Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America

From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite, November/December 2023

Kathleen Jolivette, Vice President/General Manager, Boeing Vertical Lift

With production lines in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Mesa, Arizona, Kathleen “KJ” Jolivette oversees about 9,000 Boeing Vertical Lift employees designing, building and delivering military rotorcraft. In the first half of 2023, Philadelphia delivered 11 new and “renewed” CH-47F Chinooks, and Mesa delivered 41 new and remanufactured AH-64E Apaches. “We have a bright future on both of these platforms,” said Jolivette. “Our US Government customer talks about them being around through the 2050-2060 timeframe. Right now, we’re supporting around 20 international customers including the Netherlands, UK, Spain, South Korea, and several others. Germany just signed a Letter of Agreement for the Chinook — the next step will be a contract award. Poland recently re-iterated their intent to purchase 96 Apaches.”

Jolivette observed, “Right now, the demand for Apache is the greatest it’s ever been. Our line will go out to 2029, possibly to 2030. We’ve got a lot of growth in that area, and the demand is unreal right now.”

Demand for vertical lift also includes the MH-139A Grey Wolf, in low-rate initial production (LRIP) for the US Air Force at Leonardo Helicopters/AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corporation. Jolivette explained, “As partners, our teams are interfacing daily. The helicopter is manufactured in North Philadelphia, 45 minutes from our plant, and delivered to Boeing, where we provide mission customization and delivery to the Air Force. As prime contractor, we are responsible for the overall management of the program.”

Jolivette’s cargo and attack workforce is evenly split, and program leaders are in touch daily. “We’re a pretty closely integrated team,” she acknowledged. “At Mesa, on the Apache side, we have Christina Upah. She’s home-grown in Mesa and grew up on the Apache, starting as a mechanic on the line. On the Chinook side, Heather McBryan has a long history with Boeing from a program management/business development perspective. She brings a different flavor to Chinooks with really long-lasting customer relationships. With the MH-139A, our program leader is Azeem Khan, and he’s doing a great job working with our partner, Leonardo. As is Shane Openshaw, our V-22 leader, who works with our partner, Bell.” Product support for the portfolio falls under Boeing Global Services. Jolivette said, “As part of my leadership team, I talk to them every day. When we meet our customer, we usually sit side-by-side, so we can address both the production and delivery side of the aircraft.”

Advanced development insights still come to Boeing Vertical Lift from the company’s Phantom Works research, development and prototyping division. Jolivette said, “They’re helping out with our Modernized Apache effort and are intertwined in all that we do. We have an Advanced Vertical Lift Team that moved over to us from Phantom Works. That’s helped a lot, and they have bootstraps back to other parts of Phantom Works, if additional support is needed.” She noted, “We work with them on MOSA [the Modular Open System Approach] and MUM-T [Manned-UnManned Teaming].

The Advanced Vertical Lift Team is itself split between Philadelphia and Mesa. According to Jolivette, “If we need another capability in the mix, we can reach back into Phantom Works for other engineers. Where they’re based really doesn’t matter. We can get whatever technology or capability we need.”

Vertical Lift simultaneously shares engineering resources with other Boeing business units. “We’re always recruiting engineers,” Jolivette observed. “At both sites, the engineers don’t just support our Vertical Lift platforms. They support many other parts of Boeing’s businesses, both commercial and defense. We have a broad range of engineering experience at both sites. We also maintain close relationships with local universities and colleges to support our pipeline.”

Through the Pipeline
Kathleen Jolivette grew up a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on the Rosebud Reservation at the South Dakota-Nebraska border. She recalled, “I joined the Army right out of high school. My brothers were in the Navy. My father was in the Army. That’s how I got into the Army and learned about aviation. I supported a missile maintenance unit and didn’t have any exposure to aviation, even at that time. I worked in logistics — focusing on supplies and logistics to keep the unit going.”

After eight years in uniform, Sergeant Jolivette left the service to search for civilian opportunities. “When I got out of the Army, my husband and I — we were both military — settled in St. Louis, Missouri. I got a job at a local manufacturer, and about four years in, I got laid off. I picked myself up and said, ‘I’ve got to do something; I’ve got to go to school.’” Jolivette enrolled in Lindenwood University in nearby St. Charles, Missouri. “Lindenwood offered me the most flexibility. I originally went into finance. When I took my accounting class, my professor, Beth Silva, inspired me, so I decided to focus on accounting.”

An on-site career fair in 2002 provided a gateway to industry. Jolivette acknowledged, “I came to Boeing as an intern. I had no idea who Boeing was. I went for an interview, and they hired me on the spot for a part-time finance internship. That allowed me to work during the day and then go to school. It was a really good arrangement for me and my family at the time. I got into estimating and proposals, supporting all kinds of programs.”

With her bachelor’s degree in accounting, Jolivette began a series of assignments at Boeing units. “I transferred to a business career foundation program, which allowed me to rotate through business development and other functions, as I gained a broad understanding of all that Boeing does and all of the functional elements needed to support the business. It gave me a really good view of what I’d love to do, and what I really didn’t want to do.” Jolivette added, “As I grew in my career, I was in international business development and traveled a lot. Then I was chief of staff to our Boeing Defense, Space & Security CEO for four years. That gave me an even broader experience and allowed me to see strategy in action. Both of those jobs allowed me to learn about the Vertical Lift portfolio.”

Jolivette arrived in Philadelphia to work on the V-22 Osprey for the US Marine Corps and Air Force. “That was around 2014, when the V-22 was in high demand and at a high production rate. We were working toward the next multi-year contract, and there was a lot of momentum and engagement with the production team.” Jolivette’s tour saw the start of the carrier on-board delivery tiltrotor for the US Navy. “We started the Navy configuration in the last year of my position there, and we started the design and development of the CMV-22.”

Jolivette earned her Master’s in Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis in 2015. “Then I went to the services side of the business for three years, relocating to Huntsville, Alabama, to stand up the Army Services team. I grew my exposure to the Army Aviation side of the business, both Chinook and Apache. We oversaw all of the spares demand, as well as the field service representatives. Because I’d been in the Army, I could relate to the Army customer.”

Modernization Momentum
In 2019, Jolivette was appointed Vice President of Attack Helicopters at Boeing Mesa. “I made the transition to Apache, which was a really good segue because I had a relationship with the customer after handling the sustainment side of the Chinook and Apache. The major thing beyond maintaining deliveries, was the modernization side of Apache.” Apache production was standardized on the AH-64E Guardian with V6 technology insertions. Jolivette explained, “The Modernized Apache — what will the next Apache look like — is something we’ve been thinking through, how to bring the next phase of technology to the aircraft. Those things take years, involving a lot of ideas and customer feedback, and then introducing the latest technology into the platform. I think that’s one of the things I’m proudest of. We launched the Modernized Apache and continue to this day to talk to the customer about it.”

The Modernized Apache configuration centers on the added power available from the General Electric T901 improved turbine engine program (ITEP). “We’re really leveraging the power of ITEP,” said Jolivette. “Additionally, in 2021, AH-64E Version 6.5 was awarded to Boeing by the US Department of Defense and it offers upgraded connectivity, lethality, navigation and survivability capabilities. The first flight of Version 6.5 is anticipated to take place this year.”

The CH-47F Block II introduces a new round of technology insertions to the modernized cargo helicopter, but the end of CH-47F Block I deliveries to the US Army in 2025 presents a disruptive production gap pending Block II. Jolivette acknowledged, “We don’t have a decision from the Army yet, so we don’t have a notional schedule.” International orders help. She noted, “We’re seeing good demand for Chinook, such as with the Germany order for 60. We’re also working with the Army on what’s next for the future of the aircraft.”

Jolivette became Vertical Lift Vice President and General Manager in December 2022. With Boeing not in competition for the Army’s new Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) or Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA), Boeing Vertical Lift continues to modernize its existing platforms as it positions for future needs. Jolivette observed, “Many of the services have potential, such as with Logistics Connector, and there are plenty of opportunities as customers look to modernize their fleets to engage in the next fight.” Boeing’s unmanned technology remains focused on military missions. Jolivette concluded, “There are plenty of opportunity now in the VTOL world, and we’re excited about the future.”

Jolivette has been serving on the Vertical Flight Society (VFS) Board of Directors as the Secretary/Treasurer since she was named the VP/GM of Boeing Vertical Lift in December 2022. “VFS is unique because it brings together leaders and technical experts from industry, academia and government agencies,” she said. “This puts VFS in a great position to attract the next generation of talented engineers into the VTOL discussion and further strengthen vertical flight.”