At one point, it seemed that Corky Townsend was going to be the last chief project engineer for 747s at the Boeing Co.
Townsend moved into the post as the top 747 engineer in August 2003, at a time when sales of the iconic jumbo jet were drying up and Boeing was considering closing down the assembly line.
“I desperately didn’t want to be the last 747 CPE,” she said. “It was not the job I wanted to do. Clearly, that was a decision point, whether or not we were going to continue with the airplane, or would it slowly peter out over time.”
Along came the 747 Advanced, a proposal to breathe new life into the 40-year-old “Queen of the Skies” by incorporating technology and engines developed for Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner.
For the first time, Boeing had a 747 that “matched all the stakeholders’ requirements,” she said. “It was the plane they wanted it to be at a price they wanted it to be at a development cost that made sense.”
Now Townsend is shepherding the development of the 747-8. Last week, she announced that the engineering team had completed the first sets of drawings.
Pay range: According to state salary surveys, engineering managers typically are paid between $91,000 and $132,000 a year, with an average of $113,880.
Hours: She starts between 6:30 and 7 a.m. Townsend has two young sons and tries to leave early whenever possible, but “oftentimes I won’t leave till 5:30 or 6 (p.m.).”
Three things I love about my job:
1) “Working on airplanes … the feeling I get when you walk through the factory. They’re amazing things. They’re huge. They’re this amazing piece of metal, and they fly.”
2) “Working on such an icon of an airplane … just the love for this airplane people have makes me feel good about working on the 747.”
3) Making a difference as a manager. “Allowing people to not limit themselves,” she said. “Having them look at the problem differently and seeing it as an opportunity, not a problem.”
One thing I’d change: She goes to too many meetings.
First job: KFC. “I was 14 and I only lasted three months before they discovered I was too young.”
Career path: Joined Boeing in 1985 as an aerodynamics engineer. Has held several management jobs with the 747 and 777, and was program manager for Boeing’s proposed 747-400QLRX. She was deputy chief project engineer for the 747 for three years before moving into her job in 2003.
Where do you go from here: She’d like to succeed her boss, Jeff Peace, as vice president and program manager of the 747.
Hometown: Marin, Calif.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, Colorado University; MBA, Seattle University.
Family: Husband, Rob Townsend, is chief engineer for Boeing’s 767 passenger-to-freighter conversion program. They have two sons, A.J., 11, and Cole, 8.
Guilty pleasure: Golf. They live at Harbour Pointe.
Favorite saying: “Peachy. It’s kind of warm and fuzzy.”
Who plays you in the movie of your life? “It’s probably got to be Meg Ryan. She’s a nice, wholesome person with a big smile.”
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