This 76-Year-Old Boeing Engineer Just Won’t Quit

After more than three decades at Boeing, Angelo Truncale is still engineering and sharing stories of the Apollo moon landing with his younger counterparts.

“I’m retired, but I still go into the office four to five hours a day, two to three times a week. When I stop having fun, I’ll stop coming back.”

The 76-year-old engineer is a missile navigation systems expert. His first job out of college was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Instrumentation Laboratory (MIT/IL), which is now the Draper Laboratory. After 23 years there, he moved onto Rockwell International, which was later purchased by Boeing.

Now, with 33 years at Boeing, Truncale’s formal title is “Technical Fellow, Guidance and Navigation”, and we caught up with him early this month to ask how and why he keeps on keeping on.

Why do you still go to work?

“I enjoy working with the latest technology, brilliant colleagues, and enthusiastic young people who are smart and anxious to learn.”

Truncale works on precision navigation equipment. He enjoys squeezing the best possible performance from the instruments he works with. He notes that some of those larger, heavier instruments designed in the late 1950’s perform better than more recent designs.

But, looking ahead, Truncale hopes to be involved in the development of next-generation systems which will be lighter, more accurate, more reliable, and less expensive. “I’m an idea person and work with teams that are dedicated to overcoming the obstacles blocking us from achieving the next break through,” he says.

Why do you say the key to your success is collaboration? 

“Few individuals achieve a great solution all by themselves. Sometimes a person will have an off-the-wall idea – they may not even know what they’re talking about. Someone else picks up on it and maybe an analyst or a mechanical or electric engineer puts his or her take on what was said. Finally a third person might pull it all together. In the end, we get something really outstanding that we can all take pride in,” Truncale says.

Truncale adds that he has learned to respect smart people, especially those that share their thoughts and ideas without egos. “I don’t know all the answers but I know the right questions and who to go to for the right answer. I understand what people bring to the table and how to make the best use of their expertise. I learned this in my days at MIT/IL.  It was priceless to be able to talk to a professor and gain insights into what may be causing a particular instrument’s behavior,” Truncale notes.

What are you most proud of?

“Over the years I have had the privilege of working on many, many interesting programs. In the end, I am most proud of my large body of work that has been appreciated by my peers.”

What’s been the most fun in your career?

“When I first joined the Laboratory, things were very different in the offices than they are today. People smoked, many had bottles of liquor in their desks, and if necessary, most would work late into the night in order to solve a problem or gather some critical data. One of our electronic designers was not a morning person, so he would come in at 10 or 11 but then work until 9, 10, or 11 at night,” Truncale says.

Managers were technically savvy and very approachable. The father of inertial navigation Charles Stark Draper, or Doc Draper as Truncale calls him, was brilliant technically and politically. “He was also a great salesman,” Truncale says. “On a few occasions, I brought him data I had collected on the latest high performance gyro. He asked for it on a dollar bill – he was essentially asking me to summarize it on a small piece of paper he could put in his wallet.”

At high-level meetings with generals or congressmen in Washington, Truncale explains, Doc Draper would pull out that small piece of paper and explain the implications of those data, ‘we can use these instruments to get us to the moon.’

“And get us to the moon he did, Truncale says. “On the day of the Apollo moon landing, he came down to the work area, stepped up on a work bench, and toasted the many engineers and technicians that made it possible. Doc’s only regret was that he was unable to go with them.”

Those are some of the great experiences Truncale enjoys sharing with young engineers at Boeing, encouraging them to do their best, corroborate with the people around them, and above all, enjoy what they do.

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