Tracy, Boeing’s Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President of Engineering, Operations & Technology who shared with guests the pioneers' impact on him.

“Well you know, a lot of folks ask the family what it’s like to be related to the Wright brothers and this history is such an astounding one to me because we haven’t finished writing it.”
Amanda Wright Lane, great grandniece of the Wright Brothers

“As an engineer in the aerospace industry, I am in awe of what they did, absolutely in awe. . . and as an American I am so grateful they did it when they did,” said Tracy.

Conversations before the pre-screening allowed the families’ time to take pictures with one another.

Susan Boeing Brown, granddaughter of Boeing founder William E. Boeing used her cell phone camera to capture the evening as the Boeing legacy companies were brought together.

John Tracy, Boeing Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President of Engineering, Operations &  Technology

Robert Ferguson/Boeing

John Tracy, Boeing Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President of Engineering, Operations & Technology delivers the keynote address before the premier screening of the high-definition version of the documentary Pioneers in Aviation: The Race to the Moon at the Newseum, in Washington, D.C.

“It is amazing such leaders in aviation. . . and now to be one big family together,” Boeing Brown said.

The documentary traces the lives of each of the aviation icons from the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk and man’s first sustained powered flight to James S. McDonnell and America’s first manned voyages into space.

John McDonnell, the aviation pioneer’s son said of his father, “He bonded with the astronauts, those seven astronauts he bonded with them, I mean he loved that I think they really respected him.”

The monumental achievements of the likes of Donald Douglas of Douglas Aircraft, James “Dutch” Kindelberger of North American Aviation, and William E. Boeing, during World War II were also chronicled in the film.

In an unprecedented spirit of patriotism, Douglas, Boeing, and Kindelberger, all agree to share their companies’ confidential aircraft designs and production plans with one another- enabling them to out-produce the enemy while creating some of the most famous aircraft in history.

At North American Aviation, which produced the P-51 Mustang, an airplane rolled off the production line every 15 minutes.

“My grandfather passed away fifty years ago next month and the fact that we’re honoring him is testimony to the levels of his accomplishments,” said James Kindelberger Graham who remembers accompanying his legendary grandfather to the factory near Los Angeles, Calif., when he was 11-years old.

Amanda Wright Lane, great grandniece of Wilbur and Orville Wright says growing up around her house they were just referred to as Uncle Will and Uncle Orv. The magnitude of the two bicycle makers and their famous flight on the dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903 is yet to unfold.

“Well you know, a lot of folks ask the family what it’s like to be related to the Wright brothers and this history is such an astounding one to me because we haven’t finished writing it,” Wright Lane said.