The Titanium Gambit
During the Cold War, Boeing execs got a strange call from the State Department: Would you guys mind trading secrets with the Russians?
- By Joe Sutter
- AirSpaceMag.com, April 01, 2013
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I explained the many advantages of wing-mounted engines, including such things as structural loads, airframe efficiency, drag and stall characteristics, usable cabin volume, and so on. The Russian engineers asked me to illustrate my answers to their eager and probing questions. A pen was found but there was no paper. Somebody suggested that I sketch on cloth napkins, which I did, and when those ran out, I drew charts, curves, and structural sketches on the tablecloth itself.
This went on for another hour until finally the Russians were satisfied. We stood, more than ready to return to our hotels and get some sleep. I noticed that the Russians carefully rolled up the napkins and tablecloth and took them away with them. A lot of valuable American technological know-how went to Russia courtesy of that French linen.
When we got home and word spread of this Russia-Boeing meeting, a lot of Boeing people felt that I had violated Boeing and U.S. security by giving away this hard-won Boeing engineering information to the Soviets. They didn’t realize that T Wilson himself had ordered me point-blank to do so at the direct instigation of the U.S. government.
This misconception resurfaced a few times thereafter when Russian engineers visited Boeing for meetings in which I was not involved. As I ruefully learned each time, they tended to praise me so liberally for my “invaluable” contributions to Soviet aerospace that more than a few of my colleagues probably thought I should be led off in handcuffs.
It didn’t help that Russia’s first widebody jetliner, the IL-86, emerged with four engines under its wings like a 747. The first one entered service late in 1980 after a very protracted development. It is a poor airplane, though, and very few were built.