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Boeing CEO in T-X jet
Boeing test pilot Steve “Bull” Schmidt points out features in the cockpit of a prototype T-X training jet to Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s CEO, president and chairman, (Boeing Photo)

One of the things I learned about Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg is that he loves to fly the aircraft his company makes, even when they’re high-performance military jets.

Take the next-generation T-X training jets, for instance: Last week, Boeing won a $9.2 billion contract to provide hundreds of the planes, plus simulators and services, to the Air Force. The first deliveries aren’t due until 2023, but Muilenburg has already been in the cockpit of a T-X prototype — even though he’s an engineer and a manager, not a pilot.

Here’s how he described the experience on Wednesday during the GeekWire Summit:

“It’s a fantastic set of innovations that’ll bring not only a new airplane to our Air Force pilots, but ground-based trainers and simulators as well, all leveraging new VR and augmented-reality technology, really as a next-generation training capability. …

“Actually, I flew on our T-X last fall. We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about it, but we built two prototypes, and I had the privilege of flying in the back seat of one of those with one of our Boeing test pilots last fall. …

“We were up for maybe an hour and a half. I got some stick time while we were up. We did some max-rate rolls, got a feel for the handling qualities of the airplane, the visuals that new pilots would have in terms of the training system interface, the cockpit interface.

“I just love airplanes, and I love flying. So, anytime I get a chance to go up in a new airplane with one of our pilots, I take full advantage.”

You don’t have to just take Muilenburg’s word for it. Today he tweeted out the evidence and gave a shout-out to Boeing test pilot Steve “Bull” Schmidt:

After the T-X, what further flights could Muilenburg face? The MQ-25 Stingray tanker drone isn’t designed to carry a pilot, so that’s out. Maybe his next thrill ride will be on the MH-139 helicopter, which also won a multibillion-dollar Air Force contract last month.

And there’s always the CST-100 Starliner space taxi, which is due to carry NASA astronauts plus Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson to the International Space Station next year. For what it’s worth, before our onstage chat, Muilenburg told me he’s already tried on Boeing’s blue spacesuit.

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