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Originally published Wednesday, August 26, 2009 at 12:11 AM

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Lew Wallick, Boeing's former chief test pilot, dies at 85

Longtime Boeing test pilot is remembered for his top-notch skills and sense of humor.

Seattle Times education reporter

On his first airplane ride at age 12, S.L. "Lew" Wallick Jr. was so comfortable he stood up in the biplane's open cockpit to get a better view.

It was the start of a long, distinguished career as a test pilot during which Mr. Wallick was the first person to fly a number of Boeing planes, including the 727.

"He had a great set of hands, as we pilots call it," said Brien Wygle, a former test pilot who worked with Mr. Wallick for many years.

Mr. Wallick passed away Aug. 19 after a long illness. He was 85.

Mr. Wallick grew up on a Kansas farm with his parents and four siblings. At 17, he joined the Naval Aviation Cadet program. He was supposed to be part of the invasion of Japan in World War II, but then the United States dropped the atomic bombs in Japan, and he never saw combat.

After the war, Mr. Wallick earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Kansas State University and soon went to work at Boeing, first in Wichita and then in Seattle. He spent 35 years with the company, retiring in 1986 as Chief Test Pilot and Director of Flight Test.

Along with flying the first 727, he was pilot or co-pilot on the first flights of the Boeing 737, 747SP, 757, 767 and more, according to his daughter, Becky Wallick.

He was admired for his character as well as his flying skill.

"He treated everybody, especially the people who worked for him, with a great deal of respect," said Dennis Mahan, a friend and retired flight engineer.

Mr. Wallick trusted the people he worked with and also expected the best of everyone, said Alan Mulally, former executive vice president at Boeing, and now head of Ford Motor Co.

Mulally worked with Mr. Wallick for more than 20 years at Boeing. They first met when Mulally was an engineer in his mid-20s.

Mulally had designed a test to see how far a pilot could pull the nose of an airplane up before it would stall.

As Mulally recalls it, Mr. Wallick said, "Well, Alan, it looks very competent. Why don't you go with me tomorrow on this test?"

"All I remember," Mulally said, "is that I stayed up all night long and redid every calculation and checked it four or five times.

"I was completely ready for the next day, and thank goodness the calculations were correct," Mulally said.

Mulally credits Mr. Wallick's thorough testing for helping make Boeing jets "the best in the world."

Mr. Wallick had four children with his first wife, Ruth Wallick. They divorced in 1976. In 1982, he married Sara Torkelson, who had worked as his secretary at Boeing.

As a father, Mr. Wallick was very fun and supportive, said his daughter, Becky Wallick.

"I got a lot of extra encouragement to spread my wings in any way I wanted," she said.

The family water-skied, snow skied and, of course, flew. One of Mr. Wallick's favorite destinations were small, remote lakes in British Columbia where he'd fish and relax.

Although his job was dangerous at times, Becky Wallick said her father didn't talk about that at home. At Boeing, however, he was known for his ability to quickly figure out how to get an airplane out of trouble.

"Whatever it was, he had it," said Jess Wallick, Mr. Wallick's younger brother, also a test pilot at Boeing who flew on some flights with his brother.

Once, Mr. Wallick successfully recovered a 727 after another pilot caused it to go into a deep stall, plummeting thousands of feet in a matter of seconds.

Mr. Wallick also was known for his sense of humor, and once upstaged the first flight of Douglas Aircraft's DC-8 by flying a Boeing 707 very low over the runway where the DC-8 was to take off.

In 1983, Mr. Wallick received the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Chanute Flight Award, and in 1999 he was inducted into the Museum of Flight Pathfinder Hall of Fame.

He retired at 62, too old to continue to fly as a test pilot under Federal Aviation Administration rules.

But he continued to fly small, private planes until a few years ago, when health problems forced him to stop.

Along with his wife, daughter and brother Jesse, Mr. Wallick is survived by three sons, Sam and Rick, of Renton, and Tim of San Diego, Calif.; brother John, sister Eva and six grandchildren. A celebration of his life and career will be held at the Museum of Flight at a date yet to be determined. Remembrances may be made to the Museum of Flight.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or

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