Joe Sutter and the Rough Riders

The Father of the 747 takes his inspiration from Teddy Roosevelt

Sutter: the urge to inspire. Boeing

Odds are that every person reading these words has flown somewhere, at some time, on a Boeing 747. It doesn’t have a snazzy name like Dreamliner or Stratocruiser, as do other Boeing products, current and historic. But, with its characteristic fore-fuselage hump, which exists for delightfully non-aerodynamic reasons, it is probably the most recognizable airliner in the world.

Last week, the National Air and Space Museum recognized the man who led the design of the 747 with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Joe Sutter, who retired in 1986 after more than 40 years at Boeing, helped design six of the company’s 7×7 series of airliners. Sutter took the occasion as an opportunity to urge educators to inspire the youngest students in schools to pursue careers in the areas of engineering, math, and science so that, like him, “they can stand back and see the results of their efforts, and feel a sense of accomplishment.” As the 747 project engineer, Sutter led a team of 4,500, so he knows a thing or two about leadership. During his remarks, he told the audience about a leader who had inspired him: Theodore Roosevelt. Here’s what he had to say:

“I first heard of because he was leading a group of cavalry during the Spanish-American War. He got on his white charger and gave a resounding cheer and told his people to follow him. And his charge up San Juan Hill was so impressive that the opposition dropped their guns and fled. As a young man, I had the impression that he won that war all by himself. Roosevelt’s actions helped me believe I could do something worthwhile as well.”

In his book 747, Sutter reveals the hard-fought conflicts and company politics that his team had to overcome to get the 747 into production. He ended his acceptance speech with this quote from Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither defeat nor victory.”