Fail-Safe First Flights

By David Benjamin

October 2016

I was a former crew chief on the C-130, so when I hired in to Boeing they put me on the flight line in Renton, Wash. My job was to do the final fit and fair of the panels and prepare the 727 for its first flight. Part of our job was to go in a small boat out into Lake Washington to act as a rescue crew for the bird on takeoff if anything went wrong and it had to ditch. To my knowledge, it never did.

Later I transferred to Everett to work on the very first 747. I was to follow it out the door and be on the flight line crew. A tradition at that time was that something catastrophic would happen to the first-of-a-line airplane. One morning I came to work to find that the plane had been dropped off the jacks while being moved, and the jacks had punched a hole in the wing. The cowboy-hatted head engineer was looking everything over to see if it could be repaired. It was. I left in September 1968 to attend school to get an engineering degree. I came close but lacked a year of completion.