Customer Reviews: 747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation
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on June 18, 2006
The above partial quote is plagerized from Joes book as he quotes Charles Linderbergh comments about the 747 which in its entirety was " This is one of the great ones "

I'm a retired Boeing Engineer, and while never meeting or dealing with Joe since I was working in other areas [supersonic transport, etc ] I did hear and work in later years with several who did have personal knowledge. Joe pretty much tells it like it WAS/IS.

I especially appreciated his efforts to avoid highly technical terms, and in few simple words explaining some of the basics of flight, powerplants, design criteria, safety concerns, etc. In some ways, it could be considered ' high school' level courses on flight and design criteria- but without ' talking' down to the reader.

It is an 'easy read' and does lift the curtain on a few, but not all the insider political games typical of Boeing and most other aerospace companies. [ I've also worked at Rockwell and Ling Temco Vought ]

Joe is definitely from the 'old school' as far as ethics and integrity, and his comments about serving on the Challenger Shuttle disaster commission and the NASA attitude re safety and risk in the last chapter seem as if they were written this week [ June 16,2006- see news items about safety concerns re the impending Shuttle flight in July 2006 ]. Hopefully, his comments and concerns will NOT be proven to be " deja vue all over AGAIN."

In my opinion - a keeper, and readable from Junior high up.
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on January 26, 2008
747 is simply a must for anyone in the aerospace design industry, or for people who are just interested in how the 747 was built. Joe Sutter, the airplane's director of engineering and the one most responsible for its actual design, has written a trim, quick, and enjoyable to read history of the 747 program encased in a semi-autobiography.

After a few chapters exploring the author's early life, including his college time and Navy life, the book spends its bulk on a 50,000 foot overview of what was going on with the 747 development program from its inception until its most recent incarnation to fly in the form of the 747-400 family of derivatives. The final chapters sweep the remainder of the author's professional career including his service on the Challenger Disaster commission. Joe (and after reading the book you definitely get the feeling he would prefer to be called that then Mr. Sutter) has certainly led a very interesting life, and has had the privilege of experiencing a truly gilded age of aviation from the peaks of its ambitions and the lows of its difficulties and uncertainty. But the star of the book is truly the magnificent 747 aircraft and even his more autobiographical chapters tie into the aircraft and its design.

Much of the author's life exerted an inexorable influence on the design philosophy he brought to the plane. As an early child he grew up in Seattle and watched, literally from his neighborhood, as Boeing would roll out new aircraft through the twenties and thirties and try to push aviaiton forward and make the world a smaller place. Caught up in the majesty of flight Joe wanted very badly to design airplanes, but as WWII dawned when he was in college that would have to wait for more important world events to be sorted out. Joining the Navy he became a deck officer on a destroyer escort in the Atlantic, where he had a formative experience. Returning to Boston Harbor his ship started to become glazed with rapidly growing layers of thick ice in the midst of a storm, making the ship dangerously top heavy. With no anti-icing system and no ability to get people out on deck to hack off the ice the crew had to just ride out the storm praying they wouldn't die. From this moment on the author decided safety would be a primary criteria of anything he designed.

The legacy of the 747 is one of carrying on Boeing's legacy of leading the pack in aviation with an unparalleled record of safety, thanks to smart design and brute force quadruple redundancy. (Brute force is by no means meant perjoratively here!) The 747 came about during an amazing time in aviation history. It was the first wide body airliner (against the initial full double decker narrow body wishes of its launch customer), the first turbofan (or fanjet as they are sometimes called) powered airliner, and it was designed by a slimmed down workforce in the shadow of the ill fated 2707 SST, while the 727 and 737 were also absorbing significant company resources, and while Lockheed's L-1011 and Douglas' DC-10 provided competition. The story of how this giant came about and triumphed in spite of the decidely low expectations Boeing clearly had for it at the begining is a truly fascinating one, filled with such aviation luminaries as Juan Trippe, Bill Allen and Charles Lindbergh. Joe's life on the program is also filled with equally amazing events including state department sponsored dinners with the Soviets in Paris at the height of the Cold War (in the spirit of "Detente"), and trips all over the world ranging from the expected places like Japan and New York, to Baghdad.

In addition to being a great story well told, there are real gems here for aviation program managers and aircraft designers about how to make a successful airplane. Absolutely worth reading, and would be something I would like to see as a textbook for aeronautical engineers, perhaps in an aerospace history course, to give them some real world perspective that is so often lacking in modern engineering degrees.

An outstanding book, highly recommended!
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on April 21, 2015
To this day I remember waiting in line for some hours or more to simply walk through one of the first 747's that was on a National tour and parked on the tarmac at Greater Southwest International Airport half way between Dallas and Ft. Worth in the late 1960's. Accepting the enormity of the aircraft was somewhat difficult even when seeing it and walking through it. With it's double aisles and four distinct passenger cabin areas it's spaciousness was really overwhelming. The next versions of double aisle jet liners, the DC-10, L-1011 and B767 all were introduced some years later. The first scheduled 747 commercial flights by Pan Am to London began in the Summer of 1970. Personally my first 747 flight was on an Air France version nonstop from Chicago O'Hare to Paris de Gaulle in the mid 1970's. Since that time I have been fortunate to fly the 747 many times, but, the thrill of travel on this aircraft never became jaded. And initially the development of the 747 was almost an afterthought. When Boeing lost the competition for the design and construction of a large military transport plane to the Lockheed C5A-Galaxy, their design for that U.S. Government specification was the basis for the upper cockpit and for the lower front to back passenger cabin. The Queen reigned for more than thirty-five years before the development and entry into service of the A-380 in 2007. This book details the story of the creation of the 747.
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on September 13, 2006
There have been many books written about the 747, but none of them tell the human side of taking one of the largest aircraft off the drawing board and into the skies in two years time. Joe Sutter is the consumate engineer, he engages you in a voice that keeps you interested all of the way through the book. He does it in such a way that makes you feel that maybe you where there. Boeing bet the company on the 747, if it had been a failure the company would probably be a footnote in history. The company put their trust in one single man, who claims he and Boeing grew up together. Joe also includes the stories of many others along the way, he never takes credit for himself but always makes you aware that it was a team effort. In fact he leads off with a disclaimer that if he remembered it wrong he was sorry.

The book arrived just in time for the bi-annual Farnborough airshow in England, he was asked by several reporters to critique the A380. Being ever the gentleman he declined to take the bait. But he is straight forward on his views of NASA and the Challenger accident, still just as analytical when he was half his age. His love of the 747 is evident, he is excited to see it exist today and hopes with newer technology that it will be around 50 years from now.

If you love big airplanes, or want to know what it took to build something that changed the World. This book will capture you for every page. Straight from the man who's shoulders carried a company and probably most of livelyhoods of the Pacific Northwest. It is a joy to still have Joe around to tell his story. To me the 747 will always be the greatest airplane ever built and Joe will always be the greatest airplane engineer that ever lived.
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on March 29, 2013
I wish I could have bought the Kindle edition, because then I could have counted how many times the author says "Me, I, my, and mine" instead of "Us, we, our, and and ours." It was enough to make me question his objectivity and credibility as I read.

Don't get me wrong, the book is a good (and an easy) read. But as others have written here, Joe Sutter spends a lot of his time telling us what a great lead engineer he was, and how it was HE who made it all work. To be fair, he does credit his engineering team ("The Incredibles") on occasion, but I tired of being reminded of how it was he who made it all happen. (And there are hints that those over him saw some of that, as he complains in the book to have been excluded from meetings.)

If you are interested in aviation, and if you have a fascination for the B747, by all means read it. You will enjoy it. But if you are reading to discover an author with any modicum of humility, you wont' find it here.
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on November 23, 2010
Joe Sutter describes the development of the Boeing 747 from his point of view as a member of the engineering and management team that made it happen. The book delves deeply into the influences that shaped the 747 to become the plane it did, such as the head of Pan American Airlines. As such, it offers interesting insights into the politics at the Boeing company, at least as seen by Mr. Sutter.

Some have criticized the book as disjointed, etc. but that is a disservice to Mr. Sutter. After all, he's describing the development of the 747 from his point of view. This is not meant to be a end-all comprehensive tome that chronicles all the development stages of the plane in a manner that allows all who partook in it to have a voice (which is inherently impossible for a project of this size). Instead, it is a sampling of the engineering and political challenges that Mr. Sutter faced during his tenure with the 747, which I found incredibly interesting.

The 747 was a big gamble that almost bankrupted Boeing. One of the reasons it got off the ground at all was because the decision-makers at Boeing were willing to bet the farm that this type of airplane would find broad use in a market that had yet to fully develop. From Mr. Sutters point of view, it was this bold and intuitive decision-making that put Boeing on the path to dominate its domestic and foreign rivals.

I would love to see further analysis from Mr. Sutter in this area of expertise... the challenge of Embraer and Comac is looming and I wonder what he makes of the Boeing/Airbus response to a challenge to their bread and butter market.
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on November 15, 2011
This book is authored by Joe Sutter and Jay Spenser and chronicles Sutter's life and the development of the 747 from Sutter's perspective as chief engineer. I recently watched a special on Boeing where Sutter was briefly interviewed and discussed the recent entry of the Boeing 787 into commercial service. Below are two observations and five excerpts from the book that I found valuable from a leadership perspective.


A. Sutter was a believer in simple and not afraid to try different things. It is amazing to know he cut out paper airplane engines and moved them around a line drawing of a 737 as part of the process that established engine location for the 747.

B. Even at Sutter's high status and power level negative politics are a fact of life and must be dealt with. He provided examples of unwanted help he had to take, unrealistic deadlines and people trying to take over his roles and responsibilities.

Excerpts from the book

1. By far the biggest lesson I learned from the 737 was never to take an initial design configuration as a given. It's human nature to do just that and go charging ahead to work within an existing framework... Engineers love to dive right in and analyze the hell out of reams of data. Very often though, they can't see the forest for the trees because they haven't done the simple work up front to be sure they are starting down the right path... The more brain power you apply up front, the greater the likelihood that you'll find the design path that solves your challenges and meets your customers' requirements... If I made an individual contribution, it was my insistence that we take stock before charging out of the starting blocks.

2. I let my people run with the ball and made sure to give credit where it was due. I also strove to communicate well. On the 747 program, I was the one making the decisions--I'm not a consensus guy--but I generally did so only after hearing everybody out with an open mind.

3. Real leadership means having the courage to do what you know is right. (This always sounds easier than it is and Sutter provides some examples of high pressure situations where he did this)

4. If we had differences, I made sure we resolved them on the spot.

5. ...I realized that all of us on that incredibly complex and demanding program were so close to our own problems that we probably couldn't see the forest for the trees. I decided to fix that... I worked hard to keep my 747 engineering team as broadly informed as myself. Sitting in on their meetings or visiting their locales for impromptu gatherings, I covered the sales picture, our engineering challenges and successes, pertinent events inside and outside the company... I saw the role of the manager isn't simply to pass out instructions; it is also to inform... people need to know where they stand. It's a psychological necessity, and morale suffers in the absence of such knowledge.

This book proves once again the fundamental parameters for success are not complex. The key lies in the discipline (yours and the organization's) to adhere to those parameters.

* Evaluate all options before going forward

* Empower people and give them credit

* Make decisions only after listening

* Stand up for what is right

* Resolve issues quickly

* Constantly communicate the big picture to everyone

Examine the bullets above. How are you and your organization performing against these fundamentals?

Dr. James T. Brown, PMP PE, Author, The Handbook of Program Management - McGraw-Hill
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on February 10, 2013
Joe Sutter is a famous man, one whose triumphs and failures are both writ large. In this book, basically an autobiography, we can understand how the modern Boeing began to emerge from the traditional one. The 747, as the last major Boeing project not designed with CAD/CAM (from Dassault/IBM in their case), shows how much engineering on-the-fly was a part of the aircraft design world until recent years.

The personal story of P&W engine battles is one well known to 747 aficionados, but here we hear it from Joe Sutter's own words.

Today this is a very timely read, because it explains how we ended out with the solutions of today and still have retained all the potential errors we always had, just grounded in deeper statistics.
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on April 27, 2011
I thought there would be more of the actually design of an airplane and not so much about the corporate structure that leads to it. Still an interesting look in to one of the great engineering marvels of the 20th century.
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on February 2, 2016
Still in the process of reading. I worked for Boeing for quite some time and our team did as Mr. Sutter's team did, we were all detail orriented
on our projects. We investigated and did many trials until we understood then built what ever it was we were assigned. From an engineers
view, this book is good reading.
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