Monday, August 19, 2019
Philip Wenzel, pictured with his mother Joan Wenzel and daughter Dana, has retired from the Boeing Company after 33 years as a Weight and Balance Engineer. Herald photo by Nicole Vik.

Getting well grounded after career in aviation

Most people plan retirement a year or two in advance, giving themselves plenty of time to take care of all of the loose strings that accompany retirement. Philip Wenzel however, dove into retirement headfirst with a two-week notice.

Wenzel, a Sparta native, recently retired from the Boeing Company after 33 years as a Weight and Balance Engineer. In lieu of his pension benefit, Wenzel had planned on taking a lump sum upon retirement, which the company prefers.

In summer of 2018, the engineer’s union put out word that if anyone was planning to retire in 2018 or 2019 they should probably do it in 2018 due to guaranteed cuts in the payout.

It wasn’t until October 2018 that Wenzel realized he was planning to retire in 2020 anyway and he figured the payout would likely get cut again.

“My program was winding down and I probably would have had to take on some new work in January. Everything I had going on was in place and the young guys were off and running with it,” Wenzel said. “I thought it would be really neat to leave for the Christmas holiday and just not come back.”

Wenzel’s last day with the Boeing Company, the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners, was November 30.

“It was all pretty sudden. Before I realized it, I had 14 working days left in my career,” he said. “I didn’t sleep for a few weeks. It was 49 percent anxiety, 51 percent euphoria.”

Wenzel’s lifelong career was complete in a matter of weeks.

As a first grader, Wenzel knew this would be his path. The first time he flew, he pulled up the shade of his window and read, “Boeing” on the outside of the aircraft and he recalled thinking how cool he thought it was.

“That moment has stuck with me,” he said. “I was only in first grade but I knew.”

After graduating from Sparta High School in 1981, Wenzel attended the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities where he received his Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering, figuring with his abilities in science and math that would be the route he would want to go.

“I’m very analytical, which helped me in my career but I’ve got a pretty substantial creative side as well,” Wenzel said. “I wanted the stability of an engineering job and I knew I wasn’t going to stay in the Midwest.”

His cousin, who worked for Boeing at the time, extended a helping hand to Wenzel, giving him a list of all of the open positions. He was prepared for his phone interview and was promptly hired for a position in Seattle, Washington.

“I just wanted to work for Boeing. I had them in my sights and I really liked the idea of going to Seattle,” Wenzel said. “I wasn’t interested in working the defense side. I wanted to work commercial and the best place to work commercial is always going to be Boeing.”

Through the years, Wenzel supported new and derivative airplane design and manufacturing projects for numerous models throughout the Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ product line, including the 737NG family and Boeing Business Jet, 747-400ER, KC-46A Tanker (767-based) and the new 777-9.

As a weight and balance engineer, Wenzel’s job was pretty much self-explanatory. It was all about reducing weight while maintaining balance.

According to Wenzel, balance is more important during flight because of its effect on the stability of the aircraft. The strength of the aircraft limits the maximum weight the aircraft can carry.

“For every pound the airplane is lighter, that’s typically a pound of cargo or a pound of passenger,” he said, adding engineers always have opportunities to get weight out if the company wanted to spend the money.

“It’s traditionally a very conservative company from an engineering point of view. We’re developing all of the time. The industry regulation is driving a natural growth in weight but at the same time we’re developing technologies and materials and systems that are offsetting.”

Now that Wenzel has taken the early retirement option, he plans to get back into music, playing keyboards for a few different bands in the Seattle area.

Wenzel is the oldest son of the late Darrell Wenzel and Joan Wenzel, who still resides in Sparta. He himself currently lives in Edmonds, Washington with his wife Kristin; their daughter Dana is a Violin Performance music major at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Wenzel says he and his wife, who has also retired from being a stay-at-home mom now that their daughter is off at college, are enjoying retirement. He jokes that he’s already losing track of the days; to him every day is Saturday. 

“I’ve got my passport updated,” he said. “I don’t have anything planned yet but if I want to go anywhere now, I’m ready to head to the airport.

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