The day I was born in December 1956, my father Lew Wallick was soaring high in the skies above Seattle, test-piloting a Boeing KC-135, a military jet developed alongside the 707, Boeing’s answer to commercial jet aviation. Dad was just 32 years old, already a veteran of WWII and now the father of four. Flying was his passion.
Aviation and aviators were constant themes as I was Growing Up Boeing.
Before Microsoft, Starbucks, and Amazon were even conceived, Boeing was the Puget Sound region’s primary employer; it put Seattle and Washington State on the world’s map. Boeing’s corporate culture shaped Seattle’s culture: family-oriented, with an aw-shucks can-do geeky engineering approach to life. Nothing was impossible. During the dawn of the commercial jet age – the 1950s through the 1980s – many iconic airplanes still in service today (727, 737, 747, 757, 767) had their exciting first flights above Seattle thanks to Boeing mechanics, engineers, and test pilots. Seattleites were justifiably proud. If you grew up in Seattle during this era, you likely had some connection to Boeing – a parent, relative, or maybe a neighbor worked there. You could look up to the sky and identify each new model airplane as it flew overhead.
Becoming, and then succeeding as a test pilot takes a unique blend of courage, love of adventure, intelligence, mechanical know-how, common sense, and the ability to take calculated risks while remaining calm under extreme pressure. It’s dangerous work. A keen sense of humor helps release some of the tension.
Forged as pilots during WWII, most of the Boeing test pilots who started in the early 1950s were young and eager to fly as jet engines were transforming aviation. The risks never held them back. They were a small, highly skilled and tight knit group. My father, who retired as Director of Flight Test and Chief Test Pilot in 1986 after 35 years with Boeing, was one of the truly successful ones.
It turns out that many of same traits critical to my father’s success as a test pilot made him an equally successful parent. He had a unique approach to life and raising his children. In Growing Up Boeing, I share the life lessons I learned from him – lessons that continued until the day he passed away in 2009 at age eight-five. Dad was more than a legendary test pilot; he was an exemplary father, friend and mentor.
Growing Up Boeing takes you back to the Golden Age of commercial jet transport. I give an insider’s view of Boeing test pilots on the job and with their families. I explore Boeing’s impact locally and on the world at the dawn of the commercial jet age. I turn a nostalgic eye on Seattle as a place to live, work and play. I describe how test pilots were chosen and trained; what was involved in testing and certifying a commercial jet and training airline crews to fly them (especially before simulators). I share some never-before-told stories of testing and flying Boeing’s airplanes: accidents and near-disasters, first-flight mishaps, hilarious demonstration flights for airline VIPs, and forays to all corners of the globe to prove a jet’s versatility in difficult conditions. I describe how the pilots and crews blew off steam and how they pursued their lives outside of work, raising families using the lessons they learned in the sky.