Quit Yer Pitchin'

By Jack Shannon

April 2016

I'm probably the luckiest guy that ever worked at Boeing. In 1961, I hired into the Flight Test organization. We were completing test on the first fan-powered airplane, a 707-320B. Sophisticated data recording systems were manual notes, and the instruments were steam gauges.

When the 727 came along I was allowed to complete the airspeed calibration. It must have been the beginning of RVSM (reduced vertical separation minima) because we had to guarantee the accuracy. We used a trailing boom for a reference static port and flew formation with a calibrated F-86.

When we were finished, I complained because there'd been more exciting responsibilities, and I didn't get to do them. In the Flight Test holiday party of 1963 at my colleague George's house, the group gave me the Bent Pitot Award. I guess they were annoyed by all my complaining. I think that event eventually became the Society of Experimental Test Engineers.

Fast-forward to 1982 and, as the senior engineer at another company, I had the rare opportunity to raise money to produce a hush kit for the 707. A company in Austin, Texas, and one in Chula Vista, Calif., that had built the nacelles joined forces. And by the end of the '80s we had converted 172 707s around the world with the Quiet 707 package.

By April the "Boeing News" credited us with increasing, by bringing aircraft out of storage, the number of 707s in worldwide service. Half of those were in foreign service. We made the cover of "Aviation Week & Space Technology" in May 1985. And by December of 1986, "Inc. 500" recognized us as one of America's fastest-growing companies.

As a pilot I certainly value durability. Quality in an aircraft pays dividends. The 707 had a wonderful reputation all around the world. From its first flight in 1957, it set the standard for durability, quality, safety and comfort.