Before I walked through the doors of the museum at Boeing Field in Seattle, I scanned the sharp lines of the B-47 perched just outside. The 1947 vintage bomber had really been the catalyst that heralded the beginning of the U.S. commercial jet age. The concept of swept wings was in its infancy, an engineering design obtained from post-World War II Germany. I recalled the previous night’s dinner conversation regarding the B-47.
“At 456 knots, aileron roll reversal would begin,” Dick Taylor stated matter-of-factly with a grin.
Dick Taylor was the 90-year-old father of my host, Steve Taylor. Steve is Boeing’s BBJ president. Among many treats for the day, I had the honor and privilege to dine with one of the men who helped define the vocation of test pilot. In this particular discussion, Dick explained the tendency of a swept wing to flex just enough at certain speeds that it would cause the airfoil to do exactly the opposite from what was commanded. The solution? Use spoilers automatically as part of lateral control to counteract the tendency.
Steve sat back in his chair and smiled. His expression indicated that he had heard his father’s stories more than once. His dad was — and still is — a Boeing legend. The fact that the man still flies his own Aerostar speaks volumes about his acuity.
The dinner was the icing on the cake that topped off my visit with Boeing. The primary purpose of my visit was to fly the 787 Dreamliner simulator. By the time the sun had set against a postcard view of the Seattle skyline, I realized that I hadn’t just been introduced to Boeing. I had actually been to Airline Pilot Disney World.
The tour of Boeing’s plant in Everett, near Seattle, left me awestruck. The array of airliners parked on the ramp was an affirmation that the company had a monumental effect on a global industry. I could have spent hours wandering the tarmac gawking at 747-8s, 787s, 777-3s and 777-2s.
Considering that each bay door of the factory hangar was equivalent to the length of a football field, the sheer size of the structure was impressive enough. Even more impressive was the organization of the assembly process. The fact that four colossal airplane types could be built with surgical precision under one roof boggled the mind. It was the epitome of American ingenuity and innovation.
The quiet enthusiasm of the thousands of employees that bustled about was palpable. I am certain that they felt their contribution to a very special manufacturing process was making a difference. As a matter of fact, through employee suggestions, the process was streamlined to involve much less wasted parts and materials.
My morning simulator session in the 787 had been first on the day’s agenda. I started at the end of this story, because the end is actually the beginning. If it weren’t for Boeing’s pursuit in creating an enviable product, and if it weren’t for courageous people blazing new frontiers like Dick Taylor, I would never have been given the opportunity to test-drive one of the world’s most technologically advanced airliners.
Steve picked me up from the hotel and drove to the training facility located within minutes of SeaTac airport. The outside of Boeing’s sprawling training center would not have made the cover of Architectural Digest, but the inside of the 1996 facility was spacious, clean and crisp. Airplane photos on the walls were museum-quality tributes to its chief test pilots and Boeing’s dynamic history.
Despite the often-sterile and austere atmosphere of a simulator bay, a comfortable warmth prevailed. The inside of the 787 simulator defined the airplane’s futuristic demeanor. Aside from the cockpit itself, the presence of the instructor’s seat behind and in-between the pilot positions added to the character. The seat is aptly called the “Captain Kirk chair.” Rather than the typical side control panel, instructors access simulator functions directly from the chair. Fortunately, “Beam me aboard, Scotty” was never uttered. The Star Trek lines had probably all been said.