‘Father of the 747’, Joe Sutter dies aged 95

Even after his retirement from Boeing in 1986 he stayed close to the business, continuing to play a role as a consultant with Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Ray Connor saying Sutter was a “beloved member of the Boeing family”.


B747 B747-100 Boeing Joe Sutter Jumbo Jet Ray Connor


Joe Sutter, the chief engineer of the legendary Boeing 747, died on Tuesday aged 95. Responsible for leading Boeing’s engineering team on the B747-100 in the mid-1960s, Sutter spent four decades working for the aircraft manufacturer on a number of projects including the Dash 80, 707 and 737 aircraft, but none as iconic as the ‘Jumbo Jet’.

joe_sutter Joe Sutter with the 747 prototype in 1968. Image Credit : Boeing.

Sutter and his team became known as “the Incredibles,” for producing the world’s largest aircraft in its day, within 29 months from the time of conception to roll-out. His key association with the hump-backed, four engine aircraft led him being known around the world as the ‘Father of the 747’.

The 747 changed the world of air travel, carrying as it could, up to 350 passengers or almost twice the number as on the 707 with the Jumbo Jet ushering in an era where air travel was made more accessible to millions of people around the world.

The prototype Boeing 747 is rolled out in September 1969. Image Credit : Boeing The prototype Boeing 747 is rolled out in September 1969. Image Credit : Boeing

The 747 also ushered in a new era for cargo, offering massive cargo lift potential and the opportunity to carry out-sized cargo thanks to a nose-loading cargo door. By July 2016, 1,523 of various 747 models  had been built, with 20 of the 747-8 variants remaining on order.

Even after his retirement from Boeing in 1986 he stayed close to the business, continuing to play a role as a consultant. Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Ray Connor said Sutter was a “beloved member of the Boeing family”.

Joe Sutter Joe Sutter at the 747 factory in Everett, Washington circa early-1990s.

“This morning we lost one of the giants of aerospace,” Connor said in a statement on the Boeing website. “Joe lived an amazing life and was an inspiration – not just to those of us at Boeing, but to the entire aerospace industry. He personified the ingenuity and passion for excellence that made Boeing airplanes synonymous with quality the world over.”

First flown commercially in 1970, the 747 held the passenger capacity record for 37 years. When Airbus claimed the title of having the world’s largest commercial passenger aircraft when the A380 entered service in 2007, Sutter told Seattle PI in a 2006 interview at the Farnborough Airshow: “Maybe I’m biased, but I think our solution is more elegant than theirs.”

Sutter’s wife died in 1997 and he is survived by three children.