SEATTLE – Today we remember Boeing icon Joe Sutter. He passed away 3 years ago on August 30, 2016 at the age of 95. In the mid-60s, Sutter led the team that designed the Boeing 747. He was given the nickname “Father of the 747”.

Joe Sutter, Father of the 747 - photo: Darko.veberic
Joe Sutter at Nova Gorica in June 2006. Photo: Darko.veberic / Wikimedia Commons

Father of the 747

Joseph Frederick “Joe” Sutter (March 21, 1921 – August 30, 2016) was an American engineer for the Boeing Airline Company and manager of the design team for the Boeing 747 under Malcolm T. Stamper, the head of the 747 project. Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine has described Sutter as the “father of the 747”.

In his early career he was involved in the development of commercial aircraft projects from Boeing, such as the Dash 80, the 707 and the 737. With his contribution to the then very ambitious 747 project, he acquired an important role in the history of Boeing.

The Sutter team was nicknamed “Incredibles” when the 747 project got off the ground in record time. There were only 29 months between the start of the project and the rollout.

After his retirement, Sutter remained active within Boeing, including as a consultant. He still regularly visited the assembly line in Everett during the last years of his life. He was also present in Seattle at the celebration of the centenary of Boeing.

In a statement after Sutter passed away 3 years ago, Boeing said: “Joe was loved. He made a difference in the world. He made a difference for us. We will miss him and cherish the time we spent with him.”

The huge Boeing 747 made a huge step forward for commercial aviation. Many more people had the opportunity to travel by plane.

Joe Sutter, “Father of the Boeing 747”

Future of the 747

Fifty years later, the 747 is still in production, in highly modernized form though. But the basic design of the 747 has largely remained the same.

Production of the Boeing 747 has been greatly reduced due to lagging orders, when Sutter passed away in 2016.

Although production is coming to an end, an end date of production has not yet been announced.

The last 747-400s were completed in 2009 and there are still airlines today that fly with the 747, like Lufthansa, KLM and British Airways.

As of 2011, most orders of the 747-8 have been for the freighter variant. As a result, Boeing’s iconic 747 will likely be built for at least a few more years to come, but with the exception of Air Force One or other VIP and military aircraft, all the jumbo jets that come off of its assembly line will be dedicated freighter aircraft for carriers like UPS.

Thanks to these carriers, the Boeing 747 will probably outlive its European competitor, the Airbus A380.

YouTube player
A Cargolux B787-8 cargo aircraft with the ‘Father of the Boeing 747′ decal just below the cockpit, in honor of Joe Sutter. Beautiful footage of August 30, 2016 – the day Joe Sutter passed away – at Cargolux’ home base airport, Luxembourg Findel Airport. Video David Aerspotting

For at least a decade we will still be able to enjoy the ‘Queen of the skies’, more than 50 years after Joe Sutter made his dream come true, but also the dream of many others to fly to other countries, far away from home.


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