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MIT Technology Review

Tom Imrich '69, SM '71

Hacking together a flight simulator launched a career.

October 15, 2007

Captain Thomas Imrich ‘69, SM ‘71, long the chief research pilot at Boeing in Seattle, cemented his MIT-Boeing connection as a 23-year-old master’s student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He arranged with Boeing colleagues he’d met through his research for the donation of a cockpit prototype built for the cancelled 2707 supersonic transport. Together with grad student Bob Anderson ‘69, SM ‘71, and colleagues, he combined an Adage graphics computer with some salvaged CRTs to transform the prototype into a 707 simulator. This simulator proved useful for a range of aeronautical research. For his own thesis, Imrich used the machine to examine computerized air traffic display, the forerunner of today’s universal traffic alert and collision avoidance system.

His post-MIT career started with an active-duty stint in the U.S. Air Force, where he was involved in groundbreaking work on wind shear avoidance. The Federal Aviation Administration hired him in 1976 to work in its Office of Systems Engineering Management in Washington, DC. There, his achievements included developing U.S. and international criteria for low-visibility landing. Since he arrived at Boeing in 2001, he has focused on improving safety for the flying public, as well as on operational efficiency–and that keeps him in the air more than 300 hours a year. As chief research pilot, he supervised the testing of every Boeing aircraft and worked on new features and systems for existing aircraft. Last summer, he took on a fresh role as senior engineering test pilot directly supporting two new commercial craft, the 787 and the 747-8, which are due in the skies in the next two years. Beyond the joy of flying, Imrich values the purpose of his work. “The excitement of flying will always be there,” he says. “But I think the bigger picture for me is helping make things better, make them safer, and operate aircraft in ways that provide services and capabilities that weren’t available before. It’s a tremendously interesting activity. It’s a lot of fun.”

Imrich, who lives with his wife, Dolores, on Mercer Island, WA, shares his expertise with MIT students through class lectures delivered on campus or by teleconference. “MIT gave me the solid engineering and technical foundation I needed,” he says. “And I continue to interact with former classmates and faculty on issues of common interest.”