St. Louis Reimagines Aerospace for 75 Years and Counting

September 25, 2014 in Defense, Space

Bob Potthoff enjoys his job. It allows him to test and problem solve, tinker and contemplate the puzzles that sometimes pop up when he, a mechanic for wire testing, analyze the many connecting pins inside of the aircraft he works on. For Bob, the aircraft has to be perfect—and that’s the same as when he began working in St. Louis 57 years ago.

“You had to be 18 to hire in,” Potthoff said. “March 19 is my birthday, so after my birthday, that week after, I hired in. And I’ve been here ever since.”

Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of when Boeing’s St. Louis site started operations. And over that time, Potthoff has seen the company change a lot -- when he first started it didn’t have as large a physical footprint as it does now, nor had St. Louis helped launch a man into space.

Potthoff saw John F. Kennedy speak to the group during the Mercury program, he worked on the first F-15 and the first Harpoon, and he’s see the company change hands from McDonnell to McDonnell Douglas to Boeing.

But as he worked here over the last 57-years, Potthoff has seen firsthand how Boeing’s St. Louis has contributed to the world.

“Seriously, over 12,000 fighter aircraft have been built right here in St. Louis,” said Henry Brownlee, Boeing historian. “During Operation Desert Storm, every enemy airplane shot down was shot down by a McDonnell Douglas made aircraft.”

Brownlee also pointed to the site’s contributions to astronautics. McDonnell Aircraft built the first space capsule that sent the first American, Adam Shepard, into space, and later, John Glenn into orbit.

The site’s contributions are many, said Brownlee. But for Potthoff, the site’s success from 1939 to today is simple. “They put out quality stuff,” Potthoff said. “They just keep performing, they’re just doing their job.”