A Pioneer for Women in Aerospace Retires from the Jet She Loves

September 15, 2014 in Defense

Ask retiring Boeing design and flight test engineer Nelda Lee what the most memorable moment was in her 45-year career in designing some of the most advanced and legendary fighter jets in the world - and she won’t hesitate for a minute.

“I got to grab the stick of an F-15 and under the watchful hand of Boeing test pilot Gary Jennings, a certified instructor, I got to fly the plane,” said Lee.

In doing so, Lee became the first woman to record flying time in an F-15. Recently, the Boeing engineer and inspiration to a new generation of women in aerospace retired- leaving behind a lifetime of contributions to aviation and the F-15 air superiority fighter program.

Beth Celli, a Boeing F-15 systems engineer said Lee is an inspiration to her and many others.

“Every time I think of flight-test, I think of Nelda,” said Celli. “She just really represents women well - that women are strong communicators and strong with their interactions with people and I think that’s an important part of an engineer’s job - to communicate.”

Joining the aerospace workforce and Boeing heritage company McDonnell- Douglas at a time when there were fewer women aerospace engineers in the industry than there are today, Lee didn’t see herself as a trailblazer.

“I came here to work,” Lee said as she sat in front of an Advanced F-15 for the interview with “Those guys did the same, so I figured let’s do this together and I was accepted and that was great.”

Walking through the Advanced F-15 final assembly facility in St. Louis, the jet Lee helped to design, build and perfect towered over the diminutive engineer.

“You know you can sit in an office all day long, but coming out here to the shop…this is the airplane, this is the program, this is what we go to work for,” she said.