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Mechanic has a blast in the hydroplane hot seat

Speeding across Seattle’s Lake Washington at 180 mph battling wind, choppy water and hair-pin turns is Greg Hopp’s idea of a great time.

“Oh, it’s a blast,” said Hopp, a hydroplane racer. “I feel right at home out there.”

Hopp recently competed at Seafair in Seattle -- an annual community celebration on Lake Washington where speed takes center stage. Hopp has been a fixture on the hydroplane circuit since 1999 when he was named a rookie of the year.

For Hopp, keeping a fast pace is in his nature whether on the water or on the job. He works on the 767 program, leading a team that puts together wings for the airplanes. Hopp’s work life has a lot in common with his hydroplane hobby.

“Both are about performance and teamwork,” he said. “You’re trying to figure out solutions to issues to make a better vehicle -- make it high performance and keep it safe, too.”

Hopp continues a legacy of Boeing involvement and sponsorship at Seafair. In the 1950s, Bill Boeing Jr. led a team with his hydro called the Miss Wahoo.

Dave Knowlen, manager of Boeing Commercial Airplane’s special projects, designed and raced hydros himself. The boats use technology that forces water down, allowing most of the hull to hover above the water. Knowlen says there’s a strong technological connection to airplanes.

“From materials and aerodynamics to ground effect and engine development, there are a lot of similarities,” he said. “It was natural that these technologies that we were using to build greater airplanes would eventually find their way into building greater race boats.”

Boeing’s high-performance jets were also on display at Seafair. The Blue Angels roared across the sky in their FA-18 Hornets performing formations and breathtaking maneuvers.

Hopp is proud to continue Boeing’s involvement at Seafair. He didn’t win the hydro races for this event, but that won’t stop him as he speeds on to his next race.