March 2005 
Volume 03, Issue 10 
Integrated Defense Systems

Taking flight

Commercial Airplanes, Rocketdyne engineers prove teamwork tackles an expanding work load


As Boeing works toward making good on its goal of building its new 787 Dreamliner and pursues other projects, the Commercial Airplanes team has considered a number of options for the engineering work involved. In some cases, Commercial Airplanes has looked south, combining airplane know-how with rocket science.

Boeing to sell Rocketdyne

Boeing said late last month it would sell Rocketdyne to the Pratt & Whitney business of United Technologies. Once the sale is final, Rocketdyne will continue to be a supplier to Boeing in many areas such as for the 787 and the 747-400 Special Freighter.

Well into the fall of 2004, the Engineering organization at Boeing Canoga Park/Rocketdyne in California was facing some very tough choices. The cancellation of NASA's Next Generation Launch Technologies programs in January and an overall flat launch market posed serious threats to viable work for dozens of engineers. Instead of giving in, Rocketdyne hunkered down and began feeling out the rest of Boeing for possible projects. After months of discussion, planning and development, they struck pay dirt—creating a way to save jobs and supporting the company's stable workforce initiative by winning work on Commercial Airplanes projects.

Today, rocket engineers from Canoga Park are teaming with commercial aircraft engineers to support work on Boeing's 787 and 747-400 Special Freighter, as well as other projects. Some of the 60 Rocketdyne employees have chosen to move to Puget Sound for a year, while others remain in Canoga Park, working in the newly created Aircraft Design Center.


Taking flightEstablishing a relationship where Commercial Airplanes' Everett, Wash., team would send work to Canoga Park was a six-month process, requiring many trips back and forth and getting familiar with new people and processes. Integral to this journey was Rocketdyne Engineering Advanced Analysis Director Munir Sindir.

"All of a sudden, on Sept. 22, three different areas committed to send work our way," Sindir said.

"Initially there were some concerns about how rocket folks could step in to help the airplane business," added Larry Hall, Commercial Airplanes Structural Design director and skills lead. "In the end, it came down to what capabilities and skills Canoga Park could offer."

To help make its case, Rocketdyne relied on its strength: engineering prowess.

"These men and women are Grade A students," said Jon Volkmann, who manages the effort in Canoga Park. "It goes way beyond skills retention. It allows Boeing to share its resources—in this case, Canoga Park's design and modeling expertise and data organization processes."

Mixing the two groups, while not uncommon, does present challenges. For managers such as Sherman Johnson, Commercial Airplanes skills manager and Volkmann, it's figuring out how to make the endeavor work over long distances. To help ease the transition, Everett provided an intensive course in Airplane Engineering 101 both in Canoga Park and Everett. Though both sides agree that the "sink-or-swim" training wasn't the preferred way of doing things, engineers embraced the opportunity to learn something new and worked through unfamiliar nomenclature and computer software issues.

"We've had to throw these people into deep water," Volkmann said. "It's easy to say we're going to build anywhere, design anywhere, but to really do it, really get over the distance and make it happen, is something else. Choosing common processes and systems and great team cooperation helped us succeed."


For nearly all of the Rocketdyne engineers involved in this collaboration, this is the first time they've gotten into the nitty-gritty of aircraft structural design. But, the opportunity to learn something new and diversify skills helped sway them to take the step.

"Sometimes there's nothing wrong with being behind the curve," said Canoga Park engineer Sergio Inghilterra. Formerly a member of the X-33 experimental space plane, RS-84 rocket engine and the Space Station Power Transfer Unit teams, Inghilterra, like many others, knows firsthand the feelings of disappointment and panic that come when a program ends.

"The folks in Everett have been great about working with us to get us up to speed, sharing processes and accepting many of our suggestions," Inghilterra said.

And the BCA team agrees.

"Once we got away from the 'rockets vs. airplane' mentality, and brought discussions down to a skills level, everything changed," explained Johnson. "Their track record on design and the use of common tools presented a very viable solution."

Helping hands Over the next 18 months, a group of 80 Rocketdyne engineers will undertake various tasks in support of the 787 and other Commercial Airplanes design work, including

  • Direct support to 787 aircraft development. A team of five Rocketdyne analysts and two designers will be stationed in Everett, Wash., and will work directly with various 787 Integrated Product Teams providing engineering support to the program as well as identifying work packages that can be performed at the Rocketdyne facility in Canoga Park, Calif. This activity is expected to last 12 to 18 months.
  • Collaboration on tool and technology development in "Stress Methods and Allowables" for Commercial Airplanes programs. Commercial Airplanes will provide funding to Rocketdyne technical specialists to develop new design and analysis tools and technologies. Approximately three to five engineers from Canoga Park will be involved over the next 12 months.
  • Support to 747-400 Special Freighter development. This stand-alone task provided structural analysis support. The effort began the last week of September and has since concluded.
  • Additional design and analysis. Rocketdyne is also working on additional design and analysis projects for Commercial Airplanes.
The pilot program, by all accounts, is going well. The basic synergies of aerospace design work, coupled with the enthusiasm of those involved, help the team move through the rough spots and stay on track.

"For our guys to go up there [to Puget Sound] and walk around the factory, looking at these amazing airplanes, seeing how they're put together and beginning to see what goes into it, you quickly understand that airplanes are very different, but no less complex or challenging, than a rocket engine. Everyone who's been involved with this is so thrilled to be part of the airplane," Volkmann said.

"We want to be the first people Everett turns to when there's work in the future," he added. "This is part of what we want to do at the Canoga Park Design Center. I'm looking forward to the day when we can return the favor and send rocket propulsion work to Everett. I want to see this go both ways."

Boeing is taking notice of this collaboration across enterprise skills groups. Commercial Airplanes is currently working with other locations (Huntsville, Ala., Southern California, Philadelphia and St. Louis) to find ways to engage capacity.

"We're learning we have a fantastic enterprise," Johnson said. "A project like this exposes a lot of untapped resources. We're finding that it's doable. It's not without challenge and bumping into things you didn't anticipate, but we're making progress and doing the things we should be doing."


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