Feature Story

Trailblazers: Honoring the women of Boeing

Boeing Historical Archives

One of the many historic photos included in the book, this photo from 1917 shows Helen Holcombe working in the drafting department. After Boeing she went on to be an architect, designing more than a dozen buildings in the Seattle area.

Boeing’s first female line supervisor, first female test pilot, and the first woman engineer in Flight Test Engineering for McDonnell Douglas. These and six other pioneering women at Boeing and its heritage companies gathered March 15, 2014 in Everett, Wash., to celebrate the release of a new book Trailblazers: The Women of The Boeing Company.

The event, held at the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour, adjacent to one of Boeing’s massive jetliner factories, attracted hundreds of aerospace enthusiasts. They lined up to collect signatures and share one-on-one conversations with the Boeing trailblazers. There also was a lunch panel discussion led by local television reporter Glenn Farley of KING-5.

During lunch, the women shared stories about mentors who helped them along the way—and of giving back. Several of the panelists speak regularly in schools to inspire young people to pursue an education in math and science and a career path in aviation. “You have to reach your hand back and bring somebody else up the way somebody brought you up,” Darcy-Hennemann said. It is something “Every woman here today, at Trailblazers, is very passionate about.”

Helicopter pilot Robertson agreed. “I love seeing the excitement in young girls’ faces when they listen to me and think I’m some kind of a rock star when really I’m just going to work every day. I’m just doing my job,” she said.

The women featured in the book, who attended the event included:

  • Patricia Beckman: The first woman to qualify as an Boeing F-15 jet fighter crewmember and the first American woman to qualify as an F/A-18 crewmember
  • Loraine Bratset: Boeing’s first female line supervisor
  • Suzanna Darcy-Hennemann: Boeing’s first female test pilot
  • Eleanor Dickson: Boeing wind tunnel testing engineer and the only woman in her 1949 University of Washington engineering class
  • Sandra Jeffcoat: The first African American woman to become a member of the Boeing Technical Excellence Program
  • Laurette Koellner: Boeing’s highest ranking woman ever when she was appointed to the Office of the Chairman as Boeing’s top Human Resources and Administration executive
  • Nelda Lee: The first female engineer in Flight Test Engineering for McDonnell Douglas and the first woman to fly the F-15 Eagle
  • Diana Rhea: Boeing’s first female manager in Manufacturing Engineering and Boeing’s longest-working employee with 71 years of uninterrupted service
  • Megan Robertson: First female pilot to conduct a CH-47 Chinook helicopter test flight