Joe Sutter

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Joe Sutter
Joe Sutter, Nova Gorica, June 2006.jpg
Joe Sutter in 2006
BornMarch 21, 1921
DiedAugust 30, 2016(2016-08-30) (aged 95)
Bremerton, Washington, U.S.
EducationAeronautical engineering
Alma materUniversity of Washington, B.S. 1943
EmployerBoeing Commercial Airplanes
Known forChief engineer for the development of the Boeing 747
Notable work747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation
SpouseNancy French[1]
AwardsUnited States Medal of Technology (1985)
Daniel Guggenheim Medal (1990)
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aircraft Award
Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy[2]

Joseph Frederick Sutter (March 21, 1921 – August 30, 2016) was an American - Slovenian engineer for the Boeing Airplane Company and manager of the design team for the Boeing 747 under Malcolm T. Stamper, the head of the 747 project.[3] Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine has described Sutter as the "father of the 747".[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Sutter was born in Seattle, Washington, and grew up in the vicinity of Boeing's Seattle plant.[5] He was of Slovenian descent—his father, Franc Suhadolc (1879–1945) from Dobrova, Slovenia, came to America as a gold prospector. Sutter attended the University of Washington and graduated with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering in 1943.[6]


In 1940, Sutter took a summer job at Boeing Plant 2 while studying aeronautical engineering at the University of Washington. Sutter served as a junior officer aboard the destroyer escort USS Edward H. Allen (DE-531) in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

He was a young U.S. Navy veteran finishing his degree when both Boeing and Douglas offered him jobs. Boeing believed in jet aircraft, so he went there. Former Boeing executive Jim Albaugh believes Douglas would probably own Boeing today if it went otherwise.[7]

At Boeing, Sutter worked on many commercial airplane projects, including the 367-80 "Dash 80", 707, 727 and 737. He eventually became a manager for the new jumbo-sized wide body airplane, the four-engine Boeing 747. As chief engineer, he led the 747 design and build team from conception in 1965 to rollout in 1969. He would become known as the "father of the 747".[8]

Sutter's final job was as executive vice president for commercial airplane engineering and product development when he retired from Boeing in 1986.[5]

Later life[edit]

Sutter served on the Rogers Commission, investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. He was also selected as a recipient of the International Air Cargo Association's 2002 Hall of Fame Award and was an engineering sales consultant.[9][10] As of July 2010, he was a member of the Boeing Senior Advisory Group which was studying the alternatives of a clean sheet replacement of the Boeing 737 or a re-engine of the then-current design, the latter ultimately chosen and later marketed as the Boeing 737 MAX.[11] For decades, he resided in West Seattle. In 2011, on his 90th birthday, Boeing's 40-87 building in Everett, WA, the main engineering building for Boeing Commercial Airplanes division, was renamed the Joe Sutter building. Sutter died on August 30, 2016 at a hospital in Bremerton, Washington from complications of pneumonia, at the age of 95.[12]


Aviation author and historian Jay Spenser worked closely with Sutter for 18 months to write his autobiography, entitled 747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation (ISBN 0-06-088241-7). It was published by Smithsonian Books/HarperCollins as a hardcover in 2006 and as a paperback in 2007. This book tells of Sutter's childhood and describes his life and 40-year career at Boeing.

The book details Sutter's tenure as chief engineer of the development of the 747 and elaborates on its design, manufacturing, testing, certification, and delivery to the world's airlines. The book also describes subsequent models of the 747 and the two major-derivative updates to the type, the 747-400 of 1989, and the 747-8.[13]



  1. ^ Joe Sutter (2006). 747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation. HarperCollins. ISBN 0060882417.
  2. ^ "Part Two: Sutter's Idea Revolutionized Air Travel". University of Washington. June 2001. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
  3. ^ John B. Saul (June 9, 2006). "An aviation pioneer's grounded memoir". The Seattle Times. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
  4. ^ Bettina Chavanne, "The 'Father of the 747'". Air&Space Smithsonian. January 2007.
  5. ^ a b Roberts, Sam (September 1, 2016). "Joe Sutter, 95, Dies; Guided Creation of the Boeing 747". The New York Times. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
  6. ^ Ronald Reagan Presidential Library: Appointment of Joseph F. Sutter as a Member of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident
  7. ^ James Albaugh (December 4, 2017). "Opinion: Jim Albaugh's Lessons Of Aerospace Success". Aviation Week & Space Technology.
  8. ^ Tibbits, George (September 14, 2010). "In US, Boeing tearing down plant 2, factory where Seattle became a high tech town". Associated Press. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
  9. ^ TIACA profile Archived August 18, 2019, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Joseph F. Sutter; David C. Knowlen (1990). "An engineer's perspective on the air transportation industry". SAE Transactions. 99: 2264–2277. JSTOR 44473182.
  11. ^ Aubrey Cohen (July 16, 2010). "737 replacement timing depends on engines". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved August 18, 2019.
  12. ^ "Legendary 747 designer Sutter dies age 95". Air Transport World. August 30, 2016.
  13. ^ Sutter, Joe and Spenser, Jay. 747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation, University of Washington Press, 2006. ISBN 0-06-088241-7.
  14. ^ US Government list: The National Medal Of Technology Recipients Retrieved August 18, 2019.

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