Richard “Dick” Taylor, 93, a former Boeing engineer and test pilot who as director of engineering during development of the 737 earned the title “Father of the 737,” died Oct. 4 in his Capitol Hill home.
As a test pilot for the B-29 aerial-refueling tanker in the late 40s, Richard “Dick” Taylor became the world’s first boom operator. So it was only fitting that on Sept. 25, Mr. Taylor was at Paine Field to watch the first flight of the latest version, the KC-46.
Mr. Taylor, who died Oct. 4 at age 93 in his Capitol Hill home, made that Paine Field visit with his son Steve Taylor, who is the chief pilot of Boeing Flight Services.
Frank Shrontz, who was Boeing’s CEO while Mr. Taylor worked there, as well as a good friend, said in an interview that Mr. Taylor was an outstanding engineer and “was a great contributor to not only Boeing, but to the entire aerospace industry.”
Born in 1921 in Cincinnati, Mr. Taylor grew up in Indiana and graduated from Purdue University with a mechanical engineering degree in 1942. He was a spotter pilot in Europe during World War II. Taking the advice of a Purdue professor, he moved to Seattle in 1946 to work for Boeing, said Priscilla Hickey, his daughter.
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He joined Boeing as a flight-test engineer and quickly became one of its youngest test pilots. In addition to working on the B-29 tanker, he spent more than 2,000 hours test-flying the B-47 Stratojet — an important aircraft promising better speed and range than the straight-winged prop planes that were standard at the time. The B-47 was the first airplane built with wings swept back at an angle and with engines mounted below the wings in pods, Steve Taylor said.
“It was so far ahead of its time,” Mr. Taylor recalled in an oral history recorded by the Museum of Flight.
As Boeing’s director of engineering during development of the 737, Mr. Taylor earned the title “Father of the 737.” He also played a pivotal role in reducing the number of pilots in an airline cockpit from three to two. Mr. Taylor may be best known, however, for his work on extended-range twin-engine operations (ETOPS), which required convincing safety regulators to reduce the number of engines required on a plane flying over water from three or four to two. That effort also earned him the title “Father of ETOPS.”
“Today we can’t even imagine building an airplane that required three pilots or three engines, but when he was working those changes, that was really radical thinking,” Steve Taylor said.
“He fundamentally changed the way in which the industry designs airplanes and operates them,” said Peter Morton, a Boeing retiree who worked under Mr. Taylor for many years.
During his early career, Mr. Taylor moved between Seattle and Boeing’s operations in Wichita, Kan., but settled in Bellevue in the 1960s. He couldn’t have fit in better in Washington, as his three favorite things were planes, baseball and coffee, his daughter said. More recently, he walked from his Capitol Hill condo to Roy Street Coffee every day for a cup of black coffee and was a Mariners season-ticket holder.
The day Mr. Taylor died, he was headed to the Mariners’ last home game of the season, where he was going to be recognized in the team’s Salute to those who Serve. A videowas shown at the game, and his daughter said Mr. Taylor “would have been so glad to know that the Mariners won their game and that he was part of a good finish to the season.”
Mr. Taylor was on the board of trustees of the Museum of Flight for 44 years and was instrumental in refocusing its mission in the 1990s to include education. Museum CEO Doug King said Mr. Taylor felt it was just as important to inspire, motivate and educate young people as to collect and preserve history.
“You tend to look at people that age as only looking back and telling stories, but he was still looking forward,” King said.
Mr. Taylor retired from Boeing in 1991, but served as a consultant for another five years, helping with certification, design, safety and extended-range operations. His industry honors include the Distinguished Service Award from the Federal Aviation Administration in 1991 and being named an Elder Statesman of Aviation by the National Aeronautics Association in 1992.
His children remember the Taylor family had at least eight different planes over the years. Family vacations growing up started on his plane, and the family flew to places like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Washington, D.C.
“I grew up in the back seat of the family airplane,” Steve Taylor said. “My first ride was at just a few weeks old.” (Steve Taylor said he himself learned to fly before he even had a driver’s license.)
While Mr. Taylor was in his 90s, he still owned a seven-seater Piper Aerostar (he holds several world-speed records). And while he hadn’t flown since last December, he was preparing: At the time of his death, the plane was in San Diego getting new instruments installed.
Mr. Taylor was preceded in death by his wife of 35 years, Mary McLaury Taylor, and his daughter and son-in-law, Martha and Mike Biggs. Besides his children Steve Taylor and Priscilla Hickey, he is survived by daughter Jane Wilson and son Mac Taylor; his brother, Ray Taylor, and sister, Sarah Jane Waitt; nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
The family is holding a memorial service at Bellevue Presbyterian Church at 1 p.m. Oct. 31. A separate celebration is scheduled at the Museum of Flight at 5 p.m. Nov. 1. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to The Museum of Flight or Bellevue Presbyterian Church.