Malcolm McDowell Woods

From the Outpost Exchange editor

By - Feb 1st, 2010 08:22 pm
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40th anniversary of Boeing 747 flight brings back memories

40th anniversary of Boeing 747 flight brings back memories

I came across an interesting fact during my lunch as I was pondering what to write this month. It was the 40th anniversary of the first commercial flight of the Boeing 747. That was a significant milestone and memory for me. In the late 1960s, my family lived in Everett, WA, the hometown of Boeing. My father was an aerospace engineer and worked on the 747.

Forty years ago.

Our family lived in a townhouse apartment in a huge housing complex occupied mostly by other Boeing families. The late ’60s had seen a huge population boom in the area as work grew to a fever pitch on the 747 and the other jetliners built by Boeing. The company had looked worldwide to recruit bright young engineers and our neighborhood was a small microcosm of the United Nations, with families from Europe, India and Africa.

The nation was at war and a generational gap was growing, but in our corner of the country, the era was optimistic and energetic. Housewives from different continents laughed together in classes at the local bowling alley. Their children, my friends and I, rode bikes to the corner store and spent our allowances on small, balsa-wood planes powered by rubber bands.

We were shooed from the living room when the televised nightly news displayed the horrors of Vietnam, but later crowded around the set to see men walk on the moon and then hurried to gape at actual rocks brought back from the moon at a museum in Seattle. For a brief time, it felt as though everything and anything was possible.

I still have a lapel pin Boeing handed out to some of its employees back then. It says “747 Lift Team.” My father wore it with pride, as I’m sure did many other men and women who were part of the design and build process.

The plane flew, of course, but many of the hopes and dreams of the men and women who lived in those apartments next to us were grounded soon after that.

A petroleum crisis, coupled with concerns about the environment, killed Boeing’s next big project, the supersonic transport. I think close to 90 percent of the company’s employees were eventually laid off, my father included.

The small, vibrant and diverse community we had formed quickly dispersed as job seekers moved to other parts of the country or out of the country altogether. The women stopped bowling and became stop gap breadwinners in restaurants and stores.

We’re not so innocent now. First war and then Watergate and then a steady stream of other challenges have left our optimism faded and replaced by a more pragmatic approach.

Yet, I can’t help but think of that neighborhood 40 years ago, of all the people, who came together from so many different walks of life, to make a a true behemoth of a jumbo jet fly, and I can’t help but wonder, what hopes, what dreams, can we give wings to now?

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