Burnett Member Spotlight: Floyd Hillman

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Burnett Society member Floyd Hillman earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1959, just before joining the Boeing Company in Wichita, Kansas. He had additional postings in Huntsville, Alabama, working on the Apollo moon mission, and in Seattle, Washington, where he retired after 36 years. Floyd’s early years were spent in Wichita and Hutchinson, Kansas, before his family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, when he was starting seventh grade. Floyd played in dance bands and enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve Security Group to help pay the costs of attending UNL.

What was the first job you ever had?

I was a paper carrier for the Lincoln Journal for about three years, starting in the ninth grade.

Best advice anyone ever gave you?

I don’t recall any “That’s It!” moment. However, the contributions of three folks to my experiencing a successful career and life do stand out: Professor Harper for impressing the need for situational awareness and thinking on your feet when in the laboratory or other transitional situations; Dean Green for emphasizing the need for continuing education, engineering ethics and professionalism, including obtaining the Professional Engineer certification ( I did); and Professor “Doc” Elliot, who demonstrated that humor is possible while learning about all sorts of life and casualty insurance contracts, knowledge that was very helpful after graduation as I transitioned to an independent adult making prudent decisions, regardless of sometimes overzealous agents!

Who is someone from history you’d want to invite to a dinner party if you could, and why?

I’ve recently become interested in the ancient civilizations, especially those along the Nile River. And, as an engineer at heart, I’d like to invite a chief engineer from the Pyramid & Temple Design & Construction organization from about 2600 B.C.

What is the first question you’d ask that guest from history?

Describe the material handling techniques for getting the 1- and 2-ton limestone and granite blocks from quarry to installation in a pyramid or temple. Then there would be a hundred more questions — no time to eat!

What is the one song you would be sure to play to set the mood at the dinner party?

Music to set a mood uses timbre, harmonies and tempo, rather than words. So, I’d probably use my big-band arrangements of “Sentimental Journey” and “Slow Boat to China” along with ballad selections from the Glenn Miller ballads songbook that use his clarinet lead voicing.

What is the question that you like to be asked the most?

Folks who don’t have a technical background ask why I still approach and analyze things like an engineer: “You retired from Boeing 20-some years ago.” My reply is I practiced engineering at Boeing, but I was developing as an engineer from grade-school days by reading an old edition of the “Book of Knowledge” encyclopedia during anti-polio afternoon naps and learned many technical things, like about 2- and 4-cycle engines. From grade school and on, I wanted to be an automobile designer, which led to designing, building and submitting six cars to the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild competition. This eventually led to acquiring a 1963 Riviera — a classic car with many lines like my 1954 Fisher Body entry — my first state award, which paid freshman tuition.

Why do you plan to leave a gift to the University of Nebraska in your estate?

My parents instilled in me the practice of charitable giving, including paying or giving back to those who had enabled me. The education I received at UNL prepared me, a bottom-quartile graduate, so well that I could contribute to the certification of the B-52G my first week at Boeing! The “payback account” was already accruing payback chits. I learned many years ago, from the plaque on the Mueller Tower at UNL, that it was his payback for his free education. As my career and investments increased far beyond my early predictions, I recalled the plaque on the bell tower and decided to include the university in my estate planning to pay off all of my payback chits.

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