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Legendary 747 Designer Joe Sutter Dies Age 95 (stuff.co.nz) 59

Slashdot reader schwit1 writes: Joe Sutter, Boeing's lead designer for the design and construction of the 747, has passed away at 95. This documentary of the 747 and Joe Sutter is excellent: Jumbo Revolution.
Sutter and his engineers "initially played second fiddle to the more glamorous Boeing development project at the time, the Supersonic Transport (SST)," according to Stuff.co.nz. "But the US government ultimately killed funding for the SST, and the 747 turned into the icon of international long-haul flying that established Boeing's supremacy in commercial aviation for more than two decades after it entered service in January 1970."

Sutter's team completed the roll-out of the 747 in just 29 months -- a record -- and in 1986 Sutter also served on the team investigating the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. "Appalled that NASA's safety standards were lower than those in his commercial airplane world, Sutter was typically vocal in his criticism and pushed a key recommendation of the committee to implement a new safety management system."
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Legendary 747 Designer Joe Sutter Dies Age 95

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sutter's team completed the roll-out of the 747 in just 29 months -- a record

    They barely missed it. Actually 33 1/3 months would have been a record.

    • Millions of millennials don't understand your joke.
      • Uh...

        This might come as a shock to you, but millineals seem to like scratchy, degrading sound. My local large Sainsbury's (big supermarket chain in the UK, not far off equivalent to Kroger) now has a stand selling USB record players and a bunch of LPs. This is recent and they ain't targeting the old fogies.

  • Can we see more than a "sneak peek"? Why the tease?

  • Just curious, did anyone here fly the 747 and could share some stories?

    One of my first childhood memories was seeing the cockpit on a 747 in the mid 70's. I was too young to know it was a 747, but I remember going up a spiral staircase, and only the 747 had one. Seeing the cockpit at that early age motivated me to pursue a career in engineering and aviation. Too bad cockpit tours are mostly banned nowadays.

    • I was on one back to Amsterdam from South Africa, unfortunately economy class. My knees hurt like hell after the cramped overnight flight. No more KLM economy flights for me.
    • Well it's not like 747s have disappeared from commercial aviation. A number of airlines use the newest 747-8i (such as Lufthansa) and they will use them for years.

      I had the luck of flying on a KLM 747 ICN-AMS; and a 747-400 (FRA-YVR) and 747-8i (JNB-FRA) of Lufthansa.

      The KLM flight was in business on the upper deck, and it was a fluke because at the time only economy travel was company policy. However my VP took his sweet time to approve my travel, and by the time he did it only business was available
    • by Anonymous Coward

      First off 747s are still flying.

      Second, my dad was a lead engineer at boeing, and for the 747 he designed the fuel system. It takes a huge team just to design the fuel system. No one person understand the entire plane. No one person could even keep track of all the bolts holes. Building something at that scale is simply a staggering undertaking. Especially when you consider my dad didn't even know how to use a computer. But he had the whole fuel system figured out in his head. And that's probably as

      • Because of that I've always been in awe of professional engineers and boeing in particular. While I might acheieve really cool basic science discoveries as a PI and even lead modest teams of scientists, Nothing I do really works as well as a boeing plane and is not even close to the complexity.

        I've known a handful of Boeing engineers and I don't think any of them had nice things to say about the workplace and management in particular. Don't get me wrong, I agree that there probably is no way to manage massive engineering projects and make everyone happy. But I think the happiest engineers I've known have always worked for smaller companies or at least smaller shops. This is down in Socal, so maybe culture is different in Seattle or elsewhere.

    • Some airlines still fly them as they last 20-30 years. The newer ones have replaced the upstairs lounge with seats.
    • by jbwolfe ( 241413 )
      Never flew "rope starts" (747-100/200's, so named because they had an engineer), but I have flown the -400 model. It's just like any other Boeing, just bigger. I've no stories to share but the following are some notable events: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Airlines_Flight_811/ [wikipedia.org] Lost engines 3 and 4, 8 deaths. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China_Airlines_Flight_006 [wikipedia.org] High aerodynamic loads resulted from the unusual attitude and transonic airspeed and caused major structural damage, but it held together
    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Saturday September 03, 2016 @01:20PM (#52821625)
      They didn't set out to make a partial upper deck. The original plan was to make it a full double-decker [wikipedia.org] like Airbus eventually did with the A380. But given their deadline, they didn't think they could solve the problem of adding (safe) evacuation slides for passengers on the upper deck in time, so they settled for a traditional single-decker (which they already had experience designing, just needed to scale everything up to make it wider). The short blister on top for the cockpit was added to allow the cargo variant to have a swing nose [pinimg.com] so you could load cargo through the front, instead of through the side. So it's not really "copying" someone else's design when there's only one practical solution (the impractical one being putting the cockpit in the swing-away nose and designing all sorts of latches for the mechanical linkages between the cockpit controls to the plane's control surfaces).

      This is why the upper deck on the early 747-100 [wikimedia.org] is a lot shorter than in later variants like the 747-400 [wikimedia.org]. The few upper-deck seats on the 747-100 [boardingarea.com] were an afterthought, added more for novelty than for increased passenger capacity. The lower deck on the 747 already carried nearly 3x as many passengers as any other plane operating at the time. Boeing tried for decades to sell the idea of a full double-deck 747 to the airlines, but not enough of them would commit to them. So Boeing never bothered making it. When Airbus announced their plans for the A380, Boeing tried again to pitch a full double-deck 747, and again not enough airlines said they wanted it. That's why they didn't try to compete with Airbus on the A380.

      Production of the A380 will probably soon cease [boardingarea.com], and its sales have just barely recouped its design costs [wsj.com]. The 4-engine airliners like the 747, A340, and A380 are being eaten alive in the market by twin-engine airliners like the 777, 787, and A350 (2 engines are more efficient than 4). The disparity between A380 orders and deliveries [wikipedia.org] is mostly due to airlines which placed orders but have asked to delay delivery or have refused receipt as they consider cancelling. Airbus needs to produce about 20-25 a year [wikipedia.org] for the production facilities alone (i.e. excluding design costs) to operate without losing money. And right now they're scheduled to drop to 12 deliveries/year in 2018, so they'll probably wind up losing money on the A380 overall (the remaining 100 or so orders will probably be delivered at a loss, if they're not canceled outright). So it would appear Boeing's market analysis was correct that there wasn't enough market demand for a full double-deck airliner. It's a good thing the EU government guaranteed the loans Airbus took out to design the plane or this might've bankrupted the company. Competition between Airbus and Boeing is what keeps technology progressing and prices low.
  • by TigerPlish ( 174064 ) on Saturday September 03, 2016 @01:08PM (#52821573)

    During the 747 development, it was found that the wings would oscillate up and down and with a twisting motion, a condition which if allowed to continue and amplify would destroy the airplane.

    Some engineers wanted to redo the whole wing.

    Sutter's solution was to permanently twist the wing from root to wingtip. It worked, and took much less cash and time than a redesign. Google for "Sutter Twist"

    When the 747-8 was designed with the 787-inspired wing, the same problem showed up again. This time, it was cured in the software.

    Funny, I saw a documentary on the building of the original 747 just a few days before he died. I knew he was the project manager but didn't know he cured the wing issue with such a simple fix.

    • ...Sutter's solution was to permanently twist the wing from root to wingtip....

      That's called a geometric twist and is used in swept-wing aircraft to prevent stalling at the wing tip before the root. The other solution is called aerodynamic twist; using different airfoils between the root and tip, where the tip airfoil has a higher stalling AOA. But to use it to counteract flutter is probably new and Sutter deserves credit for his insight.

  • by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Saturday September 03, 2016 @03:14PM (#52821995)

    in 1986 Sutter also served on the team investigating the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. "Appalled that NASA's safety standards were lower than those in his commercial airplane world...

    Not to be a pessimist here, but I imagine NASA astronauts sign onto the program with a possibility of death being part of contract. They are dealing with some of the outer limits of our current science and technology in the name of exploration. It's a slightly different thing than a family climbing onto a jumbo jet for a cross-country trip to visit grandma. There a lot more angry surviving family with lawyers in the latter.

    • by Boronx ( 228853 )

      Low temperature failure of the o rings was a known problem that they could have avoided by delaying for a warmer day.

      Yeah, man space flight is dangerous. For that reason, NASA should give astronauts some help. If your engineers are concerned that a problem could destroy the craft, and that waiting until Florida, for God's sake, warms up a bit, alleviates the problem, then do it.

      • Low temperature failure of the o rings was a known problem that they could have avoided by delaying for a warmer day.

        Only to have the o-rings fail anyhow... Seriously, the myth that the cold caused the accident needs to die in a fire. The o-rings were a ticking time bomb at any temperature - the worst failures pre-51L occurring with launch temps in the 70's and 80's. (Which is why NASA already had a fix in the pipeline when they launched 51L.) The cold contributed to the accident, but it did not in and

    • Astronauts are not suicidal. If you really want to know about this, read Feynman's appendix [ralentz.com] to the Roger's Commission report. Management was lying and they had a whole process built so that they did not even know they were lying.
      • by SeaFox ( 739806 )

        Astronauts are not suicidal.

        Neither are people who join the army -- but they understands the chances of getting maimed or killed in action are there. People taking commercial air travel are sold the trip on the idea they definitely will come back in one piece and the airline is a lot more invested to make sure they do.

  • This is a really good documentary, and includes some great insight into the building of the Boeing 747 and Joe Sutter.

    http://theageofaerospace.com/d... [theageofaerospace.com]

"Ninety percent of baseball is half mental." -- Yogi Berra