The J. Kenneth Higgins Aviation Safety Exhibit, Safety by Design, explores the evolution of safety in commercial aviation and is located throughout the Aviation Pavilion and in the Great Gallery.

We've come a long way

Early human flight was risky and often dangerous. Understanding the principles of flight lagged behind the ambition of aviators. Pushing aircraft to their limits regularly ended in fatal accidents. The risk resulted in skepticism among the general public about whether flying was safe.

Federal regulation and safety standards led to the development of aircraft designed with a safety-first approach. This greatly reduced the number of fatal accidents and helped change public attitudes from apprehension to an expectation of safety. Today, commercial aviation is one of the safest ways to travel.

J. Kenneth Higgins (1942-2013)

During a 40 year career at The Boeing Company, Ken Higgins was integral to the evolution of safety in commercial airplanes. His contributions to the aviation industry and his dedication to safety inspired this exhibit.

Ken Higgins was born on April 2, 1942 and his passion for flight began soon after when his father took him flying as a young child. After graduating from the University of Portland, Higgins began his career at Boeing where he and his colleagues pushed every new test aircraft to their limits and beyond to find fault in an aircraft’s design, engineering, or operation. His ability to understand an aircraft through different viewpoints quickly earned him a reputation for finding safety issues.

Higgins worked with a safety-first mindset and led a review and upgrade of Boeing Flight-test practices which were later adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as an industrywide template for best practices in flight-test safety. Higgins ended his career as the Vice President of Flight Operations, Test and Validation for Boeing Commercial Airplanes in 2006.

In 2017, Higgins was honored with a Pathfinder Award for Flying and aviation safety: