Boeing's Best

Phyllis R. Moses

Bill Boeing founded his airplane company in 1916. He and Tau Wong, graduate engineer of MIT, built their first aircraft, the B&W. In the beginning, there were only a few employees. They sat around in the Red Barn, Boeing's first office building in Seattle , solving problems and talking about the future of the company.

Things are quite different now at Boeing Field. The old Red Barn, now a museum, is still there; people still work side-by-side solving problems; they still talk about the future; and they still build airplanes.

Consider the size of Bill Boeing's first attempt at aircraft production: the B&W. Named for Boeing and Wong, it was made of wood, linen, and wire; fitted with pontoons, a 125 hp A-5 Hall-Scott engine; cruised at 67 mph (top speed 75 mph); had a fifty-two foot wing span; and was twenty-seven feet and six inches in length.

Would Bill Boeing dare dream that one day his fledgling company might build an airplane that has three million parts, stands six stories high, and holds 31,000 gallons of fuel? It would, no doubt, surprise him to learn that this particular airplane, the B777 (Triple 7), has fourteen tires and two engines generating 90,000 IN thrust.

Six female test pilots are now a critical part of Boeing's Flight Test department. They put in difficult hours and seemingly endless days doing the job they're especially qualified to do.

This is their story.

Rose Loper, Production Flight Test pilot, is responsible for the 737, 747, 757, 767 and 777 post-production flighttesting. Rose joined Boeing in 1980 as a ground operations engineer on the 767-certification and test team. She was involved with the aircraft from the first rivet to the final flight test.

In 1983, Rose assumed duties as a Corporate Helicopter pilot. Her experience with rotorcraft dates back to her service in the U.S. Army. While there, she served six years as a maintenance test pilot. As she says, "Flying helicopters has always been a lot of fun for me. That was my first aircraft, the rotorcraft. The Chinook, built by Boeing, is both challenging and complex. It's a twin-engine, twin-rotor aircraft. It lifts quite a bit of weight, so it's a work horse for doing support team work for the Army:" Rose is currently a Colonel in the Army Reserves, and serves as the commander of the 1395 Transportation Terminal Brigade.

There is an intensely positive, spiritual side to this multitalented pilot, even the bumper sticker on her car declares: "GOOD HAPPENS:" She confidently believes that because she is one with God, she has unlimited opportunities. As she says, "The power that fact puts behind me makes me an unlimited person, and I live my life to its fullest:"

She continues, "I'm full of expectations about my future and the goodness that comes my way."

When she was asked about her most vivid memory about flying, Rose said, "The most beautiful experience I've ever had in flying is when I actually saw the shadow of the earth as it makes a curved line across the water. At that moment when the sun sets, the water is all one color, and because the shape of the earth is round, you can actually see the sun setting. Those are the moments, those close-toGod moments, I treasure the most when I'm flying." When she retires, Rose is looking forward to exploring that beautiful water below. She plans to sail around the world in a 48-foot sailboat, which has been her lifelong dream.

Christine Hollop joined Boeing in 1989 as a payloads engineer for the AWACS program. She moved quickly to a flight deck engineering position, working on the configuration for the 737-700 program.

From the beginning at Boeing, she knew she wanted to move into flight-testing. She accomplished this in 1997, when she became a co-pilot on the B-737.

For Christine, the way to Boeing flight test was long and full of rich experiences. She reached her cur-rent plateau in aviation the hard way, by carving the steps one stone at a time. The first step was building her time. This she did by immersing herself in a job as a flight instructor, which she now considers a singularly unique experience. She loved taking people up for their first flight, and watch as their lives changed as a result of learning to fly. She explained further, "I remember quite well how one introductory flight changed my entire career decision and direction. I tried to give that kind of energy to every person who walked in, knowing this might be the one thing they love but have never experienced it."

Outside interests are many and varied to Christine. In her words, "I still feel like I'm running uphill. I'm just thrilled to be here. As far as my career and personal life are concerned, I feel like I have to have balance." Christine enjoys long weekends in the mountains with friends.

"My co-workers are amazing! The knowledge they impart; the patience they have. I love the challenge that you can always do better. I've found that we all push ourselves as pilots. Flying makes me feel so lucky. I've enjoyed every step along the way. There are so many rewards, meeting people who enjoy, love and dedicate themselves to the same career."

For the length of time Heather Ross was attending the University of Washington pursuing an aeronautical and astroengineering degree, she dreamed of building airplanes. Then she added another dimension to her dream: flying airplanes. Bather worked at Boeing for about three years, testing auto flight controls. This gave her an introduction to what flight-testing was like. As she considered her ultimate goal of becoming a test pilot, she asked the vice-president of the flight test department at that time how he thought her career should progress to attain that goal. Based on his recommendations and guidelines, she started work on her outline for getting the experience necessary to accomplish this.

In the military reserves, Heather received more flight training. She then returned to her squadron and flew C-Ss. After Desert Storm, she returned to Boeing as an engineer. Other opportunities attracted Heather, so she went to work for United Airlines as a line pilot for three and one-half years.

She kept her contacts at Boeing and one day received a call from her future boss offering her a job as a flight test pilot.

"I really enjoy my job as a production pilot, but the engineering flight testing is what I eventually would like to move into. You're writing the book on the aircraft as you're testing it. As it goes through the certification process, you're a participant in establishing all the maximums and minimums. There's a lot of satisfaction to be able to look back and see the aircraft that you and the others have put so much into certifying. This is why I'm here, this is the path I wanted to take:"

As Heather explained her feelings, her excitement about her job became more apparent. "I don't see myself as a woman pilot. I see myself as a pilot, who happens to be a woman."

A climbing trip to Mount McKinley brought out something inside Heather she didn't know was there. Although the trip sounded like a great idea at first, when approaching the summit, with howling winds and temps thirty degrees below, she began to question her reason for being there. She spent two and one half weeks on that mountain, and when she returned she began to put her life in a different perspective.

"Women didn't get to where we are without help and support. Other women that came before us surely have helped," says Heather. "They are the ones who broke the rules first. We're the second generation coming through."

Suzanna Darcy was the first woman hired by Boeing as a test pilot, almost twenty-five years ago. She was the lead pilot on the final Boeing 777 to enter the flight test program. In addition to her assignment as an experimental pilot on the 777, she is a production test pilot on the 737, 757, 767, and 747-400.

Not many three-year-olds know what they want to do when they grow up, but Suzanna did. She looked up, saw an airplane going over and declared to her grandmother that she was going to fly. The grandmother's response was a resounding, "Good for you!"

Suzanna approached her life-long dream methodically. "I knew if any one thing could be found to eliminate me from a flying job, it would be the lack of education. So I went after an aeronautical engineering degree:" Her career track took her to many fabulous places. In order to build her flying time, she offered to take her friends to far away places for dinner or for vacations. Shopping in Victoria , dinner in the San Juan Islands , they flew away to any place that sounded interesting and fun. She worked at Boeing the entire time.

Sacrifices? Sure, there were many. But giving up a glorious pair of shoes for three more hours of flight time was not too much of a sacrifice for Suzanna.

Her aviation heroes were from the 30s and 40s. When Suzanna started out, only a few women flew for a living. So Ameba Earhart and Charles Lindbergh were high on her list.

In no way does Suzanna take her job for granted, even after fourteen years. She is right where she planned to be, right where she wants to be, doing what she loves, and getting paid for it. The challenges are always there. One of them is just staying current on all the different aircraft. She says, "I not only do experimental flight testing, but also production flight testing. Production flight testing requires each and every plane that comes out of the factory to be flown. For instance, we do stalls, engine work, performance take-offs and landings for the initial certification by the FAA. In addition to the flight testing, we also do deliveries, to both domestic and foreign countries:"

Suzanna strongly believes in mentoring and setting examples for other aspiring pilots. "For instance," she said, "when a young person approaches me and says, `This is what I want to do,' I tell them: `your dreams can come true. Go after it with a single-minded purpose, and don't let someone tell you it's impossible. Just keep moving forward.' I feel like my job's not done until I reach behind me and pull the next person up:'

Perhaps Suzanna's success can be attributed to her strong will, but even more to her resolute faith. She defines her faith like this, "All of the things that have happened to me have reinforced my belief in a higher power. I believe in a leap of faith; every now and then you just have to step out, take a deep breath, and see what happens next. So what if your heart is beating hard when you take that step? Without faith, it can be risky, especially when you can't see what the results are going to be."

"I think the future for women in aviation is wide open, and in the next ten years we're going to see a lot of hiring:" Airlines, corporations and the military now have the confidence that you hire a pilot regardless of their gender, and they will do a good job. "One thing I'm really pleased really pleased about is that The Boeing Company had that attitude from the beginning:'

Successful people have a formula: They set their goals, acquire their education and training, then go to work in a productive environment. At Boeing, these women found the environment that fosters this kind of ambition. It is a culture that places emphasis on the human relationship factor: Being able to see employees' abilities and strengths that, with proper nurturing, lead to challenges not yet envisioned.

Each has contributed her energy, talent and rime to the largest aerospace company in the world. Together, they contribute to a synergy that forms when people with different skills and knowledge work jointly as a team.

A final thought from Rose Loper, "I try to be a team player-to make sure that every member is honored and recognized for the individual's contribution. I go through life expecting goodness; I've been rewarded appropriately. I'd like to pass along to other young women some of what I've received here at this company, in the military and other places where I've flown. That is, the confidence and the knowledge that if they really want to do it, then just go do it. There is no secret to it, no limitations:"

Mr. Boeing's vision of the future was for a better mode of travel for everyone; his legacy has allowed everyone who wants to fly, to do so. Rose, Suzanna, Heather and Christine also see visions for the future of Boeing. They've done their part to raise the bar for women. They affirm the field of flight testing is open to qualified applicants, those who aspire to achieve greater goals. In their efforts, they are shining the light on the path for the next generation of women pilots.

By the way, Mr. Boeing, your airplanes are still in good hands.

Phyllis Moses, is an author and private pilot, who resides in Texas .