IFA Patron, Joseph Frederick “Joe” Sutter

21st March 1921 – 30th August, 2016

Joe Sutter


 “If you want to read a book, you can read a book. If you want to get up and roam around, you can roam around – Man, that’s the way to fly.”

Joe Sutter describing his favourite seat (Position 3A – On the port side of first-class aboard the B747).

It seems fitting, that I am on-board an Etihad B777, as I speak of Joe and celebrate one of the industry’s visionaries whom made modern air travel possible.

Born in Seattle, Washington, Joseph Frederick Sutter grew up in Beacon Hill (Now affectionately known as Boeing Hill), Joe was always in eye-shot of aviation and Boeing’s Seattle plant.

Joe was of Slovenian descent — his father, Franc Suhadolc from Dobrova, Slovenia, came to America as a gold prospector. In 1940, Joe attended the University of Washington and graduated with a bachelors’ degree in aeronautical engineering in 1943. During his years of study, Joe also worked part-time at Boeing Plant No. 2 in order to pay for his education. It is safe to say, that he could not have received better preparation for that which aviation had in store for him.

Following graduation in 1943, Joe served as a deck officer on a US Navy destroyer before joining Boeing as an entry-level aerodynamicist. What began as a temporary job in order to support his newly pregnant wife became his life’s work; he remained with Boeing for another 40 years.

With the impending arrival of the ‘jet-age’, most other engineers at Boeing were working on more exotics aerospace projects, including the supersonic transport and other jetliners. For Joe however, he had the task of ironing out the design problems of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. He acquitted himself well enough to attract the notice of his superiors, Joe was soon at work on various prototypes to Boeing’s first jet aircraft – the B707, B727 and B737.

Joe received his first patent for the B737 by mounting the engines to the underside of the wing – rather than at the rear. This allowed for a wider fuselage and thus a greater freight capacity.

The B737 became the greatest bestseller in commercial aviation history, and the first to clock up more than 100 million combined miles around the world. Rather surprisingly, the project remained Joes’ personal favourite.

However, he will be most remembered for taking up a challenge that had been laid down by Juan Trippe of Pan American World Airways, who wanted an aircraft that was more than twice the capacity of the B737.

Other Boeing engineers were tied up with other supersonic jet projects. Joe Sutter picked-up Juan Trippe’s gauntlet, and gave Pan-American, together with the rest of the world, the Boeing 747. Following the aircraft’s launch in 1968, the aviation world was never the same.

Joe retired from Boeing in 1986 as Chief of Engineering, and went on to consult Boeing on later 747s including the new derivative B747-400 in 1989, as well as other world-beating aircraft from the Boeing stable, together with joining the Presidential Commission on the Challenger disaster.

July 2010, he became a member of the Boeing Senior Advisory Group which studied a clean sheet replacement of the Boeing 737 or to re-engine the current design. In 2011, on his 90th birthday, Boeing’s 40-87 building in Everett, WA, the main engineering building for the Boeing Commercial Airplanes division, was renamed the Joe Sutter building. Joe’s association with Boeing and aviation as a whole lasted 76 years.

Joseph Frederick Sutter died on August 30, 2016 at a hospital in Bremerton, Washington from complications of pneumonia at the age of 95.

Frank Turner – President of the International Federation of Airworthiness:

“Joseph Sutter was a founding member and patron of IFA and introduced the most significant step-change to modern air travel, as the father of the Boeing 747.  We shall never see the likes of him again in our collective lifetimes.”

Joe not only influenced modern aircraft design and manufacture, but, he also had a lasting impact on Safety and Airworthiness which influences everything we do – even today. The arrival of the B747 not only changed the world, but also the way in which aircraft maintenance is planned and implemented.

The title of “King Maker” or more aptly, in the context of the B747, aviation’s very own “Queen Maker”, Joe will always have the singular distinction of introducing the world to its’ first “Jumbo-Jet” and “Queen of the Sky”.

God-speed Joseph Frederick Sutter.

Joe Sutter 2

An opportunity to make a difference…“The International Federation of Airworthiness (IFA) is a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) dedicated to improving aviation safety by increasing international communication, awareness and cooperation on all airworthiness issues and particularly that of continuing airworthiness.”