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Originally published Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 5:40 PM

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Museum of Flight volunteer recalls his work on Full Fuselage Trainer

Among those who will be on hand Saturday when the crew compartment of NASA's space-shuttle trainer arrives at Boeing Field will be Ray Fletcher, a Boeing retiree who worked on the trainer more than 30 years ago.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Don't look for Ray Fletcher on the podium outside the Museum of Flight on Saturday.

The retired Boeing electrical engineer, now a volunteer at the museum, won't be among the dignitaries welcoming NASA's Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT) to Seattle.

But he will be one of the few people on hand who actually has been in it.

"It was a long time ago, an interesting project," said Fletcher, 63.

On Saturday, Fletcher's assignments are likely to be routine — guarding a fence line or keeping visitors at a safe distance.

But the occasion brings back his memories of 1982 and trips to Houston to work on the FFT in the early stage of the shuttle program.

In the trainer's crew compartment, Fletcher installed electronic controls mimicking those astronauts would use in space to manipulate a Boeing-built rocket stage to launch a satellite.

It was a complex piece of work. The system had to help teach astronauts how to control the rocket — which Fletcher likened to a big firecracker — and give them immediate feedback on any mistakes they made.

Some of the equipment at Fletcher's disposal back then seems primitive by today's standards.

For instance, without a cellphone or an Internet connection, he set up a landline telephone and a rubber acoustic coupler in the FFT. If last-minute changes in the computer program needed to be made in Seattle, he could have received them by hooking the phone up to the coupler.

"Fortunately, we didn't need to do that, but since we had the telephone line, rather than let it go to waste, I used it to call my wife."

Later in his Boeing career, Fletcher spent 20 years working on military programs he says he still cannot discuss in detail — although he says they involved extensive travel.

He's been a volunteer at Museum of Flight since 2009, when the museum began providing space for the Boeing Employees Amateur Radio Society (BEARS), of which Fletcher is a member.

As a volunteer, he usually puts in 40 to 70 hours a month on a variety of tasks, but is most satisfied when they tap his background in electrical work.

He recently helped set up wiring for lighting to accommodate visitors in the museum's Boeing 747 — it has the first one ever built — in the museum's Airpark, adjacent to the Space Gallery.

And he hopes to help set up lighting and interpretive displays for the shuttle trainer.

"I think it's going to be fascinating to get that thing in here and be able to give people a look inside it."

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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