The names behind the plane

As the hours tick down to the “reveal”, the world’s press is full of stories about the 787. These include MarketWatch’s whackily titled “Boeing 787 Dreamliner set for flightless debut” to the informed “How the 787 ‘Dream’ was born” by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Boeing-watcher James Wallace.

In telling the story of how Boeing switched horses from the high-speed Sonic Cruiser to the super-efficient 7E7, Wallace reminds us of the key roles played not only by Alan Mulally and Mike Bair, but by veteran Boeing engineers Walt Gillette and John Roundhill – both now retired.

Roundhill led the 20XX product development team that the conceived the Sonic Cruiser and its stalking horse, Project Yellowstone, a more conventional configuration used as a reference design against which to compare performance. The same technology that made Sonic Cruiser 15-20% faster made Yellowstone 15-20% more efficient, and the 787 was born.

Famous for telling the Associated Press “I’m older than dirt” – Gilette led design of the 747X, then the Sonic Cruiser when Boeing dropped the stretched jumbo jet in favour of the high-speed airliner. When the Sonic Cruiser was shelved he took over engineering responsibility for the 7E7, and was vice-president of 787 development and production until he retired last year.

It is good to see both men take their rightful place in Wallace’s story of the birth of the 787.

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