On a recent flight to the Pacific Northwest, I was greeting my passengers as they came through the main cabin door. One gent, who looked approximately my age said, “You know I worked on the very first Boeing 737 when I was in college.” His statement immediately piqued my interest, so I asked him to stop and chat a minute in the cockpit doorway.
His name was Kurt Smith. Kurt previously lived in Seattle while going to school, and also worked at Boeing. He said that, in 1964, he was working with a lot of Boeing employees on the first 737 aircraft, and they were behind schedule. At that time Boeing was competing with the DC-9, BAC-1-11, and Fokker F-28. In fact, Boeing was worried that they weren’t going to have a lot of orders for the new narrow body-sized medium to short-haul airliner.
Little did the Boeing executives know that the 737 family of aircraft would eventually become the most successful jet airliner ever built, with over 7,000 aircraft delivered (the propeller-driven DC-3 totaled over 16,000 built). Boeing delivered over 550 737′s to Southwest Airlines fleet, with unfilled orders of Next Gen 737 aircraft pushing that production total to over 9,300 737′s.
Kurt later left Boeing Aircraft, joined the Navy and became a RIO, or Radar Intercept Officer, flying in McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom fighters. He retired from the Navy after a 20-year career, but still recalls his days at Boeing as very memorable. Glad we were able to give him a great flight home on a Boeing 737, almost 47 years since he worked on the first 737-100 prototype.
Just goes to show: you never know who you’ll meet on a Southwest flight!