the origin of SFTE – part 2

By Jon Whitworth, “Member #2”

1968 the beginning of The Society of Flight Test Engineers, but what was it like then? Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. The Viet Nam war was going on and people were protesting in the streets. There were massive demonstrations at the democratic convention because the nation was divided and still is. But there were no mass shootings in our schools, no personal computers and of course no cell phones. You wanted to make a call you picked up a land line. Social media wasn’t even thought of so it was a different time.

Flight test of course was different too. The flight test quick look data was recorded on a clip board with a pencil. Other data was recorded via photorecorder or magnetic tape. Often the system engineers would look at strip chart tracings to compute data assuming it was accurate and most often it was not. It was reduced using a multi-step process which took about 3 days. At that time the smallest computer available was bigger than a truck. We made it thru engineering school using slide rules and pencils.

In 1965 after graduating from Purdue I was hired by The Boeing Company along with a few other engineers as part of a build up for the 737 flight test program. Initially there was not much activity. We worked on minor follow-up testing on the 707-320 and 727. Mostly we wrote old reports and studied manuals.

The 737 finally flew in April of 1967 and it had quite a few problems. Drag and stall speeds were high, the thrust reversers were ineffective and it had a vertical bounce problem at high speed which caused an uncomfortable ride.

Working on the new 737 as new engineers introduced us to new design problems and other flight test issues Being young engineers (most of us in our late twenties and early thirties) we took a lot of criticism and our credibility was questioned regarding our data time and time again. This did cause resentment in the ranks. Thinking back over those 50 years I realize we weren’t as smart as we thought we were and had so much still to learn.

The initial notions came from the need to share problems while working with other groups in the company with no thought of resolution. These concerns were discussed by me and two guys I bowled with once a week. The other two were Dick Sears (a supervisor) and Bruce Inman (who worked for Sears).

One night they presented to me the idea of forming our own professional engineering society

because no existing society would fill our needs. The idea (which was the brain child of Bruce Inman) was that we needed to share our experience and problems with other folks that worked as flight test engineers. I agreed that it was a great idea.

We continued our tavern talk for a few weeks and then decided to get serious. We decided to meet at my house once a week and bring in a few more people.

The group consisted of: Bruce Inman, myself, Ed Grashot, Roger Jones, Jim Raphael & Chuck Easterwood. Dick Sears declined to participate because he wanted the working engineers to put the plan together and get the credit. As a manager he wanted management to encourage and support, but not participate & he got agreement from the other managers.

The meetings at my house were to work on an organizational structure which included a constitution and bylaws. We also needed a strategy for presenting our idea to prospective members. After many months of discussion, critiquing and re-writing all that was brought to the table, we decided we had a plan that could be implemented.

Next we presented our idea to the management at the Boeing Company and they accepted our idea with enthusiasm. Then we went to our fellow employees with our idea and the response was overwhelming. At the time there were about 300 flight test engineers in Seattle & 250 of them responded positively?

We asked for a $5.00 donation/membership fee to get some operating capital and most of the 250 responded.

We then decided to hold an election for temporary officers in order to become a legal corporation. The elected officers were as follow: Bruce Inman, President, Jon Whitworth (myself), Vice President, Ed Grashot, Secretary, Roger Jones, Treasurer, Jim Raphael, Director at large, Gerry Bye, Director at large, Fred Quealey, Director at large & Gerry Koethe, Director at large.

Again we continued weekly meetings, continued working on the constitution, by-laws, membership requirements and potential chapter organization. The corporation became official on December 19, 1968. The corporate document was signed by the 8 officers listed above and they became the first members of SFTE. These being the only official members in the year of 1968.

The directors were assigned to contact fight test engineers in all the U. S. aviation companies known at that time. They discovered high interest among engineers all over the country.

We started receiving lots of potential membership applications and we started working on establishing chapters throughout the country. We developed a success package which would aide local focal points in organizing local chapters.

While all this activity was going on Mr. Dick Mazourek of the prospective Long Island chapter requested that we hold a management symposium including flight test managers from all over the country. This occurred in April 1969. This symposium was organized by Jim Raphael and was very successful. We got lots of great ideas on what the future of SFTE should be.

Also in April 1969, we held another election to confirm the temporary officers since now we were a legal entity.

We spent the bulk of 1969 working on how to establish chapters, helping the people of prospective chapters complete what we thought they needed to do and listening to their advice.

Later in 1969 we chartered the first chapter which was the Antelope Valley Chapter. Subsequent chapters were Long Island, North Texas, Patuxent River, Los Angeles and Wichita.

Note that the Seattle chapter didn’t get chartered early because the people in Seattle who would work on a local chapter were busy working for the national organization.

In early 1970 disaster struck. Deliveries of the 747 were delayed because of delayed engine problems and the Super Sonic Transport contract with the government was canceled.

In 1970 Boeing employment went from over 100,000 down to 32,000. Two thirds of the Boeing employees were let go. Of the eight people on the national board only three remained employed by the Boeing Co. I was one of the three that remained.

The board had a final meeting with all present in March of 1970 and decided to concentrate on chartering the remaining chapters as they became ready and supporting the Long Island chapter in preparation for their symposium which they scheduled for the fall of 1970 and to hold on to as best we could until we could find a new board to relieve us.

Everything we did became much more difficult since we were now scattered around the country. At that time in our method of communication was by dial up telephone or U.S. Mail. Since I was the primary officer in residence in Seattle I got to answer the phone and field all the questions which occurred.

In supporting the Long Island chapter for the conduct of their symposium I spent a lot of time on the telephone with Mr. Dick Kennefick, the first president of the Long Island chapter and we got to know each other pretty well.

He understood the problems we were facing at the national and he offered a lot of advice and encouragement. I did what I could to support him and the effort of producing their symposium.

The national board representation at the symposium was limited to one person as there was no

money available for more. That person was the president Bruce Inman as he still held the office and really was the proper person to represent the national board.

The Long Island chapter at Mr. Kenneficks request offered to pay my way as a thank you for working with them and for my efforts in keeping the society functioning. I accepted.

The symposium was a great success. We were able to elect new national officers at the symposium. Dr. George Clarke of Patuxent River became the new president with a group of officers from PAX River and Long Island. They picked up the ball and continued with the growth that made SFTE what it is today. Us guys in Seattle gave a sigh of relief.

The first example of the value of SFTE occurred shortly after the Long Island symposium. Grumman’s first F-14 crashed on its second flight. I got the news and called Mr. Kennefick to see what happened. He said that at that point all they knew was that the 2 primary hydraulic systems had failed and the remaining system could not handle the maneuvering loads on final approach. Both pilots ejected, neither were injured. I consulted with our hydraulics engineer Bernie Green and he told me that 2 weeks prior a 747 had lost two of its 4 hydraulic systems due to the failure of the swaged instrumentation fittings which caused depletion of the fluid but still had two other systems so it wasn’t a dire emergency.

I quickly passed this onto Mr. Kennefick and he said thank you. Two days later he called and said “that was it”. I believe that exchange of information saved Grumman some trouble shooting time and made him look pretty good.

I chaired the committee that developed the constitution, the articles of incorporation, the by-laws & prospective chapter requirements. Later on I chaired the goals committee and the goals we determined necessary have all been achieved over time except a technical library. After passing the baton to the PAX River chapter I was totally burned out. I then threw myself into my work and trying to get involved in the most active flight test programs available. Thus being successful in the career in flight test I so enjoyed. I never dreamed of celebrating this 50th anniversary

I believe what we set out to create 50 years ago was achieved then and continues to be achieved through the SFTE each and every day now.

Previous: the origin of SFTE – part 1

Copyright © 2018