The Future of Learning

Frontiers February 2013 Issue

“BEING ABLE TO CRAFT THE FUTURE VISION OF AN AIRPLANE AND SEE THAT TAKE HOLD—AS SOMETHING SOLID AND SEE IT BEING BUILT RIGHT OUTSIDE OF MY WINDOW—IS REALLY REWARDING.” – Bob Whittington, vice president and 777 chief project engineer upgrades. Product lines across Boeing have their own chief engineers, some of whom have the title of Chief Program Engineer, who have oversight duties simi-lar to Whittington’s. They create a culture of proactive technical oversight, managing risks and the fast resolution of issues. “Boeing strengthened the role of the chief project engineer to provide an addi-tional tier of safety and technical oversight,” said Patrick Goggin, vice president of 747, 767 and 777 Engineering. “On a fairly regular basis our chief project engineers make decisions that impact human safety.” Whittington didn’t set out to be an engineer. As a youngster, he dreamed of becoming an astronaut. A guidance counselor suggested a path through the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, or ROTC, and a degree in aerospace engineering would put him in the best position to realize the dream. Whittington never became an astronaut, but he never lost his passion for airplanes and aviation. “Aviation enthusiasm absolutely has to be part of the job,” Whittington said. “I think that’s true for a lot of people at Boeing. There are a lot of smart people who work here who could choose to make money doing something else. But they love airplanes. … When an airplane flies over, they all look up.” As Whittington talks in his office, a dog-eared copy of the U.S. Federal Avia-tion Regulation manual is on his desk. On the wall, next to photographs of his family, are pictures he’s taken on recent business trips. One is of St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Istanbul, another of the Salisbury Cathe-dral in England. In addition, there are the red sands of Dubai and shots of Amster-dam’s famous canals and St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square. Whittington brings 25 years of experi-ence to the role of chief project engineer. “Airplanes and the automobile are really the same age,” Whittington explained at one point. “They were built and were com-mercially available around the same time. But the automobile is mundane. Everyone’s got one. Airplanes are still fascinating. There is still that aura of excitement.” The 777 also has been a standard bearer for innovation and Whittington, as chief project engineer, is the top technical leader on the program. If an airline wants bigger television screens in its back cabins, in-flight Wi-Fi, or more robust landing gear due to a flight schedule that now includes Antarctica’s infamous Ice Runway, chief engineers dissect every potential impact. Whittington must weigh what an airline customer might want with what can be perfected in design and on the factory floor. It’s a daunting task considering the longevity of an aircraft and the ever-evolving dynamics of computer-generated, digital and environmental technology. Airplane structures are built to last. Yet they must accommodate evolving technol-ogy, some of which hadn’t been invented when the airplane was designed. Whittington revels in the challenge. “Being able to craft the future vision of an airplane and see that take hold—as something solid and see it being built right outside of my window—is really rewarding,” he said. On the factory floor outside his office, one such vision took shape last year when Boeing delivered its first domestic customer, American Airlines, a 777-300ER (Extended Range) with an all new in-flight Internet system. “We took that from a customer request to reality,” Whittington said. “Even the smallest change must be engineered. Even the color of the curtains, everything has to be thought through, every problem solved in a systematic way.” The color scheme of a jetliner’s interior affects lighting or, more important, the availability of light in an emergency situation. And that has an effect on safety. “To do the job right,” Whittington said, “it’s got to be better. Not just for today or tomorrow, but for the foreseeable future.” When it comes to safety, the buck stops with him. When it comes to the service, support and upgrades of all 777 models throughout their life span, it starts with him. “I really feel that we make the world smaller,” Whittington said of Boeing and its commercial airplanes and the many thousands of engineers, mechanics and others who make and support those jets around the world. “Being able to be somewhere com-pletely different tomorrow—on the other side of the globe—brings people together in a way that nothing else can. Being a part of making that happen is amazing.” n devona.walker@boeing.com PHOTOS: (Top) In the past 31 months, the 777 program has increased rate twice and is now at 8.3 per month—the high-est rate of production ever for a Boeing twin-aisle airplane. (Left) The horizontal stabilizer of the 777 is made of composite, as is the vertical stabilizer, which has not yet been attached in this photo of 777s on the Everett, Wash., production floor. BOEING FRONTIERS / FEBRUARY 2013 21


Frontiers February 2013 Issue
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