Ed Wells was a gentle man, fiercely committed to peace. Just as a skilled surgeon who uses a knife to excise a cancerous growth is hardly a butcher, so Wells viewed the weapons of air war as a means of excising the cancerous Axis threat to the freedoms in the world. He grieved over the waste of lives and materials. He eagerly looked forward to the day his engineers and the Boeing Company could devote time and talents to designing and building commercial aircraft that might bring the world together in closer understanding.
- Joined Boeing’s engineering staff in 1931 and became chief project engineer in charge of military projects in 1938. Was named chief engineer in 1942 and vice president of engineering in 1948.
- In 1958 and 1959, Wells was vice president and general manager of Boeing’s System Management Office, coordinating Boeing’s winning the first phase development contract for the X-20 Dyna-Soar and the assembly and test of the Air Force Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile.
- During Wells’ Boeing career, he had a direct hand in the design development of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, B-29 Superfortress, C-97 Street Freighter, 377 Stratocruiser, B-47 Stratojet, B-52 Stratofortress, the model 207 and other jet transport aircraft.
Edward Wells completed over 40 years of dedicated service to the Boeing Company when he retired as a senior vice president on January 1st, 1972. In addition, he served on the company’s board of directors for over 20 years.
Born in Boise, Idaho in 1910, Wells graduated from Grant High School in Portland, Oregon. He attended Willamette University for two years before entering Stanford University. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford in 1931 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Engineering.
Wells joined Boeing’s engineering staff that same year. He served as Chief of the Preliminary Design Unit in 1936 and Chief Project Engineer in Charge of Military Projects in 1938. In 1939, Wells became Assistant Chief Engineer and would be named Boeing’s Chief Engineer in 1943. He received the Lawrence Sperry Award from the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences, in 1942, for his design contributions on four-engine aircraft.
The Seattle Junior Chamber of Commerce named Wells its “Young Man of the Year” in 1943 and he received the Fawcett Aviation Award in 1944 for scientific contribution to aviation. He received an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from the University of Portland in 1946 and an honorary Doctorate of Science degree from Willamette University in 1953. Boeing promoted Wells to the position of Vice President and Chief Engineer in May 1948 and just two months later named him Vice President of Engineering.
From April 1958 to August 1959, Wells served as Vice President and General Manager of Boeing’s Systems Management Office. Under his direction, the Systems Management Office coordinated the company-wide effort which resulted in Boeing winning the first-phase development contract for the X-20 Dyna-Soar and the assembly and test of the Air Force Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile. He became Vice President and General Manager of the company’s Military Aircraft Systems Division when it came into existence in 1961.
In 1963, the Military Aircraft Systems Division merged with the Transport Division to form the Airplane Division. Wells was named group vice president of airplanes in January 1965. A year later he served as Vice President of Product Development. Wells took a partial leave of absence during the 1969-70 academic year to serve as a visiting professor to the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University. Before retiring in 1972, Wells would hold the positions of senior vice president of airplanes and senior vice president-technical.
During his distinguished career with Boeing, Wells had a direct hand in the design development of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, B-29 Superfortress, C-97 Stratofreighter, 377 Stratocruiser, B-47 Stratojet, B-52 Stratofortress, the Model 707 and other jet trans-port aircraft. Following his retirement, Wells served Boeing Chairman T.A. Wilson, a 1983 National Aviation Hall of Fame enshrinee, as a special consultant. His professional affiliations included membership in the National Academy of Engineering, the Society of Automotive Engineers, the American Association for Advancement of Science, the American Society for Engineering Education, and the American Astronautical Society. Wells was an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and was president of its predecessor organization, the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences.
With the 1986 death of Edward Wells, aviation lost a great pioneer who helped to develop many groundbreaking aircraft.