Joe Sutter, “the father of the 747,” studies a model of the Boeing jumbo jet for which he led the design team. The huge airliner was also a huge risk — “the largest financial and technological gamble in the history of aviation,” according to author Simon Winchester. The risk paid off, and the 747 transformed airlines.
Sutter grew up amid a blue-collar background in Seattle, Washington, Boeing’s hometown. As a young man, he often rode his bike down to Boeing Field to watch the airplanes. One day when he was 11 years old, he saw a Boeing 247 take off. He later wrote, “As I watched this captivating vision of aviation’s future dwindle in the distance, I knew at last what I wanted to do in life. I would become an airplane designer. I saw with great clarity that multiengine machines like the Boeing 247 were aviation’s future, and I wanted to be part of it.” After earning this aeronautical engineering degree from the University of Washington and serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Sutter accepted a job offer from Boeing and remained there until he retired in 1986. He died in 2016.
The final Boeing 747 rolled off the assembly line on December 6, 2022, the 1,574th the company produced since debuting the first one in 1968. It’s fitting that an image of Sutter appeared on the airplane’s nose.