Hand-Drawn and Locked Up Tight

By Floyd Lukecart

March 2016

In 1970, I was working for McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis, Mo., as an electrical installation design engineer for the F-4 Phantom jet. In those days, the F-4 design engineers worked at a drafting table producing drawings on Mylar with ink pens, drafting templates and engineering scales.

The drawings were drawn to some scale (e.g., 1-inch equals 4 actual inches), checked by a drawing checker and approved by a supervisor. The completed Mylar drawings were copied, and copies were sent to the manufacturing drawing files for use by the manufacturing personnel to install the wiring bundles. The final, original Mylar drawing was stored in a locked fireproof vault for safekeeping.

The engineering building that I worked at was adjacent to the landing path for Lambert Field, St. Louis International Airport. One of the highlights while working as a design engineer for McDonnell Douglas was one day we told that a Trans World Airlines (TWA) 747 was going to land at Lambert Field for the first time. Everyone was on the lookout for the 747, as we could see aircraft in the landing path out of the side windows.

All at once someone yelled, "Here comes the 747." With red and white TWA colors, the 747 looked like a feather just floating down with awesome wheels hanging down approaching the airport landing strip. That observation was the most beautiful sight one could imagine; seeing an airplane that big floating like a feather. No wonder the 747 was called the Queen of the Skies.

Another highlight was when a new DC-10 with airline customer stickers shown on the nose section was flown to St. Louis from Long Beach, Calif., for the McDonnell Douglas workers and their families to board and review. The DC-10 was the first widebody airplane I was inside of. With double aisles and so many seats it looked gigantic.

In 1974, I was hired by Boeing doing the same electrical installation design engineering for the 747 at Everett, Wash. The drawing process at Boeing was exactly the same as that at McDonnell Douglas, except black lead pencils were used for drawing rather than ink pens. It was amazing how similar the two companies were at that time. It was a period before computer-aided design, and probably the same drawing process was used many years prior to 1970 at McDonnell, Douglas and Boeing aircraft companies.