A & S Interview: Joe Sutter
The "Father of the 747" talks about the famed airliner's birth.
- By Bettina Chavanne
- Air & Space magazine, January 2007
Kathy Sauber/University of Washington
(Page 2 of 2)
Sutter: On a commercial plane, the specifications between Boeing and the customer are 50 pages, whereas for the military, it’s thousands of documents. With military aircraft, there’s a tremendous amount of overhead that doesn’t add anything to the process or the project. With commercial aircraft, it’s a much more direct effort. The airline buys an airplane to do a certain job, and the company has to build an airplane to make that commitment and then get it certified. It’s a more direct approach.
A&S: For years, Douglas and Boeing were locked in a tight technological race that Boeing eventually won. What was the determining factor?
Sutter: Boeing has always had people at the top that were inclined toward the future and had the ability to convince management to spend money on the future. After the war, they were building B-17s and B-29s, whereas Douglas had been building transports during the war. But Boeing saw that people wanted more efficient, faster airplanes…. Boeing saw that the combination of a swept-wing and jet engine was the future of aviation. They built their own prototype and decided, "Let’s get into the business. We’re going to have a whole family of planes to cover long-range and domestic." They never took their eye off the ball. … Douglas kept looking at the fact that military contracts are reliable—government money. Commercial airplanes are your own money. That made Douglas shy away from risky investment in commercial planes.
Looking at it, no one in his right mind would want to get into this business. When you make the commitment, you’re stuck with it. You don’t start getting your money back for at least five years, so you bet the company each time you do a new project. Boeing has that culture, which comes from way back. It’s stayed with them since then.