'Everyone Told Me Not to Do It'
Glen Elliott is the C-17 & KC-135 Retrofit, Maintenance, and Mods Engineering manager supporting Boeing Global Services in San Antonio.
In 2015, Glen Elliott’s 24-year-old brother-in-law was involved in an auto accident and sustained injuries that resulted in paralysis in his arms and legs. For years, he avoided flying due to safety regulations that prohibit passengers from sitting in their own wheelchairs on airplanes.
“People who use wheelchairs board airplanes using an aisle chair to get to their seat while their personal wheelchair is typically stored in cargo,” explained Glen. When his brother-in-law eventually developed enough courage to get on a flight and visit Glen’s family, he found air travel challenging, and his wheelchair was damaged in transit. “The trip was stressful for my brother-in-law and his only way to get around, his lifeline, was damaged.”
His brother-in-law didn’t want to fly again, so Glen developed an idea for an aircraft wheelchair anchor. Using his years of knowledge, structural engineering experience and understanding of airplanes, Glen devised a way to safely secure wheelchairs to an aircraft’s existing seat tracks. “My solution could eventually allow wheelchair users to get on a plane without leaving behind their primary mode of transportation,” he said. With Boeing’s support in 2019, Glen applied for a patent in June 2020.
Glen hopes his solution will revolutionize travel for people in wheelchairs so they'll get to experience things they've missed out on or haven't been able to experience in the past. “Jurassic Falls in Hawaii is only accessible by helicopter,” said Glen, “but helicopters have seat tracks so maybe we can all see it together.”
Glen said they are in the process of developing testing prototypes for the aircraft wheelchair anchor. He looks forward to the day when the solution will be available to Boeing customers.
“It's what I want to do. I'm capable."
Glen said he became an engineer a long time ago. He remembers playing with K’NEX, and by the time he won a high school toothpick bridge-building competition, he realized he was pretty good at understanding how things worked – he even enjoyed it.
While attending high school in the Southeastern United States, however, whenever Glen said he wanted to have a career in engineering, others discouraged him because he is Black. “Everyone told me not to do it,” he said, “because it’s very hard.” He recalls telling those people, “It’s what I want to do. I’m capable.” The 6-foot-10 Elliott was encouraged to pursue basketball instead.
Glen hoped that by pursuing engineering, he could help dispel racial stereotypes. “I was the only African American in my engineering classes at Temple University and after I transferred to Florida A&M University, there were only two African American engineers in my FAMU/FSU College of Engineering graduating class.”
As an engineering manager at Boeing, Glen believes that open communication helps him to build trust with teammates and be the kind of leader he wants to be.
He said, “Once I got to a position where I had influence with a team, I wanted to act openly and without stereotypes – the same way I always want to be treated. And if they ask me something, they trust that I am providing accurate information, even if it is something they don’t want to hear.”
By being up front, listening to concerns and providing honest answers, Glen leads by example. “There’s a lot of guidance that I didn’t get in the past, so now I’m an open book with my teams.”
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