Boeing pilot has no time to relax on a test flight

  • By Michelle Dunlop, Herald Writer
  • Thursday, April 22, 2010 9:43pm
  • Business

Chad Lundy wasn’t sure he wanted to work for a large corporation like the Boeing Co.

But he knew he would be a pilot.

Having spent part of his childhood near Miramar Air Station, the Marines’ flight training center in California, Lundy thought he might end up flying military jets. But he lost sight of those plans until the movie “Top Gun” came out, he admits sheepishly.

Today, Lundy makes Maverick’s moves look mild.

Boeing requires its flight test pilots to be brainier rather than the brawnier hotshots of the Hollywood film. It isn’t enough to simply have a pilot’s license and some nerve.

In general, flight test pilots at Boeing are required to have a bachelor’s degree in engineering; 70 percent have a master’s degree as well. And the company tries to keep a mix of pilots with commercial and military experience.

Unlike their commercial counterparts, Boeing flight test pilots like Lundy have to stay engaged throughout the flight. That means no auto-pilot, no relaxing. Lundy describes his first flight as a test pilot as simply exhausting.

Every single jet that Boeing builds — whether it’s an all-new model, like the 787, or an oft-built plane like a 777 — has to be taken on a test drive of sorts. Boeing test pilots like Lundy put each aircraft through a barrage of tests to make sure the airplane will perform as expected. Then, the customer, along with Boeing test pilots, takes the aircraft up for a spin.

“I personally like that part of the job,” Lundy said. “You get to meet people from all over the world.”

It wasn’t something Lundy envisioned for himself when he came to Boeing. He spent four years in the Navy before enrolling at the University of Washington. After much persistence, Lundy landed a job flying seaplanes for Kenmore Air. However, after getting married, Lundy decided he wanted more of a future than flying seaplanes could provide. Enter the Boeing Co.

“That was a really hard decision,” Lundy said recently, while sitting aboard an Alaska Air 737. “I was sure I wasn’t a big company kind of guy.”

But Lundy took a job as a flight test engineer on the 777. He was sure in doing so that he was giving up on a career as a pilot.

Lundy worked as a flight test engineer on the 777 and then on the 737 before becoming a systems operator, or “flight engineer,” sitting in the third seat of the flight deck monitoring the hydraulics, electrical and mechanical systems.

“I got to fly with some really good role models,” he said.

One of those role models was famed Boeing chief test pilot John Cashman, who encouraged Lundy to pursue the flight test pilot position. Cashman let Lundy get some test pilot experience on a smaller Cessna. Eventually Lundy, 40, made his way up to become a captain on 777s and 737s.

With momentum building on the 787, Lundy gained clearance about a year ago to fly experimental airplanes, or those that haven’t been certified yet by the FAA, like the Dreamliner or 747-8.

Lundy typically takes at least one aircraft up on a flight test daily. But he knows his schedule will get busier as Boeing increases production, particularly when Boeing begins delivering its 787s to customers. Eventually, Boeing wants to produce 10 787s monthly.

“It’s going to get crazy pretty soon,” Lundy said.

The father of two, Lundy doesn’t see himself moving over to be an experimental jet test pilot on a full-time basis. He enjoys the regular schedule of a production pilot who dabbles a little with new aircraft.

Out of all the Boeing aircraft that Lundy has flown, he calls the 777 “the gold standard.”

However, after flying the 787 once, “there will be a new standard,” he said.

As modest as “Top Gun” pilots are cocky, Lundy considers himself blessed in his career at Boeing.

“It’s still like a dream getting to go to work every day,” Lundy said.

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