REDMOND - James R. Gannett, a retired Boeing test pilot who was in the co-pilot's seat of a 707 jetliner that stunned onlookers in 1955 by doing two barrel rolls over Lake Washington, has died.
He was 83 when he died of a brain aneurysm Saturday in this suburb east of Seattle.
"He was a good father and a good husband, but the love of flying and solving problems was really his passion," said his son Craig Gannett.
The elder Gannett fell in love with aviation after his father gave him $1 to ride in a plane. He earned a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan, and spent 1950-1954 at Southern California's Edwards Air Force Base testing experimental aircraft.
He flew alongside testing celebrities such as Chuck Yeager and flew 55 combat missions during a nine-month stint in the Korean War.
In 1954, Gannett and his family moved to the Seattle area so he could work for Boeing, where he first tested an experimental version of the 707. He tested other 707 versions throughout his tenure at Boeing.
Gannett helped develop pilot certification rules for the FAA when it was time to update the rules for jets, and trained airline pilots how to fly the 707.
"A lot of his students went out and populated the airlines at the beginning of jets," said John Cashman, director of flight operations at Boeing.
Gannett was the project pilot for Boeing's SST, the supersonic transport plane - the American version of the Concorde - until the federal government scrapped the program in 1971.
Gannett also tested the Boeing 727, 737 and 747, and military airliner adaptations such as the 707-based AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) radar jets.
He spent much of his life developing better instruments for jetliners, including gadgets used today in Boeing 747s, 757s and 767s, Cashman said. Gannett recently got a patent on a new navigational instrument that gives pilots more intuitive readings for a plane's attitude.
"He would persist to complete things. ... He was stubborn in a good way and stubborn in a bad way," his daughter Laurie Milton said.
Gannett never stopped flying. He flew a small Cessna prop plane one day last week. Tennis was another passion, as were skiing, sailing and fishing. When his son was young, Gannett would fly his family in a float plane to remote lakes in the Canadian Rockies to fish.
In addition to his son and Laurie Milton, survivors include his wife, Eleanor, daughter Julie Gannett and five grandchildren.
Memorial services are planned for July 15 at the Boeing Museum of Flight, and July 16 at the Redmond United Methodist Church.