Jennifer Radtke, Commercial Airplanes’ first female chief mechanic, is helping engineers to understand assembly principles that lead them to design better airplanes.

Jennifer has been preparing to serve as a chief mechanic at Boeing all her life. Her father encouraged her to help with sheet metal work in their garage when she was a child. She learned the joy of an elegant design, a quality product and a hard job well done.

Today, Jennifer is the first woman to serve as a chief mechanic at Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Washington. Supporting Product Development, her primary focus is on one of the production system tenets -- respect for people.

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This photo was taken prior to Boeing implementing COVID-19 pandemic safeguards.

Designing for mechanics

“My job is to be the voice of the customer and the voice of the factory mechanic,” she said. “I keep that voice present for our engineering team as they create new designs.”

Jennifer started her aviation career washing airplanes for airlines. Now as chief mechanic at Boeing, she participates in reviews of designs and mockups to help engineers find solutions that help those who build and maintain airplanes.

“I’ve done some of the hardest jobs required to support an airplane in service and I have made it a mission to understand what our own mechanics go through in building airplanes,” she said. “Respect for people means we’re making our airplanes a joy to work on. It means we’re thinking about mechanics’ safety, their work environment and their work load. We’re not just creating elegant designs, we’re being practical.”

To accomplish that task, Jennifer and her team participate in design decisions. They help review proposed approaches and negotiate with designers, challenging them to rework elements that would otherwise be a burden for mechanics.

“It’s not always easy finding a balance. For an airplane to work, it has to meet sizing and weight requirements. But more often than not, when we sit down together and think about the mechanic as part of the design equation, we can find improvements."

"If you have a solid, trusting team, you create environments that allow you to have challenging conversations and still respect each other."

Creating advocates

Jennifer also sees mentoring as a key part of her job. Creating more advocates for mechanics and helping to develop the next generation of leaders is a way she honors the investment that her mentors have made in her.

“I have had role models who invested in me,” she said. “They pushed me; they insisted I learn but did not let me fail.” Her list of mentors begins with her father. She also counts a host of Boeing managers, co-workers and role models who encourage her personal and professional growth.

Within her own team, Jennifer prioritizes creating an environment of caring and sharing.

A path well-charted

Jennifer looks back at her childhood and 25 years in aviation and sees a straight, intentional path from her father’s garage to Boeing. One that her husband, daughter and son have traveled with her – moving across the country as her career progressed and providing an endless source of support.

I have the courage to be the first person to champion an idea, to advocate for change and to point out opportunities for improvement,” she said. “But it takes a team to get anything done. If I put my energy and confidence in the team, if I stay true to my mission, I know we’re going to make a difference in the products we develop for future generations of mechanics, pilots and passengers.