August 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 4 
Main Feature

A hands-on Fellow

Jim Leonard likes to take his work directly to the customer—in the air and on the ground

Jim LeonardWinging over the Pacific Ocean at about 300 knots, a U.S. Navy P-3C patrol aircraft carrying some 9 tons of weaponry spots its prey in the water below. The onboard “missileer,” a young Navy flight officer, carefully studies the coordinates on a glowing tactical display. Listening to the calmly delivered instructions from behind her, she launches the deadly-accurate Boeing Harpoon missile at exactly the right moment.

It’s a perfect hit. And if this were a combat sortie and not a training mission, the officer might have sunk an enemy ship. Today, her success can partly be traced to her in-flight “coach”: Jim Leonard, an experienced Boeing systems engineer and missile miracle-worker.

But what is Leonard doing in a flight suit on a bucking submarine hunter when he could be working from a swivel chair in air-conditioned safety?

“This is the kind of hands-on experience you can never get from a school book, or from a video or sitting in an office,” said the restless Leonard, who still scrambles aboard planes with the kind of energy he once used to fetch water on the family farm in North Georgia.

Leonard was recently appointed a Senior Technical Fellow for his extensive work in integrating systems for mounting and launching new bombs and missiles from a host of military aircraft—a complicated process that involves structures, propulsion, guidance systems, mission management and aerodynamics. Many planes, he said, were not designed to carry such weapons.

“I need to be able to walk in the shoes of the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way, to make sure they can use my product,” he said.

Besides, it’s fun. The interaction with flight crews offers some relief from the lengthy concentration that goes into figuring out how to integrate weapons into aircraft such as the S-3B Viking carrier-based jet, the F/A-18 Super Hornet strike aircraft, the international F-16 Falcon fighter, the B-52 bomber and Canada’s CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft.

Leonard’s greatest accomplishments? The integration of the precision-guided SLAM-ER missile into the P-3, and serving a term as president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers–United States of America (IEEE-USA) in 2003.

For all his technical accomplishments (he holds seven patents and has five pending), Leonard places people and personal values high on his list. His problem-solving persistence was inherited from his mother, who managed their farm while raising a family. His resourcefulness was inspired by two uncles—an infantryman and a B-24 pilot—who told remarkable stories of survival after serving in World War II. His inventiveness was learned from country neighbors who used their ingenuity to survive painful economic adversity.

Phantom Works President Bob Krieger described Leonard as “undeniably the go-to person for resolving critical issues.” And Jim Gates, a former Boeing boss, said: “Many systems are successful only because guys like Jim Leonard know how to glue them together.”

Even though he has served Boeing for 42 years, Leonard still has plenty to offer. The company plans to use him in his Senior Technical Fellow capacity as an integration expert for all weapons programs throughout the enterprise; the St. Louis Engineering initiative will leverage his system-of-systems expertise for new business. Leonard also will continue his weapons integration work on the P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft program and will be on a World Headquarters team to bring technology into Boeing through the IEEE-USA.

Best of all, Leonard will pass along his accumulated knowledge and skills to engineers new to Boeing. His message to them: “Take advantage of all the Boeing opportunities to stay current in the very latest technologies. Never stop learning from those around you. And remember always who you are working for: the customer.”

—William Cole


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