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A conversation with Cindy Hoover

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, June 9, 2013, at 7:40 a.m.

Cindy Hoover heads up Spirit AeroSystems’ 737 MAX program – a program that incorporates significant changes into Boeing’s popular single-aisle commercial jetliner.

Because the 737 is Spirit’s largest program, it’s a big responsibility.

Hoover, vice president of the program, oversees a team of about 300 people.

“That’s growing still,” she said. “We haven’t peaked out the program yet. Most of that is engineering. We are design-build. That doesn’t include the production team. That’s just … the development team.

In her role, Hoover is responsible for the development and execution of the work, for oversight of the integration of the changes into Spirit’s existing operations and delivery to Boeing.

Spirit builds the 737’s fuselage, pylons and nacelles.

Hoover joined the company in December 2007.

Since then, she has served as program director for Spirit’s 767 tanker program, director of fuselage engineering for the 777, 767 and 747 programs and director for lean operations in the fuselage business segment.

Hoover, who grew up in Salina, was a Wallace Scholar at Wichita State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.

She also has an executive master’s of business administration degree from Friends University.

After graduating from WSU, Hoover joined Koch Industries, where she worked for its pipeline division. She then joined what is now LSI Corp., where she was director of customer operations and a site manager for the Wichita facility.

Her background outside aviation gave her a unique perspective on various types of businesses within the community, Hoover said.

Hoover, 45, serves on a number of boards, including the Society of Women Engineers, Wichita Area Technical College and the Sedgwick County Technical Training Authority.

She is on the board of advisors for WSU’s College of Engineering.

Hoover and her husband, Bryan, have three children.

In her free time, she spends a lot of time at the soccer field watching her sons play. She’s also in a book club, and she helps out at her children’s schools.

What got you interested in engineering growing up?

Math and science were always very easy for me. It was something I always enjoyed. That kind of leads us to engineering by default. I took a physics class and some chemistry classes in high school, and I really enjoyed them. I decided engineering was going to be something I would get paid decently doing and that I would be good at.

Before you came to Spirit, your engineering background had not been in aviation. Did it take time to adjust to that?

It did. It was certainly a different culture than I was used to. For probably the first six months I was here, I really did a lot of communicating and partnering with the different leaders here in the company. This place is so vast.

The 737 MAX will be a 737 upgrade with new engines. What does that mean for the design?

For us, that means we have a completely new pylon and new nacelle package and then the fuselage that we build is modified. But that’s not the biggest change. The bigger risk area obviously is the propulsion package because it’s a new engine. It’s a big derivative, a big change to our existing 737 product line.

Current 737 production rates are at a record high. What is your biggest challenge on developing the 737 MAX program?

I think the biggest challenge on this program is really making sure that when we’ve executed the program and we’re ready to implement that and start building it, we’re utilizing the existing production system we have today. It is seamlessly integrating that into our production system and making sure we don’t interfere with existing shipments that we have with the NG (737 Next Generation) as we transfer the MAX rates up and the NG rates down. That is the biggest … challenge. That will really decide the success of the program.

You do a lot of recruitment. What’s the market like for engineers?

In general, it’s a very competitive market, especially in Wichita. They’re all vying for the same group of engineers. That is challenging. One of the challenging things we have is our location. We have a difficult time recruiting from the coasts. Wichita is a fantastic place to live. We just have to sell that. … We show them what Wichita has to offer and what Spirit has to offer. We have a very large internship partnership here. … That has worked out very well for us.

You also do a lot of mentoring and promote engineering as a field to students. What is your message?

The message is, “You can do anything you want.” Engineering is a vast career. You can do so many different things with it. It’s a well-paying job. It’s a fun job, and it’s exciting. When we work with young kids, we show them the different opportunities they have. We make it not so … geeky. It’s not geeky. … They don’t need to be scared of the math and science.

What’s one thing not many people know about you?

I was in the WSU marching band when I was a freshman. I played trumpet when they had a football team. It was the last year (for WSU football).

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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