Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dedicated to the Aircraft Mechanic.

The Aircraft Mechanic at his job.

Todays Blog is dedicated to all the aircraft mechanics from Schuylkill County who have worked on aircraft while in the U.S. Armed Forces, From World War 1 to the War on Terror. This article is about my time spent as an Aircraft Mechanic in the USAF 1968-1972.

Recently I was thinking about my time spent in the Air Force, a very enjoyable time doing something that I always wanted to do. AN AIRCRAFT MECHANIC. In 2004 I was at the Reading World War 2 event held every year in June. At this event a few of my hero’s were present, you know those old ww2 soldiers, pilots etc. Sitting at one of the tables and signing one of his books was
Maj. Gen. Frederick C. Blesse. General Blesse graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1945, flew two combat tours during the Korean War, completing 67 missions in F-51s, 35 missions in F-80s and 121 missions in F-86s. During his second tour in F-86's, he was officially credited with shooting down nine MiG-15s and one LA-9.
At the time of his return to the United States in October 1952, he was America's leading jet ace.
General Blesse remained with fighter aircraft for practically his entire military career. During the 1955 Air Force Worldwide Gunnery Championship, he won all six trophies offered for individual performance, a feat never equaled. During the Vietnam Conflict, he served two tours in Southeast Asia; while on his first tour in 1967-1968, he flew 156 combat missions.
He retired from the USAF in 1975, with more than 6,500 flying hours in fighter-type aircraft .
What an amazing individual, I could have stayed there the whole day talking to this man. Anyway, I was wearing a hat that stated that I was with the C7A Caribou transport in Vietnam. General Blesse glanced at my hat and said, “ I see your hat there, were you a pilot on the Caribou? I said, “Oh no, I was just an aircraft mechanic,” He looked right at me grabbed my hand and shook it and said, “ Son, without you guys we pilots would have been nothing, we owe all the flights to you and your hard work.”. Well to me that was the greatest compliment an aircraft mechanic could ever receive, I felt great. I bought his book and he signed with,

To Stu,
My best wishes to a guy who kept our aircraft flying. Boots Blesse.

Maj. General Frederick "Boots" C. Blesse

Well that made all the hours of crawling in airplanes and knuckle busting my hands, hitting my head on wings, landing gear, engines, or wearing out my hearing while exposed to high pitched screaming engines trying to troubleshot and repair broken birds sitting on the ramp or out in the field. His compliment made it all worth it.

Thank you General Blesse!

In reality the pilots have there poem, it is called High Flight, it has become a mantra to pilots over the years.
Well here is my mantra for all the aircraft mechanics out there..

In The Docks:

Oh I have slipped on puddles of engine oil.
And slipped and fell on cursed silver wings;
On engines I have climbed, and cut my hands on
Broken pieces of safety wire, and little metal things;
You’ll never know the pain of a double engine change
Down in the docks dim lit lights glowing strings.
I’ve fought with the engine mechanic, and threatened
To hit him with my wrench. Shouting foul curses in the air;
Up, up on the engine stand, shining bright and yellow
I’ve stood on its teetering rails, hooking up wire harnesses there.
The docks is a place where a pilot never dares to go
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve worked for him there,
In the high untresspassed sanctity of aircraft maintenance,
And I put out my hand and touched the face of JOE PATRONI.

Joe Patroni, The famous aircraft mechanic from the movie Airport, played by George Kennedy. Our famous of all movie aircraft mechanics, jeez now that I think about it, he is the only one!

Oh yea the Docks … The place were an aircraft undergoes its periodic tear down and maintenance.

It is a known fact that when any one thinks of aviation, airplanes, high flying combat, the glamour of airline flying or just the sky and clouds in general the first thing that comes to mind is the pilot, that God like creature that guides the sleek jet fighter flashing through the sky or the large airliner passing from city to city. But little credence is ever given to the aircraft mechanic. That not so glamour’s job in aviation, The USAF mechanic, whether he is a crew chief, APG, electrician, hydraulic, engine, or instrument type, those long forgotten about men and women of field and organizational maintenance squadrons.

There are hundreds of books and movies written about the pilots and their feats of daring, but absolutely nothing but a paragraph or two written about the hard working aircraft mechanics. The guys who keep the aircraft flying. There are no slick form fitting flying suits adorned with mission patches and squadron emblems or silver wings adorning the uniform of the aircraft mechanic. Our badge of honor is the hydraulic, engine oil stained uniform, with an occasional tear in the knee or the hat so greasy you could lube a landing gear strut with it. . Kids growing up in my generation had the ambition to be like the movie star pilots, like John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Jimmy Cagney or Earl Flynn, or the real war time hero’s like Eddy Rickenbacker, Dick Bong, Chuck Yeager, or Thomas B. McGuire to name a few. I really can’t recall any famous cargo hauling pilots except the Duke in “No Highway in the Sky” or the "High and the Mighty" one of my all time favorites.

John wayne as the Pilot in the High and Mighty

Did you ever wonder who the mechanics were for the “Red Baron”? Who kept his aircraft serviced and maintained? How about the mech’s for the aces in WW2, or the guys who kept those B-17’ B-24’s and B-29’s flying those long missions to targets, or the guy’s who worked on the C-46’s and C-47’s that flew the long and dangerous missions on the Hump.

Mech's at work WW2

What about the mechanics that spent long hours on the flight line keeping the aircraft flying while freezing their butts off in the cold of the Korean War? Its not that I am complaining or anything but aircraft mechanics have been in the background since the Wright Brothers took to flight in 1903 and I am very proud of what we have done over the years.

C7A Caribou "The Bou", Trash Hauler

While serving in Vietnam in the 483rd FMS as a 20 year old buck Sgt. working as an aircraft electrician, I worked on the C7A caribou a twin engine cargo aircraft made by Dehavilland Aircraft Company of Canada. Of all the aircraft I have worked on in 15 years of working on aircraft the caribou was the best.
The Caribou was one of the hardest working aircraft in Vietnam, It flew into some of the hairiest places you could fly into in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.
While in Vietnam I worked with some of the greatest people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. The engine mechanics, hydraulic men and the APG guys. I worked the nerve racking early morning launches at Cam Ranh Bay and Bien Hoa, riding in that old blue FMS metro truck full of oily engine rags, hydraulic oil and engine parts with greasy engine mechanics. We towed a couple of tanks of nitrogen to blow those old damp engine mags out because of that damn hot humid air of South Vietnam. We worked hard trying to get those old wornout engine generators to come on line etc. This was A time when your skills as a mechanic were tested at the highest in trying to troubleshot and repair all types of maintenance flaws.
In Vietnam I worked with some of the greatest pilots I ever had the chance to meet, men who really treated the mechanic types like we were important. I have no complaints about them at all,except for some of their write ups in the form one. And you know they were mostly all Lieutenants and Captains who flew the hell out these old “Bou’s”. During my time spent in Vietnam I gained the confidence in my skills as an aircraft electrician while being required to go out in the field to repair a broken bird sitting on some dirt strip at a desolate looking fire base while the grunts living there were calling it a mortar magnet and wanted it out of the area. We aircraft electricians were beholding to all the different types of mechanics that work on aircraft, it is a known fact that electricity runs everything on an aircraft! well almost everything. But almost every major job requires the special expert thinking and skills of the Aircraft Electrician.
The one thing I will always give created to is the U.S. Air Force. They take an inexperienced young kid, train him/her, send them to a specialty school and within one year they hand them the responsibility for the lives of others and the skills to maintain, work on and keep in the air multi million dollar aircraft. Where on the outside can you give the responsibility of the safety of an aircraft, carrying valuable cargo, or the lives of passengers to a young 19 or 20 year old? Go Air Force!
The DeHavilland Caribou (BOU) entered service with the US Army in the 1960’s The Air Force took over the responsibility of the Caribou in late 1960’s over a dispute of the Army flying bigger fixed wing cargo aircraft.

During my time spent in the U.S. Air Force I worked on a variety of aircraft, The Douglas C-118,

C-118 USAF



Convair C-131,

Boeing KC-97.

Each and everyone of these aircraft had their own special annoying problems, but man was it fun working on these great aircraft. After the C7A Caribou in Vietnam, I was transferred off of cargo aircraft and spent my last year and a half on the famous old F-106 Delta Dart , in the 83 rd FIS at Loring Air Force Base Maine.

Here is a few photo’s of what I did in Vietnam, Thailand, not much of a war story but a lot of hard, hard, work.

A series of Photo's of a crashed C7A Caribou that I worked on in Cheng Mai Northwest Thailand, They say the top hatch blew open and the pilot set her down with the gear already going up. We changed both engines, did some sheetmetal repair and had it back in service in a couple of weeks.

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Our Operations shack after a near hit by an enemy 122mm rocket attack. Bien Hoa Vietnam. I Remember the night very well!

The other side of the shack, Bien Hoa, Vietnam


David said...

Thank You for your Outstanding Service! There was nothing glorious about 'our' war... Just a series of dirty little jobs that needed doing so as our guys could get HOME as fast & as best possible. To Para-phrase Sec. Rumsfeld, 'we fought the war that we got with what we had... not with what we would have liked.' I missed my trip in-country by a mere 2 weeks, but I would have been proud to have worked with you guys who became men there.
~ D.J. Blythe USN Aviation Structural Mech. / Crash Crew 68-72

Anonymous said...

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