Kingston Aviation
Name: Gordon Jefferson
Transcript: 17 – Bill Ross, boss of McDonnell Douglas

When BAe Weybridge and BAe Kingston were amalgamated in the mid-1980s, Gordon left Kingston for the new job of liaison with the McDonnell Douglas Corporation based in St Louis, Missouri, USA. This he did for the last three years of his career from 1985 until he retired in 1989.

In the 1980s, British Aerospace and McDonnell Douglas had reached an agreement to jointly develop a second generation of advanced Harriers – in America known as the AV-8B – and this became the largest Anglo-U.S. aircraft project of all time. This was followed by the adoption by the U.S. Navy of a version of the Hawk trainer – the T45 Goshawk – and a second joint project with McDonnell Douglas. Both of these projects were great coups for BAe Kingston. 

Gordon here relates how he became friends with Bill Ross, the President of the McDonnell Aircraft Division and how this friendship facilitated the relationship between the two companies. Bill Ross had been an outstanding company test pilot and died in 2009 aged 83.   

They had a list of people that would go to be the liaison man with the Americans. I think there were five of us. And they did tell me afterwards who the others were. Anyway, I got the job because I had worked with the Americans from 1972, roughly. I’d been on quite a lot of liaison trips and got on with them OK.

You had to be very careful with the Americans not to be too ‘cocky’ and not to push the fact that it’s our aeroplane and you can ‘shut up’. But some of my colleagues were a little bit the other way around or didn’t like the Americans that much. And I went there – it worked out very well actually. Because I didn’t do any of the technical work.  All the technical interface was being done by technical experts here and technical experts there. So my job was to make it easy when they came over visiting.

By now I am sixty three, fairly lively I suppose and I had a stroke of real luck. My wife was a director of a market research company over in England, Taylor Nelson. She didn’t want to go. So anyway I said, ‘Well I’ll tell you what, if I can get you a job will you come?’ She said, ‘Don’t be daft you can’t get me a job.’ So I said to my bosses, ‘Can we find a job for Yvonne?’ So they said, ‘What sort of job?’ I said, ‘She could be my P.A. or something but I have got to have a job for her of some sort.’ So they reluctantly said, ‘Yes OK. then.’ Because I was replacing two people. So she got – I said, ‘Would you like this job?’ She said, ‘What be your P.A. you must be joking, the last thing I want to do!’

Anyway, the bottom line was that she came. And one of the lads in the organisation – [his] wife – was the daughter of the big boss, Bill Ross. And one day we were chatting telling him about my wife, you see, and that she was a keen water skier. So he said, ‘Would she like to go water skiing?’ I said, ‘Oh I expect so, of course she would.’  So he invited us to water ski. And would you believe it? That the chap who had the boat was in fact Bill Ross, the boss of McDonnell  Douglas, the big boss.

And of course he couldn’t believe that this women would be prepared to water ski on the Mississippi. And Yvonne didn’t realise she was going to water ski on the Mississippi either. So anyway, we went. And we went for a ride in Bill’s boat and the time came to go for a water ski. And Yvonne took one look at this water and it was filthy. So I said, ‘Well I’ve told them you can water ski.’ Because I never did because I could swim but not that well, she could swim like a fish.

 Anyway, she jumped in and Bill was driving the boat and he towed her and she got out. When she came out of the water it was just as if she’d been in chocolate and all this filth. And of course he thought it was absolutely marvellous that any woman would be prepared to do that. And the net result was that – we did it on more than one occasion.

But the result of that was that Bill Ross and Yvonne and I and his wife became good friends. And when he came over here we used to be invited to go and spend, you know, the afternoon with them just socially and that difference was unbelievable. Because that bugger Jefferson, ‘He knows the boss’. And when people came over and I would be taking them round – taking them into see Bill. And Bill would say, ‘Hi Jeff, don’t recognise you with your clothes on.’ God!

But it made all the difference because that meant any problem I could just mention it to Bill Ross and we could get it sorted. And that was really quite extraordinary. My wife actually did, you know, was magic – it was unbelievable.

He sounds like one of these very ‘can do’ Americans.

Oh yes he was. He used to be their Chief Test Pilot. And he was great – yes, I suppose he is still great today. And you can imagine the difference that made and of course, from the point of view of here. The people here knew that I knew everybody that mattered over there. And  it wasn’t really me, it was my wife.