How United Airlines Helped Design 
The World’s Most Remarkable Airliner

Mr. Gordon McKinzieGordon McKinzie

On Thursday, March 18th, AIAA’s Northern Ohio Section, the Ohio Aerospace Institute (OAI), and NASA Glenn’s Aero. Outreach group co-sponsored a dinner meeting featuring Mr. Gordon McKinzie.  Mr. McKinzie, United Airlines’ Manager of New Aircraft Development, spoke on "How United Airlines Invaded ‘Fortress Boeing’ To Help Design the World’s Most Remarkable Airliner, the 777".

The event was held at OAI.  During the social hour, the attendees had the opportunity to speak with Mr. McKinzie, as well as catch up with the AIAA-NOS Executive Council and find out about future section activities.

Our past Chair, Kim Otten served as master of ceremonies, and before the meal he introduced the evening’s distinguished guests, which included Dr. Woodrow Whitlow, Jr., NASA Glenn’s Director of Research and Technology; Chris Pestak, AIAA Region III Director; Lois Weir, Chair of the Northern Ohio Section of AIAA; and our speaker, Mr. Gordon McKinzie.  As usual, the dinner was wonderful, and special thanks goes to OAI for accommodating all of the participants who attended the event.

After a brief overview of the section’s upcoming events by Lois Weir, Dr. Whitlow introduced the speaker.  Mr. McKinzie began his presentation by showing the group a 5 minute and 34 second time-lapse video of the construction of a Boeing 777 from design to rollout, which he then donated to the Northern Ohio Section.

After the video, he began a discussion of the events that led up to the partnership between Boeing and United Airlines, which eventually gave us the Boeing 777.  This included a brief history of the United Airlines fleet, and a timeline showing their various airplanes from the 1920’s until the years prior to the 777.   (In 1929, Cleveland was the eastern end of the route structure.  Passengers going farther east took  a bus!)

United knew going into this project that they wanted to throw out the traditional design approach: each area doing their part of the design, and then "throwing it over the wall" to the next responsible group in line, without any communication taking place.  This approach had been used in the design and build of the 747-400, which led to a four-month delay in its delivery date and huge financial losses for UA.

Several options were looked at prior to the decision to build the 777.  The Boeing 767 was considered, but was too costly and needed more seats.  Boeing came up with what became known as "The Hunchback of Mukilteo": a 767 with a second deck from the wing aft.  Although this design solved the seating problem, there was no added room for the baggage.  They next considered the DC-10-10 and the DC-10-30, but neither of these would work well on United's routes due to limited range.

While visiting Airbus in Toulouse, France, UA received a call from Boeing telling them that they were serious about wanting United Airline’s business. To prove their seriousness in wanting this project, they asked UA to come to Ames to see the wing profile being tested.  When all was said and done, there were three engine companies (Rolls Royce, General Electric, and Pratt & Whitney), and three airframers (Boeing, Airbus, and McDonnell-Douglas) interested in this project, leaving United with 33 different options for the design and build-up of this airplane.  Using weighted factors (called out by United), they were able to down-select from these 33 options to the winners:  Boeing for the airframe, and Pratt & Whitney for the engine.  This process was affectionately known as the "Matrix Migraine".

In 1990, an order for 34 Boeing 777’s was placed.  The first one was delivered in May 1995.  This project was the first of its kind to involve the customer in the design process.  Everyone from designers to flight attendants had input, making the fulfillment of the "Working Together" pledge (their Magna Carta) of dispatch reliability, customer appeal, and user compatability more easily obtainable.  According to Mr. McKinzie, this airplane became known as the Fisher Price toy, because everything just clicked together.

The evening was filled with interesting stories, too numerous to cover here, that lead up to, and included, the rollout of this magnificent aircraft.  Mr. McKinzie was a delightful presenter, and everyone enjoyed the evening.  After an informative question and answer period, the evening’s activities came to a close.  In speaking with Mr. McKinzie after his presentation, he stated that he truly enjoyed himself, and looks forward to each and every one of us coming out to Seattle for a personal tour of Boeing’s impressive facility.