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30 August 2006

Father still knows best

Tales of double-deckers, double-aisles, and how the space behind the flight deck became what it is today. It's all covered in a new book by Boeing's own Joe Sutter, the engineer and retired BCA executive now affectionately known as the "father" of the 747.

A few weeks ago I shared the first part of my conversation with Joe Sutter, a delightful sit-down in the office Joe still maintains at the BCA Headquarters in Seattle.

Joe Sutter in his Seattle office photo

Joe Sutter reminisces in his Seattle office. That large model on his conference table bears the unique designation "747-85" to commemorate Joe's 85th birthday this year.

This summer I read the new book, "747 - Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation." But there's nothing like sitting across the table from Joe and hearing some great stories straight from the source. Here's the rest of our chat.

Randy: You tell a couple of personal stories in the book about Juan Trippe, the head of Pan Am at the time, when he wanted a different kind of fuselage, apparently, than what you had in mind in the early design stage of the 747.

Joe: Well, when we went out to talk to the airlines, they wanted a bigger airplane. And we talked to Pan Am, and I think we talked to British Airways, Lufthansa, Japan Airlines, Qantas, a whole bunch of them. We went around the world with a brochure showing a 250, a 300, and a 350-passenger airplane. What size do you want? They all said 350. And that was sort of a shock. How do you build a 350-passenger airplane? My own people, when we went to the drawing board, said, what do we do now? They started drawing double-deckers, you know, one deck over another. The double-aisle concept wasn't invented at that time.

R: So it was a single aisle on each deck.

J: Well, I think the upper was single, and the lower was a double, but it wasn't anywhere near as wide as we conceived later. But I had a pretty good crew of guys, and they looked at all the problems of a double-decker, and there were many. Emergency evacuation, loading and unloading the airplane's galley, fueling, lack of room for freight. We gathered around the drawing board. And somebody drew a circle around two eight-foot wide freight containers. Then we looked at what we could do for the passengers. Nine and 10 abreast and a 20-foot wide airframe - it just fell into place. But when we started the program, it began as a double-decker, and that was fairly well along.

Joe Sutter strikes a gallant pose next to the very 

first 747 photo

Joe strikes a gallant pose next to the very first 747. The date is February 1969.

So when we went to the widebody concept we had to explain it to our own management. And they were nervous. We went to Pan Am and presented the concept. Juan Trippe and his people came out to Seattle, and we had built some rough mockups. And as soon as we showed them the mockup, there was no question, they went for the wide, single-deck airplane. Because we were going to have a freighter with a nose loading door we put the cockpit up above the main deck.

And the only interesting thing that happened was, Juan Trippe was walked into this plywood mockup of the cockpit, and he didn't care about that, but he turned around and looked at the space behind the cockpit, and I'll never forget it, because he turned to his chief engineer, John Borger and said, "What is this space going to be used for?" And Borger made a hell of a mistake, he said, "This could be a good crew rest area." And Juan Trippe just said, "This will be reserved for passengers!" And that's what turned the upper deck into a very profitable part of the airplane.

R: Later on in the book you talk about how the customers really responded to the update to the 747 in 1989, with the 747-400. I remember it well, too. As soon as it started flying, that's when all the orders came in. I mean, it was just unbelievable orders in '90 and '91. Do you expect, once we get through a kind of recovery here, that we'll see that with the 747-8?

J: I think the 747-8 will be a program very similar to the 747-400. It will probably last something like 15-20 years. And of course, the very large airplane market is smaller now because of the point to point flying and the very efficient twins. But when you look at the 747, it is the mainline freighter today. It made the freight business. And the 747-8 is going to continue that trend. So the freight business will take care of a great deal of the market for the 747-8. I believe Boeing will build about the same number of 747-8s as -400s. But I do think the mix will be a little more toward freighters than passengers.

R: And the 747 has been essential to the air freight industry.

J: It made the air freight market. I don't think air freight would be the big industry today without the 747. So it's given people the advantage of seeing other parts of the world that they wouldn't have had because of the ticket prices. And also air freight has changed the economics of the world greatly.

R: While we're on the freight subject, I think there's a common misperception that the 747 originally came out of the competition for the C-5 military transport.

J: Of all the commentary thrown at me, that's the one that I dislike the most, because there's no truth to it. The only thing that the 747 got out of the C-5 was the development of the high-bypass ratio engine. And we couldn't even use the engine developed for the C-5, because it's a high-winged, cumbersome, slow airplane. That engine didn't have enough power to fly the .85 Mach number of the 747. It was a different manufacturer's engine that was developed for the 747. So the concept of the high-bypass ratio engine was developed from the C-5, but that's the only thing the C-5 gave to the 747.

January 1970 - an early view of the new Everett 

flight line, and some of the very first 747-100s photo

January 1970 - an early view of the new Everett flight line, and some of the very first 747-100s.

R: One other thing I wanted to ask. I noticed you have a story about this in your book, and I found it intriguing because I've had the same feeling. You discuss sitting at Narita Airport, particularly in years past, when you're waiting for a flight and you look outside and it's just a sea of 747s.

J: Well, you know, that was after I retired, and Boeing was still asking me to go over to Asia once in a while. And at that time the best flight home after the week's work was done was to get on a United airplane that left about 6 p.m., just at dusk. And after working hard all week, you get tired of looking at CNN, and your eyes are blurry. And I was just sitting there and I sort of noticed these big things coming in out of the dusk and I began counting them. I was there for about two hours and I think I counted over 50 747s. There were a couple of DC-10s and other small airplanes.

But I reflected, when we designed that thing back in 1968, '69, it must have been a helluva job because I figured in those two hours we brought in roughly about 20,000 people. And I did have the feeling that, the guys that are all gone now that worked with me, I wished they were there to see what they had done, because I think they did a helluva job.

R: It changed the world, hasn't it?

J: It really changed the world, yeah.

R: You say something interesting toward the end of the book that you see even a further derivative after the -8.

J: I think the 747-8 is going to be just as popular as the 747-400. But people ask me, well, what about the future? People still hope for a supersonic transport. I'm very, very negative on the supersonic transport to carry large numbers of people. I think you'll see supersonic executive jets. But people need a fare that's low enough that most of the people can fly. So, there's not going to be any SST.

There are other adventures that people keep looking at. Different configurations. I believe airplanes like the 747-8 and the 787 are going to have careers of 15, 20, 25 years in their present form. But the market always changes. The airlines want more. There are more needed. So I think that in 15 or 20 years you might see an even larger, more capable 747 being built, just as you'll see changes to the 777 and the 787, and the 737. But the impression that the 747-8 is an interim airplane should be really discounted. It's a first-line airplane that's going to last 15-20 years. But there's going to be a future even after that.

R: Finally, Joe, what do you make of the A380?

J: My only comment is that in 2009, the next version of the 747 will be out, and the A380 will be out, and it's going to be an interesting horse race. And that's all I'm going to say!

Ever the gentleman, Joe has also been asked by reporters - as recently as Farnborough - to critique the A380, and has declined to take the bait. He's chosen to leave that job to me!

But seriously, Joe continues to be in great demand around the world. Later this year he'll be globetrotting again, making a few stops through Asia, talking with the many people who respect and enjoy his insights on commercial aviation.

Just like the airplane he helped give birth to, Joe Sutter keeps going and going!

23 August 2006

Made in the shade

Every once in a while I like to go through the comments, with an eye toward what's getting people worked up.

Recently we talked about the demonstration at Farnborough of the electronic window shades on the 787. And it seems the whole concept of window shades, starting with the question of who gets to control them, has generated a number of comments.

787 interior mockup photo

At Farnborough, some of the windows in the 787 mockup were equipped with working electronic window shade controls.

There's a perception out there that on the Dreamliner flight attendants will have the ability to completely darken all the windows, preventing people from seeing the view. But in reality this new technology will give passengers way more control over the windows than ever before.

Doug in New York sent us a couple of pointed remarks along the lines of, "Do I mind shutting my shade? Darn right I do."

Who is going to have ultimate control of the electronic window shades on the 787? I like to fly back from Europe (or any other daylight flight) with my shade open, enjoying the view and the light. The flight attendant would prefer me to put the shade down, so the cabin falls asleep and requires less service. Who gets the master switch? The customer who has paid, potentially, several thousand dollars for a window seat or the flight attendant? What's the point of putting large windows into the fuselage of the plane if someone in the galley is going to make them dark all the time?

Well, Doug, I feel your pain. Here's what I can tell you. What we're talking to our airline customers about is the idea of "narrowing the band" - or range - of light/dark of the windows during those times when most passengers want to sleep. But no, we're not encouraging flight attendants to "take over" and disable the windows, or make all windows as dark as possible so you can't enjoy the view.

The idea is to allow for a "dimmed" state that produces an appropriate light level for napping, or watching a movie, but that still allows a person to see the landscape out of the window.

Doug goes on to say:

If flight attendants can adjust the cabin shades, that is OK, as along as the individual customer has ultimate control of the full range of electronic shade darkening. Give me the control switch. It is maddening to sit in a plane in darkness on a daylight flight.

Yes, flight attendants may have control over the windows, to set the upper limits of the window shading at times. And, of course, it will be up to the airlines how they want to use the flight attendant control. But passengers will still have significant control.

The technology will allow the passenger to darken the windows themselves, as well as to lighten a window enough to see outside without disturbing passengers when the cabin is darkened for sleep or entertainment.

We also heard from Del in Seattle on the same topic:

I am not impressed by the electronic shading proposal for the 787 windows. I am one who likes to look out the windows of an airplane for the marvelous views .. nothing quite so frustrating as when the attendants force everyone to pull the shades during a day trip in order to show a movie. Will they have the ability to do this remotely for all windows whether you like it or not? I think the shading proposal is the answer to a question no one asked. Yes, I know it might save a little weight, but it is one more thing to make flying just a little more unpleasant.

Del, looking at those marvelous views is what the dimmable technology is all about! And this new concept actually is the answer to a very good question people asked during our research in designing the Dreamliner: "Can anything be done about the uncomfortable position of really wanting to look out the window when many passengers want to sleep or enjoy a movie?"

As you know, trying to open a shade - even partially - can let in a lot of light. It also invites the ire of flight attendants and fellow passengers. Resolving this potential conflict was one of the main things we went after in the Dreamliner interior.

787 interior mockup photo

Passengers will be able see the world outside the large 787 windows - at the touch of a button - even when the cabin is "dimmed."

So let me stress this - we want passengers to be able to enjoy the view, whenever they want. And as I said, with the dimmable windows, a passenger will be able to sufficiently "undim" the window to see outside - even if flight attendants have narrowed the range of the window.

On a related note, Kent from Exeter, New Hampshire wants to know if the flight crew will also benefit from this technology.

I'm curious, if they've come up with a shade solution for the cockpit in the 787. It's frustrating to have to put up newspapers in the cockpit of the Boeings I've been flying so far (727,737,757,767,777). Please tell me that the pointy end of the airplane also has a bit of "high tech" when it comes to shading as well.

Excellent question. And here is what we can tell you at this point. The flight deck on the 787 does not currently have dimmable windows. The demands of the flight deck are different from those for passenger windows, as would be the technology involved. We're working hard on coming up with a way to do this in the flight deck, and we're looking at a solution that might be retrofittable.

And Mike in Long Beach, California takes the window question to the newest 747:

Is the 747-8 passenger going to have the same internal features as the 787 such as the electronic window shading? You have spoken so much about the 787, but very little about some of the features on the 747-8.

Another great question. We're doing a number of new interior touches on the Intercontinental. The welcoming feel of the Dreamliner entryway will be found on the 747-8, although it will be carried out using different architectural lines.

But we won't have a final decision on incorporating other features of the 787 interior into the 747-8 such as window shades, passenger controls, latches, and lighting, until firm configuration next year.

And finally, getting back to the original question, here's a good way to look at it. Today's airplane window shade is really just an on/off switch. You can't open it just a "crack" without having a lot of sunlight come spilling in.

Now, with dimmable windows, the passenger will be able to change the amount of light coming through. It will be like looking out the window with sunglasses.

Which means you'll have it made in the shade.

16 August 2006

Father knows best

"You know, this is one of the great ones."

That's what Charles Lindbergh once said to Joe Sutter. He was talking about the 747. He might just as well have said it about Sutter himself, the Boeing engineer who spearheaded the design and construction of the legendary airplane.

747: Creating the World's 

First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation by Joe Sutter and Jay Spenser book cover image

Joe Sutter's new book features a vintage cover photo of the first 747 and the flight attendants of the airlines that ordered the new airplane.

The Lindbergh story is one of many surprising anecdotes in the new book, "747 - Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation." Joe Sutter wrote the book along with aviation writer Jay Spenser. I just finished reading the book over my vacation, and it's fascinating.

Now I've known Joe for many years, but I can say that even I didn't know a lot of the inside story surrounding the 747. Joe - the "father" of the 747, as some have called him - has assisted in many books about the airplane by other authors. But until now he's never sat down and told his own story about the creation of a jetliner that changed the world - transporting more than 3.5 billion passengers, or more than half the world's population.

You may have caught some of the coverage from Farnborough. Joe Sutter traveled with us to the air show and was quite an attraction during the week, at one point signing quite a few copies of his book for fans in the aviation media.

Joe Sutter and Randy Baseler 


Joe Sutter and me, chatting recently in Joe's Boeing Commercial Airplanes office.

Recently Joe and I sat down for a talk in his office here in Seattle. And I'd like to share some of the fascinating conversation with you here in the blog.

Randy: How did you get involved in airplane design?

Joe: I lived on a hill right over here called Beacon Hill. And when I was a kid, there was time to kill sometimes and get on a bike and go down to the old Boeing Field and watch what was going on. The early airplanes were bi-planes. And then the 247 came along and that was a big change in airplane design and I saw all of that. I also saw one of the B-17's land with its brakes on and go on its nose.

R: I've heard you say this comment before, and I know it's in the book: If the airplane looks and feels right, it probably is right.

J: Well, one of my professors out at the U.W. made that statement. A guy named Vic Martin. One of the very brilliant engineers out there. I still think that's true. When you look at the Boeing airplanes, they all look like they've got adequate vertical tails and beautiful wings, and I think that helps make it a good airplane. But anyhow I saw all this as a youngster and I was interested in engineering and took a lot of math and physics courses in high school. I went out to the University of Washington and took aeronautical engineering and I always felt more interested in designing airplanes than flying them.

I never had a real strong desire to be a pilot, although I've done a little flying. I am convinced if you're going to be a designer it's a full-time job. If you're going to be a pilot it's a full-time job. And I think part-time pilots are going to kill themselves and part-time designers are going to make a helluva mess!

R: Ha! I think that's right! So, tell me about your start at Boeing.

J: Well, as soon as I came to Boeing, I realized that I was interested in airplanes carrying people. I wasn't really interested in military airplanes. Boeing was the place to be. I was working on the Stratocruiser at the time, but across the aisle guys were working on the B-47 and B-52. Boeing had a transonic wind tunnel, the only one in the world at a private company, so you get the feeling that this company is looking to the future. I had a real education on the job, because we had to solve all the problems on the Stratocruiser, which were many.

And when they were going to design the 367-80, lo and behold they asked me to run the aerodynamics group. This was not going to be certified, it wasn't going to be delivered to customers, it was a demonstrator. And so it was strictly an engineering development job, and that started me on my career.

Mount Rainier looming over the Flight Test flight line at Boeing Field - May, 1969. Visible in the photo are the first 747, the first 737, and the Dash 80.

Mount Rainier looming over the Flight Test flight line at Boeing Field - May, 1969. Visible in the photo are the first 747, the first 737, and the Dash 80.

R: And of course the "Dash-80" led to the Boeing 707.

J: Yes, now Boeing was not involved in commercial airplane development during the whole of World War II. They had been developing bombers. Douglas, when the war ended, they brought out the DC-4 and DC-6. Boeing worked on the Stratocruiser, and then decided to get into jets, and did the Dash-80. And then I did the aerodynamics on the 707. But not only that, I worked on developing the certification criteria for the 707 and working with customers. At the time the FAA knew nothing about jets, so Boeing really wrote the certification rules that are still the basis for jet transport certification today.

R: Let's jump ahead to the 747 era, and the SST - the supersonic transport.

J: Yes, well, although Boeing was putting money into the 747 program, and lots of it, Boeing had won the contract for the SST, and like all government programs it demanded a lot of attention back in Washington, D.C. It was a titanium airplane with exotic power plants. It used a tremendous amount of engineers, so the 747 was fighting for people all the time. The resources for the 747 were minimal!

R: And yet it came out in one of the shortest program times, including buildings and everything else.

J: Yes, in 29 months we rolled out the first airplane. In the flight test program we certified it in just eleven months. You look at that program and you look at how things are done now with all these computers! You know, we peaked out with 4,500 engineers on the 747 program. Well, I checked the other day, and the 777 peaked out at about 4,500 engineers. And each of those engineers had a high-powered computer! They in effect had 9,000 engineers. And yet they took, what, about four years. So it's amazing what happened on that 747 program.

Joe Sutter Circa 1969 photo

A smiling Joe Sutter back in 1969.

R: It truly is amazing. And it was obviously high-risk. And everybody was willing to go after it and make it work.

J: Yes. But if you look at the latest version of the airplane, the 747-8, when you see it, it looks just like the original airplane, except for the stretched upper deck. The airplane, its architecture, has survived 35 years. It's absolutely amazing, and so my comment is, those guys working with me, they did the right thing.

R: And it will probably survive another 35 years.

J: Well, it really will, yes. And you know, there have been a lot of airplanes designed after the 747. The fastest airplane out there today is the 747. Not one of them has been able to match the cruise speed of the 747. That indicates to me that it's a high-technology airplane. It's been able to absorb technology in every area - structure, aerodynamics, power plant, cockpit systems. It's just as modern as any airplane flying out there because Boeing has continued to invest in the product, and the basic product was right, so the investment pays off.

Of course, there's a lot more to our conversation. Including Joe's thoughts about the future of the newest version of the 747, the 747-8, and what he thinks about the Airbus super jumbo. I'll share that part of our discussion later this month.

09 August 2006

Dreamliner notebook

There's a lot of interesting stuff going on lately. And what with Farnborough and summer vacation, it's been a challenge to catch up. But let's begin with the re-launch of a very cool Website.

You may have visited newairplane.com before, but you might want to check it out again. We've added some cutting-edge, interactive technology to this Website.

newairplane home page image

This is a screen shot of the newairplane.com home page.

The new look is intended to reflect the breakthrough experience of the Dreamliner. You can take a kind of video tour of the airplane, and learn about some of the key features of the 787. The Website also remains home for the "World Design Team" - a community of 160,000 airplane enthusiasts - which helped choose the Dreamliner name back in 2003. Take a look at the new site here.

I've also got a couple of other 787 items from this summer to share. In June you may have heard that Aeromexico will become the first Latin American airline to operate 787 Dreamliners. International Lease Finance Corp. (ILFC) will be providing Aeromexico three 787s, with deliveries scheduled for early 2010.

Aeromexico took delivery earlier this year of two 777-200ERs. So this goes along with what we've been saying about the great twin-aisle combination of the 777 and 787.

Boeing 787 in Aeromexico livery image

Aeromexico will operate three 787s, bringing breakthrough passenger comfort and operating efficiencies to Latin America and beyond.

Of course, these airplanes will give Aeromexico long-range, point to point capability. But on top of that, they provide the flexibility to meet changing demands.

And the story continues. As of this week, the Dreamliner has 411 orders and commitments from 30 customers around the world.

I've also been meaning to share with you a very interesting piece from a while back in USA Today by pilot/columnist Meryl Getline. Meryl took part in a 787 "media summit" here in Seattle. She got to visit the Boeing Customer Experience Center where we house the 787 mockup. And it seems as if she came away quite impressed, particularly with how comfortable the cabin is going to "feel" to the passenger - and flight crew. You can read her column here and there's also a link within the piece to her extensive photo gallery.

Finally, I want to share one more update on the Dreamliner. Several weeks ago we saw the start of major assembly for the first 787 Dreamliner, with the joining of pieces of the center wing section at Fuji Heavy Industries' new factory in Handa, Japan, near Nagoya.

Autoclave in Japan photo

A scene from the media tour stop at KHI in Japan - this is the autoclave, a pressurizing oven where composite 787 fuselage sections are cured and hardened.

Indeed, our 787 partners around the world are beginning major assembly work now. So in mid-June we flew about a dozen journalists to facilities in South Carolina, Italy, and Japan. There they got an in-depth tour of some of the sites where the groundbreaking process of building Dreamliners is underway. You can follow the links above to read some very good articles about the tour.

It was an opportunity for reporters to see first-hand the global industrialization and coordination coming together for the 787 program. And I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more about this innovative production system as we progress toward final assembly of the first Dreamliner next year.

I read something recently that really got me thinking: "The 787 is the first commercial jetliner of the 2nd century of powered flight." In so many ways this airplane is new and revolutionary. And I do think it holds the promise of not only changing the way we build airplanes, and changing how we travel, but also how we as passengers perceive the experience of flying.

The Dreamliner really will open a new chapter in the history of aviation. I'm glad I'll be around to see it all happen.