Photo of Joseph F. Sutter

Joseph F. Sutter

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Communications

For his technical and managerial contributions to the development and introduction of generations of jet-powered commercial aircraft which have made the United States the predominant supplier of passenger transport aircraft.

Joseph F. Sutter grew up directly under the flight path of planes in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of south Seattle, and while he was fascinated with planes, he didn’t imagine himself inside the cockpit like most young kids. “I wanted to build them more than I wanted to fly them,” shared Sutter in an interview with the West Seattle Herald.

Working for Boeing, Sutter led a team of 4,500 engineers tasked with designing an aircraft that could hold 350 passengers– the Boeing 747. At the time, many thought the only way to get that many seats into a jet was to build a double-decker. Sutter and his team went a different direction and created a wide body that not only fit 350 passengers, but also doubled as a freighter large enough to carry several containers.

The aircraft was expected to become obsolete after 400 were sold, but exceeded critics’ expectations with production passing the 1,000 mark in 1993. The 747 continues to be used for commercial flights, and is praised by many pilots as one of the easiest aircraft to land despite its size.

By Jen Santisi