Growing Up Boeing
The memoir of a test pilot's daughter, raised to approach life as reward for pushing the envelope's edge.
On the day I was born in December 1956, my father Lew Wallick was soaring high in the skies above Seattle, test-piloting the Boeing KC-135 (military version of the 707).
Before Microsoft, Starbucks, or Amazon were even conceived, Boeing was the Puget Sound region’s primary employer; it put us on the map. Boeing’s corporate culture shaped Seattle’s culture: family-oriented, with an aw-shucks can-do geeky engineering approach to life. During the dawn of the commercial jet age – the 1950s through the 1980s – many iconic airplanes still in service today (727, 737, 747, 757, 767) had their exciting first flights above Seattle thanks to Boeing mechanics, engineers, and test pilots.
Succeeding as a test pilot takes a unique blend of intelligence, mechanical know-how, common sense, love of adventure, calculated risk-taking and ability to remain calm under extreme pressure. My father, who retired as Director of Flight Test and Chief Test Pilot in 1986 after 35 years with Boeing, was one of the truly successful ones.
It turns out that the same traits critical to his success as a test pilot made him an equally amazing parent. The unique way he raised me, and the life lessons I learned from him – lessons that continued until the day he passed away in 2009 at age 85 – are worth sharing.
Growing Up Boeing is part memoir, part biography covering the 1950s to the 1980s: an insider’s view of Boeing test pilots and flight test engineers on the job and with their families.
Praise for Growing Up Boeing
“Rebecca Wallick’s delightful story of the lives of the test pilots who served Boeing during that company’s golden years of military and commercial jets will more than excite aviation buffs. She tells her own story in parallel with that of her father, Lew Wallick, one of the truly great test pilots. There are periods of intense pressure on the flight test community of pilots and engineers, many humorous anecdotes and some downright dangerous moments. From the B-47 to the 767, a well-written sweep of Flight Test history.”
—Brien Wygle, Boeing test pilot and VP of Flight Operations (retired)
“You need not have grown up in the Puget Sound region to identify with much of what Rebecca Wallick has so poignantly related for posterity in this highly personal and nearly poetic account. But if you were fortunate enough to have done so, you will embrace this labor of love and honor, and see yourself mirrored in so many of its scenes. Historians have labored to record the evolution of the company we all know as Boeing, but have, for the most part, produced nuts-and-bolts, enthusiast-style publications that do little for the soul or for the unique community that has nurtured and enabled the beautiful aircraft which have resulted. This artfully narrated account breathes life into the extremely personal and human experiences that have, in some magical way, been shared at some level by so many, and provides more than a hint of what has made this aircraft manufacturer legendary. Lew Wallick would be so proud.”
—Dan Hagedorn, Senior Curator, Museum of Flight
“This is an extraordinary book for aviation buffs and historians written by one of the few people that could write it. It is a fascinating story about the pioneers of jet transport flight testing—a story of the major contributions made by teams of pilots, engineers, and maintenance personnel while dealing with a large area of new aviation knowledge. It is also the story of the families that supported them and gave them some semblance of normalcy despite the exciting and sometimes dangerous aspects of their jobs. They were all an extraordinary group of individuals whose ground breaking work is still used today, several generations later.”
—John Cashman, Chief Test Pilot (Retired), Boeing Commercial Airplanes
“Becky Wallick has written a compelling narrative about her father, legendary Boeing test pilot S. L. ‘Lew’ Wallick, and his compatriots in a heady profession usually shrouded in mystique, even among aviation experts. Lew and his ‘band of brothers’ come to life under Becky’s pen. The camaraderie, the straightforward acceptance of risk and flying adventure, the daily routine mixing flying and family, are all captured. So are the tragedies inherent in the profession, and their impact on lives of survivors. Aviation history also comes alive in this well-researched book, smoothly integrated into the story line. There are hair-raising moments as Becky matter-of-factly describes the hazards, the incidents, near accidents, and tragic events inherent in exploring the limits of aeronautical technology and new airplane designs. The contributions to design by the test pilots become clear; once a deficiency or product improvement opportunity surfaces through testing, then engineers have data to change the airplanes for the benefit of airlines, pilots, and passengers. Becky titles her book Growing Up Boeing. Some of us whose entire professional life occurred at Boeing are still growing up Boeing, more so now because this book reveals much that went on behind the scenes: little secrets, big secrets, closing the loop around stories previously only partially told. Literally, this is a ‘can’t put down’ book that will capture the aviation and lay reader alike. It is a ‘must read’ for engineers and pilots, especially the young people who are inspired by the stories of Lew and his comrades and see themselves in a test pilot career.”
—Peter Morton, Boeing engineer and Vice President of Human Resources (retired)