|Boeing 727 World Tour. Con Frieze 5th from the left. Harley Beard at the far right.|
I moved from Boeing Field to the Boeing Renton engineering building and went to work for a designer named Peyton “Two-Gun” Autry. The design of the new 727 tri-jet was complete and the airplane was being manufactured. The job Autry and I had was to design derivatives of the 727, on larger and one smaller than basic 727-100.
Of course, I became thoroughly familiar with the design and characteristics of the 727. One day I was asked to brief some visiting airline officials on the 727. Apparently, I did a fair job of selling because a few days later Jack Steiner, Chief Engineer of the 727 program, offered me a job as manager of 727 Customer Engineering, Sales Support. It was the job of the “Sales Support” in Customer Engineering to produce sales brochures and visual aids and furnish technical support for salesmen and route analysts in working with airlines.
It sounded like a great job and I accepted, but Steiner threw in a proviso. He said, “If you do a good job, Clancy Wilde or someone in Sales will make you an offer. The last two men who had the Sales Support job used it as a stepping stone to Sales jobs. You have to promise me that you will not ask out without talking it over with me first and we agree that it would be best for you, the program, and the company. I agreed and became Manager, 727 Sales Support.
In 1963 Boeing gambled. To promote sales of the 727, it was decided to send an early production model on a tour—first around the domestic United States and Canada, then around the entire world. The trip was planned to begin just seven months after the first flight of the first 727 and prior to completion of flight testing and certification by the FAA. The airplane would be flown by Flight Test crews and would carry a crew of Boeing mechanics for ground support. 727 Engineering personnel would take turns riding two-week legs of the extended tour. I was selected for the initial portion of the domestic U.S. tour and would be getting off in Washington, D.C.
That was not to be. I wound up flying the entire world tour and became “the voice of the 727”. During a demonstration flight for the Air Force at Scott Field in Illinois, our sales rep for the military, Brooke Harper, asked me to do the description of the airplane during the demo flight for him. I knew the 727 intimately and was delighted to tell people about it so I took the P.A mile at the forward end of the cabin and told the VIPs aboard all about the airplane and its performance as the flight progressed.
During the ferry flight from Scott Field to Tulsa for a demonstration for American Airlines, Clancy Wilde, the Boeing Director of Domestic Sales, came to me and said “Great job, Con! How about doing that pitch for tall the demo flights on the entire domestic U.S. tour?”
“Your sales reps won’t like that, Clancy. They are supposed to tell their customers about the airplane.”
“Hell, they don’t know diddly squat about the airplane like you do. You leave the sales reps to me!”
“Jack Steiner only appointed me Engineering Rep for as far as Washington, D.C.”
“You leave Steiner to me, too,” Clancy retorted.
I phoned hoe that I would be gone another four weeks and on all the demonstration flights, sometimes three a day plus a ferry flight, I was a fixture at that microphone at the forward end of the cabin.
Ken Luplow, the Director of Foreign Sales, came aboard for the last two or three domestic flights and heard my pitches. During the final flight back to Seattle to prepare the airplane for the four-month international tour of the entire world, Luplow said, “Take a while to think it over.”
I just looked at him and smiled, “Kenny, I just did—of course I’ll go!”
It was the chance of a lifetime and, in spite of the excitement and drama of the nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific, was to be perhaps the premier event of my entire 33-year career with Boeing. Again, told in detail, the 727 World Tour in 1963 would be a small book in itself.
The permanent crew of the tour consisted of two flight crews, one navigator for the over ocean flights (it was before the day of inertial navigation), one steward hired from Pan American (stewardesses for the demo flights would be furnished by the airline to whom we were demonstrating), a corporate vice-president (the Boeing President, Bill Allen, rod the tour as far as Tokyo), a ground operations engineer, a flight line supervisor, a crew of our top mechanics (with spare parts in the belly compartments we were self-sufficient except fueling and servicing), sales representatives, a Boeing photographer, and me—“the voice of the airplane”. Other Engineering personnel who had been instrumental in development of the 727 met us and rode different sections of the tour.
The international tour had been scheduled in detail six months in advance and we took off just seven months after the initial flight of the first 727. We were determined to prove the reliability of our airplane and prove it we did. In 68 days we made a total of 139 flights and never missed a scheduled takeoff time except for one VIP delay in Singapore and one twenty-minute delay in Europe due to fog.
Our route read like the index of a world atlas—Gander, the Azores, Rome, Beirut, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok, Manila, Tokyo, Manila, Darwin, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Jedda, Beirut, Khartoum, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Athens, Zurich, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Brussels, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon, then back through the Azores and Gander to home.
We sometimes flew as many as five flights in one day between cities and for demonstrations with airline VIPs and pilots. We had very few days off in all those exotic places for sightseeing. It was like being part of a traveling road show making one-night stands on a global scale. It was a marvelous way to get my first look at the entire world, but was not easy. I lost fifteen pounds during that demanding expedition, but managed to be at the microphone for every demonstration flight. I maintained my enthusiasm for the airplane and like to believe that I contributed to the soaring of the 727 sales that resulted from that unprecedented tour.
One problem with the world tour was that changing cities and often countries almost every day and there was a new language and different money with which to contend. I came home with the ability to say, “Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. We hope you enjoyed the flight” in at least seven different languages. Sometimes I woke in a strange hotel room and groggily could not remember where in the world we were. After a while I learned that the best technique was to go to the writing desk in the room and look at the hotel stationary.
[Over the years, particularly when my father first returned home from that world tour, I heard lots of stories about those flights. I am sorry that my father didn’t add anything about the pilot, Harley Beard. Harley, like many Boeing test pilots, was a WWII pilot and also the father of my best friend. The 727 was designed to be able to land and take-off on runways shorter than what the 707 and its like required and Harley was able to make the 727 perform to breath-taking maneuvers. He landed that plane where no other airliner had ever landed. Best of all, I had a friend who knew how it felt when our fathers were not home for our beginning junior high. I missed my father lots of times during my childhood, but not being able to share that experience of first feeling like more than a child with him has stuck with me. Despite my father being gone a lot as I grew up, or maybe because of it, I was and am “Daddy’s girl.”]