With the bankruptcy now behind the company, Bill James, vice president of engineering at Beechcraft Corp., is focusing on people and the future.
“We’ve gone through the bankruptcy phase, the downturn of the market and losing our jet line,” James said. “We lost a lot of people both locally and nationally. My focus is on the people who remain and on filling the talent gap on new hires.”
Another focus is on the company’s culture and being part of a “fantastic product line … and the opportunity to advance it into the future and really make it a market leader,” he said.
Beechcraft employs 520 engineers and is currently seeking to add 40 more, primarily structures engineers and avionics and electrical designers.
James’ interest in aviation blossomed as a child living in a subdivision under the flight pattern of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
He watched pilots training in Cessna 172s and gliders every day.
“It was a lot of fun to watch as a kid,” James said.
He learned to fly at age 14 and earned his private pilot’s license at 16.
“I’ve been flying most my life,” he said.
He wanted to attend the academy and become a military pilot, but his eyesight kept him from it.
After high school, he earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. He later earned a master’s in business administration from Wichita State University.
After college, James joined Sikorsky Helicopters in Bradford, Conn.
He came to Wichita in 1993 to work at the former Raytheon Aircraft Co. running its CAM engineering group.
He later moved into project engineering on the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS) program, where his job was designing the T-6 turboprop trainer for international sales.
“I successfully completed the Canadian T-6 program and the Greek T-6 program,” James said. That was in the late 1990s.
In 2001, he joined the Airbus Americas Engineering center in Old Town, where he spent seven years as director of engineering before returning to what is now Beechcraft as chief engineer of the AT-6 program, an attack version of the T-6.
In September, James, 47, assumed the role of vice president of engineering.
James and his wife, Jolanda, have three children.
The couple bought Il Primo Cafe at Central and Woodlawn in 2010.
When not working, James can be found at the cafe helping his wife, who runs the business.