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Thursday, November 24, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Maynard Pennell, 84, Guided Boeing's First Commercial Jet

As a student in aeronautical engineering, Maynard Pennell sat through lectures that predicted commercial jet flights across the ocean would never make a profit and that planes would never travel faster than the speed of sound.

Throughout a 34-year career at The Boeing Co., Mr. Pennell challenged those theories. He guided the company's first commercial jet project, serving as chief engineer on the 707 jetliner prototype. And he later headed the company's SuperSonic Transport design program.

"He's one of the fellows why Boeing is in the position they are today," said Ken Holtby, who worked with Mr. Pennell.

Mr. Pennell died Tuesday afternoon following a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 84.

Friends and colleagues describe Mr. Pennell as an "engineer's engineer," a friendly, patient man who listened fairly and carefully, but acted decisively.

Mr. Pennell was born on April 12, 1910 in Skowhegan, Maine. Ten years later, he piled into the car with his family and made the long journey to Seattle.

After graduating from the University of Washington in 1931, where he studied aeronautical engineering, Mr. Pennell worked for six years for Douglas Aircraft, before joining Boeing.

His earliest design projects included the B-29 Superfortress and the B-52. In 1952, Mr. Pennell was named senior-project engineer on the 707 project, and his focus shifted to the uncharted commercial jetliner industry.

"I enjoyed working commercial programs more, serving humanity rather than threatening it," Mr. Pennell told a newspaper reporter when he retired from Boeing in 1974.

Regardless of the project, Mr. Pennell was an inspiring leader, using the Socratic method to challenge the design team, colleagues said.

"He had a good feel for what was possible and he knew how to bring out those ideas with the engineer," said Joe Sutter, the chief engineer of the 747 and a longtime colleague of Mr. Pennell. "He could make it happen."

For his work at Boeing, Mr. Pennell was honored with the 1965 Elmer Sperry Award for distinguished engineering. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Since 1989, Boeing has endowed a research professorship in structural analysis at the UW in Mr. Pennell's honor.

As much as Mr. Pennell enjoyed the rigors and innovation of aeronautical design, he always took time to relax with this family. For years, he and his wife, Ellen, entertained family, friends and professional associates - including a weekend hosting Charles Lindbergh - at their log cabin on Puget Sound.

Far from the Boeing meeting rooms, he'd chop wood, build a bonfire and play with his kids.

"He would go up to this log cabin and would literally recharge his batteries," said Donald Pennell, his son.

Mr. Pennell was also an active member and leader of the University Unitarian Church.

A few months ago, Joe Sutter had his last conversation with Mr. Pennell. Sutter told Mr. Pennell the latest happenings at Boeing. Mr. Pennell was pleased with the news, but emphasized that the company should continue expanding the limits of jet travel.

"He was still looking to the future," Sutter said.

Mr. Pennell is survived by his wife, Ellen Rowland Pennell, of Seattle; a brother, Donald F. Pennell, of Yarrow Point; sons Donald R. Pennell, of Los Angeles, and Robert M. Pennell, of Seattle; a daughter Mary Pennell Nelson, of Portland, Maine; seven grandchildren; a great-granddaughter; and several nieces and nephews.

Memorials may be sent to the Boeing Endowment for Excellence in Engineering, for the Boeing Pennell Professorship, College of Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195; or to the American Parkinson's Disease Association, Information and Referral Center, University of Washington, Division of Neurology, RG-27, Seattle, WA 98125.

Services will be held at 2:00 p.m. Sunday at the University Unitarian Church, 6556 35th Ave. N.E.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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