Boeing Frontiers
August 2003
Volume 02, Issue 04
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Boeing in the News

Gillette still airborne at Boeing

The new Boeing 7E7 jet, if launched as planned, will be the 25th commercial airplane model unveiled by the Western world, and the 11th jet from Boeing or McDonnell Douglas. It also will be the last for Boeing Commercial Airplanes Vice President Walt Gillette, who in a 37-year engineering career has worked on nearly all of Boeing's commercial jets, from the 707 to the 777.

Walt Gillette"I'm older than dirt," 61-year-old Gillette told the Associated Press in the story that ran in newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He joked that his very first plane project was the one the Wright Brothers flew.

Gillette, who's in charge of Engineering, Manufacturing and Partner Alignment for the 7E7 program, is now leading the design and development of the super-efficient airplane that Boeing hopes will enter into service in 2008—one year after Gillette expects to retire. The company's board of directors is expected to decide whether to go ahead with the program by early next year.

The building of airplanes is still a wonder to Gillette.

"One of the most incredible experiences is to go out ... and stand in the middle of full landing gear of a 747," Gillette told the AP. "To stand there, right there under that big fat huge machine, and you think this thing goes 625 miles an hour and a little bitty human brain ... tells it exactly what to do and where to go, and it follows just like a docile family pet."

Jerry Newland makes adjustments to composite panels on NASA's X-37

Generation X
Boeing technician Jerry Newland makes adjustments to composite panels on NASA's X-37, an experimental reusable space plane, while it is in Huntington Beach, Calif. The X-37 pictured is currently going through proof tests to validate the airframe structural integrity. In mid 2004, the same X-37 begins drop tests from a B-52H at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Another version being built will make a space flight aboard an expendable rocket in late 2006. Phantom Works transferred the X-37 program to Expendable Launch Systems in July.

Gillette has long been fascinated with making things soar.

Born in Texas, Gillette—known for his dry wit and in-depth knowledge on any subject—developed an interest in planes as a child. His uncle, a B-17 pilot in World War II, came back home with captivating stories.

He went to the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned his bachelor of science and master's degrees in aerospace engineering while also spending three summers working on the Apollo space program with NASA. He joined Boeing in 1966 as a research engineer in the Aerodynamics Research unit of the company's commercial airplane division.

In the 1970s, Gillette worked on the 707, 727 and 737 jets. He was part of the original team on the 757, 737-300 and 777. In the 1990s Boeing assigned him to work on the 747 and 767 jets.

He also led the initial development of the 747X and the Sonic Cruiser—projects that Boeing abandoned in the past three years—before being assigned to lead development and design of the 7E7. But he has little sentimentality for what might have been.

"Boeing prides itself on creating the airplane the world needs the most at that time," Gillette said. That next airplane, the company is betting, will be the 7E7.

Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Alan Mulally asked Gillette to lead the new jet's systems development.

Gillette hopes his work will make a long-lasting mark.

"The flying machines we create have lives as long or longer than we humans," Gillette said. "The last 7E7 will probably leave revenue service sometime early in the 22nd century, long after all of us who will labor over the next five years to create the first 7E7 will have gotten our angels' wings."


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