Aussie whizz Hapgood to lead digital production of Boeing’s next aircraft

November 04, 2021

Queensland-born Linda Hapgood’s mantra is “go take the hardest jobs, stretch yourselves, and know you can do more than you ever thought you could.”

And Hapgood has stretched herself and her wings and has just been appointed to lead Boeing’s digital preparations for both the design of its next all-new commercial jet and the integrated production system that will build it.

As Program Manager Integrated Product Team for Digital Transformation at Boeing it is Hapgood’s mission to leverage all the expertise and innovation of the company’s 50,000 engineers and the lessons of over 100 years of building aircraft, rockets, satellites and space stations and move it all onto a virtual world for integrated design, test, production and service.

Announcing Hapgood’s appointment in a staff memo Boeing’s chief engineer Greg Hyslop, Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Stan Deal and Chief Information Officer Susan Doniz said that for “our next BCA (Boeing Commercial Aircraft) development program” the company will “create a digital environment where the next new airplane and production system can be designed together.

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“This effort will determine the standards and interfaces by which we are linked together with a digital thread through design, test, certification, build and support,” the memo said.

Hapgood’s new virtual world will be where the next Boeing commercial aircraft will be born and it will be a massive game-changing competitive edge for the cost of designing, building, and testing an all-new design tops over $20 billion.

For instance, says Hapgood we will digitally build the next product thousands of times before we physically build the first one as “it will be built in a virtual world.”

Designing a new aircraft in a 3D computer environment is not new and Boeing used that technology in the early 90s with its 777.

However only advances in computing power in the past ten years have enabled that to be taken to a whole new level of integrated design, test, build, and production process and tools.

“What it represents is an acceleration of ambitions, desires, and readiness as a company to leverage what we’ve been learning in different places around Boeing,” adds Hapgood.

“Our vision is to capture the advantages of technology in the sense of being able to simulate the product design, the production system design, and our services environment in the digital environment first before we build our first aircraft or lay the ground on our first factory.”

Hapgood has aviation and engineering in her genes.

Her father was an engineer with Ansett and her older sister Karen went into engineering inspiring Linda to put her “maths and science skills to good use and do something unique.”

She admits with a smile that 25 years ago she “didn’t really know much about engineering other than fixing engines.”

“So, I decided to take aerospace engineering at the Queensland University of Technology.”

While at QUT Hapgood secured an internship at Boeing Australia, which transformed into a full-time job on her graduation with honors in a Bachelor of Engineering, Aerospace, Avionics.

A three-year stint at Boeing Australia designing and implementing new weapons systems for Australia’s F-111 bombers caught the attention of Seattle and Hapgood found herself as an Avionics Project Manager responsible for 71 retrofit projects over two years.

Hapgood rapidly moved up the management ladder becoming a chief engineer on 767 and 747 Airplane Systems.

As Chief Engineer, she was responsible for more than 200 electrical and systems engineers on the 747-8, 767 Freighter, and 767-2C tanker.

“I really enjoyed the sense of bringing all the facets of a complex project together and I learned a lot about leading through influence because, as a project manager, you are not a direct manager of people, but you need to inspire people to help you achieve the goal.”

Hapgood adds that her “main passion is innovation and leading teams. As a manager, I really enjoy listening to people, understanding what they want to do and helping them bring their ideas to life.

Reflecting on her stellar career Hapgood muses that all she wanted was to get a degree in engineering and see what happened next.

“All that I knew for sure was that I wanted to have a challenging career and work overseas and see the world,” she said.

On the huge and game-changing challenge ahead Hapgood says “that in my experience, the big breakthroughs and innovations have come by bringing people from diverse perspectives and positions together to design the best solutions, with a focus on the customer.

But a key says Hapgood is that “if you have an idea of how to do something better, first you have to be patient enough to understand why folks are doing it the way they are today.”