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!