747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation (2007) Joe Sutter and Jay Spenser describes the 747 program and is also partly an autobiography of Sutter.

Sutter was born in 1921 in Seattle and grew up seeing Boeing test planes flying about. He got an aeronautical engineering degree, did a stint in the Navy in WWII and then returned and worked for Boeing. There he worked on the Stratocruiser, a late propellor driven aircraft and then became involved in the 367-80 or dash 80, which was the prototype for the 707 and subsequently the prototype for modern jet liners. Sutter then worked on the 737 and helped come up with the design where the engines are just below the wings to allow the plane to be low.

Sutter then got the job as head of the 747 program. The 747 was, interesting, not the most high profile work then at Boeing. The Supersonic Transport, or SST was the highest profile job and doing work on Apollo program items was the second. The 747 was seen as an interim aircraft that would sell for a short time before SSTs took over. Despite this, an internal Boeing report said that should the price of fuel rise 5% from 1960 levels the SSTs would be uneconomic to operate. The market failure of the Concorde and the Tupolev SST that combined sold less than 40 aircraft compared to over 2000 747 sized aircraft shows just how wrong people’s thoughts on the SST were.

The 747 was originally going to be a double decker aircraft but instead the wide body twin isle design was chosen because it enabled the plane to be a better cargo plane and also it made the plane easier to evacuate. It was, however, not what the lead customer, Pan Am, had requested. However they were pleased when shown the 747 and had the issues explained to them.

The high bypass turbofans that enabled the 747 to operate caused considerable problems. These engines were quieter, more fuel efficient and had more thrust than previous turbofans but actually building them with the specifications demanded by the 747 led to difficulties for all the engine manufacturers who would eventually deliver engines for the aircraft.

The book is really interesting for anyone interested in aircraft history. It’s well written and contains a lot of fascinating tales and information about the creation of a remarkable aircraft.


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