Waiting, Expectantly

The Café, Fernand Lungren 1884

I guess that you could say that I am between jobs, as a ship can be in-between ports. Except this ship will never reach its next port. I am retired now and loving it. I travel. I putter about the house. I pester the wife. I do nothing at all. I still feel scheduled though. More so than even when I was working. 

When I was making paper airplanes for Boeing, my work schedule seemed much more elastic than now. I know that I sweated deadlines, but they were pretty much of my own making. In the end, when I began to work larger programs any sense of deadline almost disappeared. This incongruity occurred, because in our iterative development process what didn’t make the current release would be added in the next cycle. New technology always had to fight to earn its way onboard, because there was always a fallback: the way it has always been done. That is the paper plane phase of development. Usually, involving only a few hundred engineers. In my career, I clove to that front-end of the development cycle. Downstream the number of engineers jumped, schedules became more rigid and deadlines were fixed. With increased numbers also came increased cost and metal eventually replaced paper. In reality, we were pretty much paperless by then anyway, with everything being electronic.

Nowadays, I only hear about work. I bump into former co-workers occasionally or do lunch with past colleagues. The company is in the news these days, but not in a good way. Two downed jets is never a good story. The gist of which makes it appear that their causes are an unfortunate conjunction of errors. It has been reported that a race to beat Airbus mentality drove development too quickly. I think that when the underlying causes are revealed, it will be more complicated than that. When I left the company, I was part of an exodus of older talent. Younger men and some women had taken up the reins. With new people comes new ways of doing things. Aircraft manufacturing has always been evolving and with change comes unexpected consequences. While I worked for Boeing, there was a rather macabre term that had some currency, called the blood tax. The idea of which is that every technological advance must be bought with lives.

As we wait expectantly to learn the fate of the 737 MAX, I am reminded of the ancient words of caution that Daedalus gave to his son Icarus. Flying with wings fashioned from feathers and wax, he warned his son first of complacency and then of hubris. Asking that he fly neither too low or the sea’s dampness would clog his wings nor too high or the sun’s heat would melt them. According to myth, hubris won out and Icarus plummeted to his death after flying too close to the sun. Lessons will be learned, changes will be made and consequences felt.

2 thoughts on “Waiting, Expectantly

  1. i’ve had a similar experience to yours since I retired. There are days when I feel time pressured like I don’t have enough hours in the day to get the things done that I want. I’ve had some lunches myself with former coworkers and they talk at length about work and I sometimes feel a bit left out. I’ve considered going back to work for a nonprofit or do some volunteer work or even apply as an usher at Giants’ games. And then I hear traffic reports and say, the heck with it.

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