40 Years of Opportunity

By George Sotolongo

August 2016

When I was a child in the early 1970s, my family lived in Europe and regularly traveled back to the U.S. We flew mostly 707s at the time, but our first ride on the sensational 747 transformed my flight experience. It was so huge and spacious inside, and it even had a lounge with a piano upstairs.

As I was nearing college graduation, Boeing came to campus for interviews. The idea of working on the 747 was exciting, to say the least. On the day of the interview there was a mix-up, and I had no appointment. I insisted that get fixed right away and, almost 40 years later, I'm still working for Boeing.

My first job was in 747 Avionics. We had mostly analog equipment in the flight deck, and the cockpit displays consisted of instruments that looked like they were made by Swiss watchmakers: Mechanical marvels, I thought. One of the more advanced digital systems had a mere 6 kilobytes of magnetic core memory. A blank Microsoft Word document has 14 kilobytes. Every time we needed to make a change it was either see what could be recoded more efficiently or what functionality could be deleted to make room. Compare that with today's large format flat-screen displays and the advances in computing power and memory.

One of my favorite assignments was the introduction and integration of Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation into our airplanes. We had many interesting and unique challenges with GPS. Accuracy was hard to pin down, as it depends on the continuously changing satellite positions and a GPS service provider that defined accuracy in terms of probabilities. Although it was a significant improvement in accuracy over existing systems, it was difficult to claim precision. Another problem was satellite failure detection. Some failures were easy to detect, but others could take hours to measure before a fault was declared. We had to develop some very creative ways to provide independent monitoring with a conservative safety margin. Today, GPS pervades every aspect of our lives and has created new ways of managing flight paths.

As I near 40 years at Boeing, I wish I had another 40 years just to be a part of all the marvelous changes and new airplanes and capabilities that are yet to come.