Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On

By Ronald Wade

July 2016

My Boeing story spans two generations, four decades, five facilities, on 10 aerospace projects and in two states: NAA Space Division, Downey, Calif.; NAA Autonetics Division, Anaheim, Calif.; Rockwell International STS Division, Downey; Rockwell International NAAO, El Segundo, Calif.; Rockwell International Rocketdyne Division, Canoga Park, Calif.; Boeing Commercial Airplanes Group, Wichita Division, Kansas.

My father worked on the Apollo program at North American Aviation, Space Division, Downey Calif. He worked on the Apollo capsule. I remember being lucky to watch every launch that was televised. When we watched Apollo 11, I was 7 years old. I remember that summer day at my grandparents' house. We were in the family room and I was lying on the floor. We watched with much anticipation as Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the surface of the moon. Wow.

Then, after each mission, the astronauts would visit the Downey facility to inspect the capsule and visit with the workers. Upon arrival by helicopter, just as they had done when arriving onboard the aircraft carrier after splashdown, their first steps were painted on the outline of their shoes. Downey would duplicate that with a similar ceremony. I witnessed this as a 7-, 8-, 9- and 10-year-old.

Later my father was working on the Minuteman III. He took me to an open house at North American Aviation's Autonetics Division -- they did the guidance system for Apollo and Minuteman. I am told that they had a launch simulation room that was attached to shakers. They would go through the launch sim, and on the video was a replay of a launch. The room was shaking and the noise was loud -- this 8-year-old thought it was real. My father told me that I ran out of that room looking to the sky for an ascending missile.

I was hooked from there. I started assembling every model airplane and rocket I could get my hands on. We lived under the flight path of LAX, so my summer evenings as a child in the late '60s and early '70s were spent lying on my back watching the planes fly overhead. My father would point out the different aircraft by the defining structural characteristics. I got so good at identifying them that I could even tell the difference just by the sound of the engines.

When I was a senior at Downey High, I applied for a co-op program at Rockwell International Space Transportation Systems Division, Downey, Calif. Of the 125 people who applied, I was one of 25 who were selected to do various intern-type jobs. I was a draftsman. In my last semester, I worked four hours a day and received school credit. They were not just paying lip service to our work. My work was released and parts were fabricated from those drawings. After graduation, I was one of only two who were hired from that group of 25. I was there when the Space Shuttle Columbia OV-102 first flew.