NASA 515 (the 737 Prototype) at Moses Lake
Yup, it was a hot, dirty job !
Maybe everybody already knows this; I always seem to be the last to
find out, and this week has been very busy for us. Jim Gannett passed
away last Saturday, suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Bruce Sutherland
sent me the obit -- copy below. Jim was one of my very best friends;
I'm truly blessed to have so many. I felt I had to add my two cents.
I first began working with Jim in 1978; he had a lot miles beneath
his wings by that time. We worked on flight deck displays, and later
with the 707-700/Re-Engine Program. This was the last 707 production
commercial airframe manufactured, and the first and only production
airplane with CFM56 engines. I remember when it rolled out. It was
shop complete a couple of days early. Jim was the Project Pilot, and
I went out alongside the Renton runway to watch it make its first
takeoff. After the test flying, Jim took it on a tour. Very
impressive with those CFM's, Boeing didn't want to compete a 707 model
with the new 757/767 duo, so that was it for the 707 and the airplane
was later converted back to JT3Ds and sold to Morocco. I always
thought the 707 had more life in her; Douglas did sell lots of stretch
8's and many are still in service - a lot with CFM conversions. Some
of the AWACS and E-6 airplanes also wound up with the CFMs.
Jim and I continued to have contact during our working years, but
after our retirements, our friendship really blossomed. The Internet
was the facilitator. I've found this has occurred in quite a number
of other cases as well. We started trading emails, and pretty soon,
lots of phone calls and visits. Jim was an amazing guy - very quiet,
very serious, very soft spoken, yet very intense. As dedicated and
straight arrow as they come. I always thought he could be a
contestant on 'What's-My-Line' every week, and no one would ever guess
He never lost his interest in flying, or making things better. He
was especially interested until the end in cockpit displays. He'd
call, and write, and send me stuff on displays, which, despite being
around for 80 years (like attitude indicators,) he didn't like at
all. He came up with all new concepts and worked on pushing them
through more than just concepts, but patents and into production. So many
calls I remember, where I'd answer and he'd say "Now picture this, you're looking
at a screen, like from an inside-out funnel, and all you have to do
is..... why, Anyone can do it, it's so intuitive!!!" Me, I'd rant
about general aviation engines that I think are junk, ancient
technology, unreliable, and all deserve to be melted down and made
into rebar. We'd have a great time! Jim was one of the (few) people
in my life who understood and appreciated my packrat mentality and
habits and was always calling for some old picture or report or some
such, and I'd go down and rummage in my basement piles and boxes, and
find just what he wanted.
Jim made a
number of trips with me over to look after the 737
Prototype (NASA 515). It was tough without a helper, although
there were times when I was stuck by myself. These were grueling
days - 8 hour minimum
round-trip drives, and often an 8 hour hard and dirty work day, hot in
the summer, cold and dark in the winter. Pushing around stands
towbars and nitrogen carts. Pumping up struts and tires, adding
oil, refueling. We'd reward ourselves with a couple of
good high speeds up and down 32R (that Space Shuttle runway) at Moses
Lake. Prove the old girl could still strut her stuff. Prove
still 'aviators'. Got her up to 142 kts one time...or was it 144?
good thing nobody was watching! (Did I say that? Heck,
knows I make up a lot of stuff....)
A day or two after I took Jim over there for the first time, he
called, to thank me for the trip. He told me he thought it was the
most significant, memorable, and important thing he'd done in his
retirement, one of the best in his whole life. What! No way! This
was a man who'd rolled the Dash 80 with Tex Johnson over the hydro
races in 1954; who had received the first Kinsheloe award in 1958 from
the Society of Experimental Test Pilots; the Project Pilot for the
Boeing SST; Korean War combat pilot.. Hell, we didn't even rotate! I
told my wife, -- then wrote down his comments, and taped them to my
computer monitor. I looked at them every day.
When the time came, in September 2003, for NASA 515 to make her final
flight, Jim volunteered to fly me over to Moses Lake in his Cessna 206
- and he did. A spry 83, he flew this airplane just a few days
before he died last week Damn! Way too many of my friends are making
that trip West. I'm thankful that I've done the things I've done,
been the places I've been, worked with and been friends with so many
great people. And, when you get a goodly crop of white hair, I think
the word Love starts to creep into the old noggin'. So to all of you
great friends out there - you all know who you are - before you select
270 in the heading window, or before I do, I just want to say, I LOVE
And Jim, enjoy your Flight West. I'm gonna miss those calls. I hope
it's VFR all the way, (so you won't have to check much with your
inside-out, upside down funnel attitude indicator), and with just
enough puffy clouds to make for great cotton balls in a deep blue sky
and warm golden sunsets. Have a Good Trip, Captain Gannett!
My Friend Jim
Some of Jim's other jobs:
Project Pilot - Boeing SST
707 Re-Engine Program
Airplane 9441 - First Flight 27 Nov 1979
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
James R. Gannett, 1923-2006: Test pilot helped Boeing launch jet age
Perfectionist engineer trained early 707 pilots
By NICK EATON
He flew high and low, fast and slow -- with passion and without fear.
James R. Gannett, a retired Boeing
test pilot whose testing days date back to the 1950s, died of a brain
aneurism in Redmond on Saturday. He was 83.
Gannett was best known in the
Northwest for co-piloting a Boeing 707 jetliner that performed two
barrel rolls over Lake Washington in 1954. Though the stunt wasn't his
idea, Gannett's aeronautical expertise helped Boeing soar into the
commercial jetliner industry.
"He was a good father and a good
husband, but the love of flying and solving problems was really his
passion," son Craig Gannett said.
Born Feb. 4, 1923, Gannett first
became interested in flying when his father gave him $1 to ride in a
plane. He fell in love with aviation and earned a master's degree in
aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan.
Gannett spent 1950-1954 at Edwards
Air Force Base in California testing experimental aircraft. He flew
alongside testing celebrities such as Chuck Yeager, the first person to
break the sound barrier in a supersonic jet, and flew 55 combat
missions during a nine-month stint in the Korean War.
In 1954, Gannett and his family
moved to the Seattle area so he could work for Boeing, where he first
tested the Dash-80, the experimental version of the 707.
"He left the Air Force when I was
about 8 weeks old," Craig Gannett said. "We came to Seattle; we drove
into town literally the day they rolled the Dash-80 out of the hanger.
... He literally arrived at the dawn of the jet age."
The 707 was Jim Gannett's first
project, and he continued testing it and other 707 versions throughout
his tenure at Boeing. Because of his knowledge of the 707, Gannett
helped develop pilot certification rules for the FAA when it was time
to update the rules for jets, and trained airline pilots how to fly the
"A lot of his students went out
and populated the airlines at the beginning of jets," said John
Cashman, director of flight operations at Boeing and a colleague of
That work earned him the inaugural Iven C. Kinsheloe award in 1958 from the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
Gannett was the project pilot for
Boeing's SST, the supersonic transport plane -- the American version of
the Concorde -- until the federal government scrapped the program in
1971. The project took up a "huge chunk" of Gannett's time, Craig
Jim Gannett also tested the Boeing
727, 737 and 747, and military airliner adaptations such as the
707-based AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) radar jets.
But Gannett was more of an
engineer than a daredevil, Craig Gannett said. He spent much of his
life developing better instruments for jetliners, including gadgets
used today in Boeing 747s, 757s and 767s, Cashman said.
"He always had ideas on things," Cashman said, "and not only how they are today, but how they could be improved."
That passion for perfection
carried through to the end of Gannett's life. He recently got a patent
on a new navigational instrument that gives pilots more intuitive
readings for a plane's attitude.
"He's a pretty hard worker,"
daughter Laurie Milton said. "He would persist to complete things. ...
He was stubborn in a good way and stubborn in a bad way."
Gannett never stopped flying -- he
flew a small Cessna prop plane last Wednesday. Tennis was another
passion, as well as skiing, sailing and fishing. When his son was
young, Gannett would fly his family in a float plane to remote lakes in
the Canadian Rockies to fish.
"He was a great family man," Milton said. "He loved his grandchildren."
Survivors include wife Eleanor
Gannett, 82; daughters Laurie Milton, 49, and Julie Gannett, 46; son
Craig Gannett, 52; and five grandchildren.
Memorial services will be at 9:30
a.m., Saturday, July 15, at the Boeing Museum of Flight; and at 2 p.m.,
Sunday, July 16, at the Redmond United Methodist Church.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to the Museum of Flight or the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.
Copyright Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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