EDITOR’S NOTE: Burien resident Fred Feiertag’s column for The B-Town Blog will help you start your week every Monday. He will be sharing his observations, travel stories, wanderings and more…
Maybe this is a good time to switch subjects. Much as I love Iceland and telling you about its many charms, I have many more lies and stories to share.
Starting this week let’s go to a place that almost doesn’t exist anymore. I spent a couple of the months before my first retirement in Moscow, Russia. In 2004 and 2005 Moscow was not the place it is now. Let me take you along as I revisit my time there.
I was working at Boeing in the first years of the 2000’s and found it was becoming more and more difficult. It seemed like the company didn’t value my efforts and would send me away to work on problems with few good solutions. It kept me out of the management’s hair but at each year end there wasn’t much to look back on as being positive. During this time the airplane that was to become the 787 Dreamliner was being conceived. My role in this airplane’s birth was tiny if I exaggerate it. The final assignment, as part of the 787 development, was like none other for me.
The short of it is that I was to go the Moscow, the one in Russia. I was to find out if the Russians could be useful partners in the background testing of the composite material that was to be the main ingredient of the Dreamliner’s structure. This job was from the “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” file. There are very distinct organizational entities both at Boeing and within Russia that are very protective of their boundaries. The Boeing groups responsible for testing materials had deep responsibilities and a protective culture. They were not at all committed to having Russian laboratories do work that was normally done by Boeing laboratories.
The counter groups, in Russia, were desperate for work but had deeply held views on doing work in the soviet manner. My job was to find out if Boeing work could be done in Russian labs and if the results of the work could be acceptable to the Boeing engineering hierarchy. As an experienced engineer with years of laboratory testing experience this was a very tall order. From the start it seemed like it was an impossible task and likely I would carry the blame for any failure. It seemed like it was to be doing international diplomacy and not engineering.
I wasn’t alone, at least at first. There was a team of Boeing experts sent to tour several Russian laboratories and then decide which would of them would be tried out. I ended up being sent alone to the lab that corresponded closest to my specialty, metallurgical engineering. Our team was sent to Moscow and we were hosted by the already established Boeing Moscow Engineering organization. This was formed as the Cold War ended to employ Russian engineers. It had a staff of talented, mostly young engineers working on computer workstations to design new aircraft parts. The leadership was all Russian mangers and senior engineers who had the experience needed to work with the new post soviet Russian government.
This was a very strange time in Russia. The communist Soviet Union had ended over ten years before with a series of painful adjustments and versions of what a new Russian government was to become. By the time of my visits the economy was showing signs of stability and a new feeling of optimism was starting to be felt. The newly elected President Putin was seen as a strong and stable leader that could tame the criminal bands that were looting the carcass of the dead soviet state. The dynamics of this situation would affect everything we saw and did.
The first visit was in March of 2004 with the team flying to Moscow on Aeroflot airlines. The former Soviet state airline was now in the process of being privatized and had leased airplanes from western airlines. We flew in a leased United Airlines 777 that was clearly rather tired and grubby. The service was almost funny in how bad it was. The trip was long and we finally landed in Moscow late in the day at Sheremetyevo International Airport. This was then the only international airport for Moscow and was very much over crowded. Our growing feelings of culture shock were being fed by remarkable sights. We we met by the people from the Boeing Moscow office who had private cars and drivers waiting for us. We were driven through awful traffic to a sparkly new hotel in the heart of the city. By the time we were checked in and settled in our rooms it was fully dark. I decided to explore my neighborhood. Some of those views are below: