Wes' aviation/spy novel

Wes hit's with a national Best Seller!
Invisible Evil: A Stunning Aviation Thriller With a Twist You Won't See Coming

About the Book: When an NSA analyst finds herself transferred to a field operations unit known as Facility Nine, her up-grade quickly takes her from passive intelligence gathering and into a global trek through a dark world where she crosses paths with a mysterious pilot. It is a place where the line between good and evil is not blurred- it is in fact nearly invisible. Her fresh ideas begin to peel back the layers of covert organizations where politicians are as bad as the terrorists as everyone is considered to be nothing more than collateral damage. It is a place where lives have little value and power is the best currency. Once the layers of this baneful onion are peeled deep enough she finds that the pillars of power are about to tumble down and countless lives are at stake because the weapon of choice flies over an unsuspecting world.

About The Author

Wes Oleszewski has authored 25 books since 1991 including his current six-book series “Growing up with Spaceflight.” Born and raised in mid-Michigan he spent most of his life with an eye turned toward the sky and spaceflight. Noted for his meticulous research, Oleszewski has a knack for weeding out the greatest of details from the most obscure events and then weaving those facts into the historical narratives which are his stories. His tales of actual events are real enough to thrill any reader while every story is technically correct and highly educational. Oleszewski feels that the only way to teach history in this age of computers, smartphones and video games is through “narrative.” The final product of his efforts are captivating books that can be comfortably read and enjoyed by everyone from the eldest grandmother to the grade-school kid and future pilot or historian. In his fiction work he applies the same methods of detail and use of real places and objects in order to provide a setting that places the reader within the story. Those stories, however, are not for the faint of heart or children. They are mature adventures that some may find realistic in the extreme. Born on the east side of Saginaw, Michigan in 1957, Wes Oleszewski attended public school in that city through grade nine, when his family moved to the farm town of Freeland, Michigan. In 1976 he graduated from Freeland High School and a year later entered the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida. Working his way through college by his own earned income alone, Oleszewski graduated in 1987 with a commercial pilot’s certificate, “multi-engine and instrument airplane” ratings as well as a B.S. Degree in Aeronautical Science. He has pursued a career as a professional pilot concurrently with one as an author and was nominated for an Emmy. A former airline captain and corporate pilot he holds an A.T.P. certificate and to date has filled more multiple log books with flight time- most of which is in airline category and jet aircraft. Recently he gave up the life of a professional aviator and now enjoys his job as a professional writer. To date he has written and see published three quarters of a million words.



Another part of the Falcon 20’s “D” inspection that was contracted out from Hangar 6 was the engine overhaul. That job was most economically done by a place that did nothing but complete engine overhauls. In order to get the two CF-700 fan jet engines to that shop, the one person who was on the crew that was best suited for the trip was… me.

Their reasoning was quite sound. First of all I was working under the shop certificate and thus the least qualified mechanic in the crew. Secondly, I was being paid the lowest hourly rate of anyone other than the hangar rat guy- and absolutely nobody was gonna trust him with a truck load of jet engines on a long road trip. Third, I was known to be  highly dependable. So, they sent me out to rent a U-Haul truck while the two CF-700-C engines were crated up and made ready to be transported. I was to drive them down to Springfield, Illinois and Abraham Lincoln Airfield where the overhaul shop was located.

The General Electric CF-700 series engines have an interesting history. Originally the Dassault Mystere 20, which was soon renamed the “Falcon 20” because people in the U.S. market had no idea what the hell “Mystere” meant or how to pronounce it, was first successfully wide marketed to Pan Am Airways with the condition that the original  Pratt & Whitney JT12 engines be replaced with the CF-700. Dassault looked at the firm Pan Am order for 40 aircraft with an option or another 120 and was more than happy to make that change. That was on August 2, 1963 and interestingly through that same time period in aviation history another variant of the CF-700 was being adapted for another use that would help to land men on the Moon!

NASA was in the process of developing a thing they called the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV). This was an odd looking series of pipes and propellant tanks with a cockpit all surrounding a single jet engine that thrusted straight down! 

That jet engine was the CF-700-ZV (the V stood for vertical and I have no idea what the Z stood for). The LLRV was a simple test bed to prove that the danged thing could fly and land like a Lunar Module… which it did. An astronaut training version, the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV), was then constructed and most of the Apollo astronauts got a turn at flying it. 

As it turned out, these critters (2 LLRVs and 2 LLTVs) were very dangerous machines with 3 out of 4 crashing and burning. The first crash was Neil Armstrong’s as he had to eject just over 2 seconds before the LLRV hit the ground and exploded; the date was May 6, 1968 less than 14 months before he would become the first man to walk on the moon. The three other crashes involved NASA test pilots all of whom ejected safely. Still, the vehicles kept flying until November 13, 1972 when Gene Cernan made the final flight just three weeks before he became the last man to pilot a lunar module onto the Moon’s surface. The astronauts had said all along that the experience of flying those machines was well worth the risks. It’s worth noting that the CF-700 was never the cause of a crash.

Now in the summer of 1985 I was all set to schlep two CF-700s from Freeland, Michigan down to Springfield, Illinois. The trip would take just over 9 hours because with the cargo of those two engines I was ordered to stick to the 55 mph speed limit. The afternoon before I left the boss gave me $375 in cash as spending money. Picture it, a guy working his way through college and normally living on a few dollars per day, now has 350 bucks for a 4-day trip! I was a happy camper as I drove the U-Haul home and parked it in my parent’s driveway poised for a pre-dawn departure. One of the neighbors came over and asked:

“What’s in the truck? What’re ya’ movin’?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told ya’,” I replied.

“Try me,” he quipped.

“Two jet engines.” I told him.

Of course he needed to get the whole story before he actually believed me. Then I added that when I bring them back they’re gonna go onto a jet that’ll take off right over his house. He looked a bit worried.

Departing long before dawn I was happily rattling down I-75. I’d resurrected my dad’s nine-year-old CB radio the previous evening and hooked it up in the truck. The stupid thing actually worked and I was sittin’ pretty until I ran head-long into one of those pea soup Michigan summer fogs. Traffic was slowed to 15 mph and it came over the CB that some clod up ahead of me had started a chain reaction crash. Just about that time a state trooper flagged us all off the expressway and down some country road. I just kept following the truckers and pretty soon I heard on the CB that we were well clear of the accident. Apparently the police just had not set up a person to point us back toward the expressway. With that the convoy just took the next left and we were back on the super slab. The only rough spot after that was I-294 south of Chicago. That stinking highway had pot holes like lunar craters. Finally after nearly 10 hours on the road I made it to the airport in Springfield while wondering if I-294 had shaken the CF-700s to bits.

They were waiting for me at the service center and a guy took my truck around front so they could unload the CF-700s. The coolest thing about this whole operation was the fact that I didn’t need to check into a hotel! Part of the building in which the repair station was operated also served as a hotel just for guys like me who brought in aircraft engines and waited for them to be overhauled. The room was great and those accommodations were included in the price of the job. They also had a desk where you could check out an “airport car” and use it to go and do whatever you wanted while you were waiting. Wow… what more could you want?

On the third day I was expecting to head on home in the next two days, but something unexpected happened out in the shop. The FedEx truck showed up with the daily parts delivery that was supposed to include a 160 pound box containing stater blades. Instead the parts guy was handed a two pound box of rivets that had a similar part number! Now the job would be delayed at least four more days. They sent me a message to call back home to Hangar 6 so I could get the news. Frankly I couldn’t care less, I was getting paid to hang out and wait- so no problem. Bob, the Hangar 6 ramrod back home asked,

“How’s yer’ money holdin’ out?”

“Great,” I replied, “but I have to damit I’ve spend about $80.”

“What!” he gasped, “I’m about to send you another $300! You gotta start spending more! Go hit the bars and shit!”

“I don’t drink,” I said calmly, “you know that.”

“Aww shit! Well go buy stuff. I need you to burn through that cash tomorrow!”

“Say what?” I was puzzled. Again... here's me, the kid workin’ his way through college who’d been surviving on Rice-a-roni for the past half dozen years. I could stretch $375 out for three months easily. I didn’t understand.

“Look,” Bob explained firmly, “if you spend too little then while you're down there, then when WE go down there the next time, the company is gonna give us less money to spend. Get creative, burn through that cash and call me tomorrow night and tell me your money is getting’ tight.”

Get creative? With money? I’m from a working class family that lived paycheck to paycheck and I’d spent my college career scraping for every dime. Now I have to get creative? How?

This post brought to you by Wes' aviation spy thriller INVISIBLE EVIL

Shuffling into the break room I asked a couple of the mechanics for ideas. Their answers were, of course,… hookers… bars… dice… more hookers and dope, none of which were gonna work for me. Then one guy had a suggestion that had some roots in it. Following his advice I drove to a local video store and rented a VCR, a large TV and every James Bond 007 movie that they had. I set the TV up in the break room and ordered more than a dozen large pizzas and a lot of soda pop for delivery. The management would not allow any beer, although on Friday and Saturday night some of the mechanics brought in their own. I ended up going back and raiding the video store for everything Clint Eastwood as well as some classic war movies and some very upper class movies like “Slapshot” and “Strange Brew” plus more pizzas. We had a guy’s movie festival goin’ on. Someone wants more food? Fine. If they deliver send it down- I got the cash. Hookers? Nope- you gotta use yer' own cash for that guys.

Still, I had more money left and I had to hit the mall for some new shirts, jeans and sneakers. It was dang hard to burn off $350. But when Bob called me back he didn’t even ask how my cash was holding out.

“Don’t say a word,” he he commanded, “Oh, you’re short on cash you say. I’ll have some more cash set up for ya’. Enough to get you back home… with nothing left… get it?”

“Yep,” I replied.

That afternoon one of the ladies from the office called me up to her desk and handed me an envelope with another $300 in cash.

Later in the week I arrived back at Hangar 6 and dropped off the truck with the overhauled CF-700s locked inside. It was after one in the morning, so I just hopped on my bicycle and rode back home to crash out. My dad, who had worked midnights my whole life, was off that night and when I got home he was up and watching some old black & white late night movie. He said that Bob had called earlier and left a message for me to take the next day off and stay broke. Dad had no idea what that meant and I didn’t bother to show him the wad of leftover cash in my pocket. I just stashed it away for college in the fall. It would come in handy.

NEXT: Part 5, Yellow wing bolt guck.

If you like the way Wes writes, check out his novel, INVISIBLE EVIL ! Get your copy now, while supplies last [insert some text here that will make people think it's like... really urgent to buy the book otherwise we'll run out. Yeah we know there's an endless supply, but we need to get our February number up. PS don't forget to delete this note before you post this blog entry. : Publisher]



Folks- If you're enjoying this series, please check out Wes' first novel and 25th book INVISIBLE EVIL it's got lots of aviation in it.


Although we had everything needed to totally disassemble the Falcon 20 in the “D” inspection, there were some tasks that simply had to be contracted out. One of those was the dropping and cleaning of the fuel tanks.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the fuel tanks on aircraft such as this, in the case of the wing storage, there really is no “tank” at all. The fuel is housed inside the wing itself and resides among the spars.

The Falcon 20 does indeed also have two actual tanks in the aft fuselage, but most of the cleaning process in the “D” inspection involved the wing tanks. For that Aero Services brought in a specialist in wing tank cleaning. That was a fellow by the name of Leroy Toro and he was said to be the master of aircraft tank cleaning. He was contracted to fly in with his crew from south Florida with his crew to get the job done.

By 1985 I had already spent four years living in Florida and working assorted minim wage jobs in the effort to work my way through Embry-Riddle. It was the early 1980s and the national recession made getting any job in Michigan impossible until late 84. In Florida, and especially Daytona, it was fairly easy to gain employment. The hotels along the beach side alone hired anyone right off the street. Thus you often found yourself working with some really rag-tag people. The establishments that needed this ready labor usually did not hold back the first week’s pay, there was no state income tax and some places, such as Kmart paid in cash every week. Transients would work for one or two paydays and then either get fired or just move on. I’d been hired on the labor crew at the Daytona Plaza hotel in January of 83 just by walking in and asking for a job. They hired seven of us that day- by the next week there was only me remaining. Of course they hired six new faces. A three months later I’d seen a lot of the rag-tags come and go and I was actually a senior employee. Still a lot of dirty jobs got done and the weekly cash helped me pay for some of my school and feed myself until I found it worthwhile to head back to Michigan for a year. Yep- I was just as rag-tag as everyone else. Thus, when Mr. Toro brought his crew into Hangar 6 I easily recognized a bunch of my fellow Florida rag-tags hired on to do a very dirty job.

As Mr. Toro and our general manager went over the specifics of what his crew was going to do, our GM thought pensively for a while and then vanished into his office. Later that day he came into the lunch room and told us all that everyone was going to get a four day vacation! This was because one of the largest steps in the tank cleaning process involved actually spraying CH3C(O)CH2CH3 into the tank spaces after they had opened them up. What’s CH3C(O)CH2CH3? It’s the chemical formula for methyl ethyl ketone, or MEK. Anyone working in most industries or especially paint and body shops knows MEK as a great solvent and when exposed to it in modest amounts the worst it will do is make your eyes burn or your throat sore. But, when sprayed it can, like any solvent, pose serious health hazards and can be highly flammable. Aero Services was taking no chances. I  immediately began planning my summer trip up north to camp and watch the lakeboats go by at Sault Saint Marie.

Before they could spray, they had to drop the tanks. Normally, the inspection panels on aircraft are set in place with screws that are hand-tightened and easily removed with a speed handle. That is, unless some jackass before you has decided to use an air wrench and over-tightened them. You can usually tell when this has happened by the presence of a tell-tale tornado scratch mark next to the screw head. That says that the screw will likely strip and have to be drilled out. It also means a lot of time spent on one stinking screw- especially if the drill bit you’re using to make the tap hole breaks off in the hole! Now you’re talking a piece of hardened steel stuck in your hole and overtime on your time card… plus lots of swearing. The screws holding those fuel tanks together were not intended to be removed routinely, so their screws are not only over-tightened, but also painted in place.

Mr. Toro’s tank crew used plenty of elbow grease and just as much profanity as they put in 12 hour days to get those tanks dropped. Once the parts were on the hangar floor and the crew was ready to begin the spraying, I split with no regrets. The stuff they were cleaning away was a sealant that had been used during the construction of the wing in France. The sealant, PR-1422 and PR-1431, was a dark brown color and when you picked at it with your fingers it seemed hard a crusty. I wondered to our A.I. how some of that couldn’t help but break away and contaminate the fuel? He simply replied, “That’s what filters are for.”

By the time I’d spent four working days plus a weekend up north relaxing it was time to get back to Hangar 6 and the Falcon 20 that looked a lot like a skeleton. There we no windows, the cockpit was empty- including the entire instrument panel, every space that could be open was now a gaping hole, both engines were off the airframe and resting on racks, the rudder and every other control surface was off… but those tanks were all sealed up nice and pretty. Mr. Toro and his crew had done their job.

Of course they left us with a hangar that smelled like MEK for the next week or so.

NEXT: Part 4, You gotta start spendin’ more.

This saga brought to you by Wes' 25th book- the aviation, spy thriller INVISIBLE EVIL ! If you're into aviation, this book will draw you in.



“D” CHECK” Part 2


During my time flying Falcon 20s I was never afraid that some bird or even a meteor was gonna come through the cockpit windows. The reason for my lack of concern was rooted in doing that “D” check on a 20 back in the summer of 1985.

As I said earlier, during a “D” inspection anything that can come off, must come off and everything that can come out, must come out. Thus, the windows in the cockpit have to be not only removed, but completely replaced. Now, you’d think that this process would involve removing the screws around the panels that overlap the edge of the window and the aircraft’s skin, but it’s not that simple.

Falcon 20 cockpit windows showing the screws (Dassault Aviation)

Just one of the cockpit windows on a Falcon 20 would be surrounded by panels fixed in place by as many as 40 screws in total. And, just to make the job more fun, those screws were not all the exact same length. In fact there were about four different lengths in assorted areas. So, removing the screws was not a problem. Putting the darned things back in the correct holes to properly secure the new pane was the real puzzle. The answer that the guys in Hangar 6 came up with was pretty handy. It was a series of four plywood boards each of which had the outline of an individual Falcon 20 cockpit window drawn on it. Around the window drawing was a series of holes located where each screw on the actual window frame was located. Then, when you removed a screw you simply placed it in its respective hole to wait there until it was time to secure the new window. That way every screw went into its correct location.

Brilliant!... Until some klutz Polak kid who is working under the shop certificate isn’t watching where he’s going and trips over one of the boards and knocks out a bunch of the screws!

Who… me?

Well that idiot for a day happened to look a lot like me, occupied the same space, and rode my bicycle to work every day. All I’ll admit to is that I spent the remainder of an afternoon matching 32 screws to 32 holes… plus a half hour of overtime. But, I needed the money for college.

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After all of the panels are off and the window panes are left unguarded and the window heat disconnected the next task was to actually remove them. On this bird they were glued in place, probably in France… God knows when… so, knocking them out should have been no problem.


Since the windows are a part of the pressure hull, they are “plug” windows. So, the only way to get them out is the push them in. Not one would budge, and trying to pry on the seam would damage the airframe surrounding them. The final solution featured a mechanic standing on the cockpit roof (yes, you can do that on a Falcon 20- they’re built like tanks) with an eight pound no-bounce. (For those of you not familiar with the term, a “no-bounce” is a rubber hammer, and in this case it was a rubber sledge hammer). Starting over the center window and straddling the cockpit so the window was between and below his feet, he raised the no-bounce high and gave the window a hefty smack! Nothing happened, in fact the sealant around the pane didn’t even show a crack! Again he raised the no-bounce over his head like a Jedi of jet fuel and slammed it against the pane. It mocked him.

Thus, swearing was added.

I don’t recall how many hits it took but soon the attention of everyone on the crew was on him as we cat-called and goaded and he shouted naughty words and smashed harder and harder. I was starting to take bets on the window, because he was beginning to look tired. Yet, eventually the sealant began to fracture and the accursed pane of clear plastic budged. After more sweat and foul words it finally vacated its assigned position and dropped into the cockpit. Then some smart ass shouted, “Great! Only eight more to go!” Fortunately the mechanic with the no-bounce didn’t have the strength left in his hands to strangle me.

During lunch the following day we were passing around the windows and making comments. Joining us was the representative from Falcon Jet. The same mechanic who had fought the battle to get that first window out asked if he could have it? The guy from Falcon Jet said it was junk anyhow- so sure he could have it. I asked if he was gonna mount it on his wall? He replied that the heating threads that were laminated into the layers of poly-plastic-epoxy-carbonate-clear-fiberglass-PFM were supposedly made of “gold!” He figured to go home and pry it out.

Of course the next day he came into work again mocked by the window. He said the damned thing just would not come apart. That day at lunch he was telling us how he’d gotten so frustrated with that damned piece of window that he took it out behind his house and shot it with his .357 magnum! We all cracked up and asked if he could bring it in and show us? It turned out that he had it right outside in his pickup truck- so he went out and nabbed it for show-n-tell.

It was fascinating- the slug, fired from about 12 feet away and hitting nearly dead center, had penetrated about half way into the pane and then mushroomed. It left a slight bump on the inside, but didn’t deform the pane in any other way. This got the attention of the guy from Falcon Jet who asked if he could have the pane back? He was flying back to the home office the following day and wanted to show it to some of the engineers. Later he told us that they shipped it back to Dassault for study. He told us that no one had ever done that to a Falcon Jet window before.

Years later when I was done with Embry-Riddle and had gone into professional flying I found myself seated behind those cockpit windows in Falcon 20s. Even at .76 Mach I never feared anything coming through those windows. Not even a goose holding a .357 magnum pistol.

NEXT: Part 3, Toro’s tank guys.

This story brought to you by my best selling aviation-spy novel "INVISIBLE EVIL" check it out here!



“D” CHECK” Part 1


This is the way an aviation mechanic pictures a corporate jet. Not quite the way most pilots see it.

I had just come home for the summer of 1985 after a very productive Junior year in the flight program at Embry-Riddle and was looking for a useful summer job. Considering that my home was located 5,747 feet from the end of Runway 5 at MBS airport, I figured that was a good place to begin my job search. Aero Services was located at Hangar 6 on the airport and, as a Falcon Jet service center, they had already hired me twice before- once as a parts department clerk and once as the hangar rat, plus my brother was previously employed there as a line guy before he left for college… thus, what the heck?

So close was the airport, with nothing but country roads surrounding it, that I just hopped on my bicycle and road over there. Dropping into the aircraft maintenance ramrod’s office, I just told him I was lookin’ for a summer job. Bob told me that he wasn’t really in need of anyone right now, so I thanked him and asked if it was okay for me to go out in the hangar and say hello to some of the guys? He said that was no problem and I proceeded out among the aircraft. Only a couple of the guys I’d worked with in the past were still there, but at the far end of the hangar was Tim. He had been the ramrod who had hired me both previous times, and was now working for another company. Today he was in with their jet getting some work done. We exchanged some friendly jabs over old times and I mentioned that I was there looking for summer work, but Bob didn’t need anyone at the moment. He wished me luck and told me to get my ass out of the hangar before I drooled on the Falcon Jets too much… owners sort of frown on that.

When I got back home my mom gave me the news that Bob had called from Hangar 6 and I was supposed to call him back right away. I knew the number by heart and when Bob answered he spoke in his normal deadpan tone. He told me that he had a Falcon 20 coming in tomorrow for a big “D” inspection that would take all summer. He said that Tim had come into his office and reminded him that my brother and I each did more work than three of their full time employees and he was a dumb ass if he didn’t hire me for this inspection.

“Be here tomorrow morning at 8:30,” Bob advised without a hint of emotion.

All United States aircraft are required to go through some sort of maintenance inspection process to ensure they are in an airworthy condition before continued operation. In the case of Dassault Falcon Jets the manufacturer put in place a series of scheduled inspections depending on aircraft operational cycles. In 1985 these were categorized as “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D” type inspections. Speaking in the most general terms, the “A” inspection is the most frequently required and the least complicated often involving replacement of light bulbs, checks of heavy wear components and non flight critical items that may have to be replaced. A “B” inspection is far more extensive involving more critical items. The “C” inspection was the big daddy where engines, landing gear and control surfaces come off, interiors get pulled and so on. By the summer of 1985, no Falcon 20 (we were told) had ever gone through enough cycles to qualify for a “D” level inspection yet still remain in service. The bird that I'd be working on had done exactly that.

Inside Hangar 6 on a busy day  in the summer of 1985 (Author's photo)

Although I cannot recall this aircraft’s exact history (keep in mind- it was a summer job and I was deep into working on it with one eye set on going back to school), some of the guys said she was an original Pan Am bird, another said she’d flown for Circus Circus and another said she’d flown in Japan for a while. It all made no difference to me. I was hired on as a mechanic working under the shop certificate. In essence what that meant was that everything I did had to be under the supervision of our shop Aircraft Maintenance Inspector (A.I.) and I was not to sign off on anything. In all, the whole summer would be a great learning experience for me. We dug into the aircraft and started dropping panels. All that was needed was a speed handle, a pocket full of tips for it and a lot of bags to put the screws into. All the while the representative from Falcon Jet kept tabs on us… this really was a “first” for the company.

In a “D” inspection everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, comes off or out. From wing bolts to cockpit windows- if it can come apart, you take it apart. The job was so labor intensive that even little Rickey the hangar rat was handed a speed handle and set to work. This was not uncommon- six years earlier when I had his job they often used me to drop panels. As it turned out- on this job they would have been $179,000 better off if they had left him with his mop and bucket working on the hangar floor.

This story brought to you by Invisible Evil my first novel. An aviation spy thriller that no aviation person should miss.

We’d only been at it for a couple of days and I was working on the inside of the aircraft on the aft bulkhead. I’d left to get a shop rag and when I went back into the aircraft I saw Rickey working at removing the screws from the panel on the skin beneath the droop leading edge (DLE). The flaps were down to 40 and thus the DLEs were down as well, so he had access to the panels. But, as I walked past I noticed that he wasn’t completely removing the screws. Instead he was just backing them out about 2/3 of the way. Walking back inside the aircraft toward the tail the thought struck me that it was fairly dangerous for him to be working there because one of the mechanics had a hydraulic mule hooked up and running on the aircraft’s system. Just when I decided to go back and show him how and why he should do it right, I heard the mechanic in the cockpit shout, “CLEAR FLAPS!”

It was sort of like a nightmare when you want to move fast, but everything goes into slow motion.
“Noooooo!” I shouted as I bounded for the cabin door. It was too late… as the flaps hit 15 the DLEs were triggered to retract. I arrived just in time to see Rickey pull his hands clear and then watch as the DLE retracted over those raised screws! The metal cracked, rippled and groaned with agony and it felt like someone was being tortured right in front of me.

Cost of this blunder was $179,000 and change, but it could have been far worse if little Rickie hadn’t gotten his fingers out of the way as fast as he did. The DLE was not repairable the underside nut panel was stripped, but easily repaired. Insurance, we were told, covered $125,000, but the company ate the rest. Fault was clearly the mechanic’s who should have never had a live mule running on the aircraft while someone was working on the control surfaces. No one was fired- we were just told to be more careful and press on with the inspection. We also developed the motto, "Just keep the damage under $125,000."

To this day the sight of that DLE backing up over those screws still haunts me. One of those things you just cannot un-see.

NEXT: Part 2, Magnum in the front window.

Also see my other recent book... 



This story is an excerpt from my book "Growing up with Spaceflight; Apollo Part One" if you enjoy it... try the book, you'll love it.  


The Apollo 8 patch I bought at the KSC visitor's center on my first trip to to Florida; Feb. 1973. I'm pretty sure they no longer sell for 75 cents.

Our little house at 3324 Lexington Drive in Sheridan Park was packed full of relatives and neighbors. It was Christmas eve 1968 and my folks were hosting a party for our closest family friends. All of the adults were laughing, talking, eating, drinking and smoking. Mostly smoking.

Being an asthmatic I always had a very low tolerance for smokers and smoking, but in 1968 most people smoked.

My parents had both just quit that foul habit primarily due to my new doctor, an allergy-specialist, and the first true no-nonsense person that I have ever met. Dr. Goodwin was said to have, “the bedside manner of a bull,” but he got his points across to me and my family. Upon my second visit, where he reviewed my medical tests with my parents and myself, he pointed his pen at me and said, “If you ever smoke you will die.” Then he turned to my Mom and Dad and said, “If you two want him to get any better and to grow up to have a normal life, you both have to quit smoking. Today!” So firm and deadly-serious was his manner that both of my parents gave up cigarettes on the spot— cold turkey. Dad later took up a pipe, but at least he gave up the coffin-nails. So it was that at our household Christmas party seven months later, at least my Mom and Dad were not a part of making the blue haze that hung heavy in our living-room.

Although the TV was on, you really could not hear it and there was no place for a kid to sit and watch it. Besides that the party “atmosphere” was akin to sitting in a smudge pot. In short order I disappeared into my parent’s room where the “old” family TV resided. Every network had the same lead story to broadcast. It was a historic adventure called “Apollo 8.”

Stuffing one of my Dad’s T-shirts under the door to keep out the local pollution, I turned on the old TV and let her tubes warm up. After a few seconds the familiar crackle of static electricity began as the cathode-ray picture tube slowly built up to its 30,000 volt, shadow-mask face potential. Soon the blue tinted black and white image began to fuzz into clarity. With haste I spun the channel selection dial to UHF and channel 25; CBS. That channel was where Walter Cronkite was hosting and it came in the best on the old TV- primarily because channel 25’s broadcast antenna was located about 1,202 feet from my parent’s bedroom. Of course the aluminum foil that my Dad had wrapped around the distorted, wire coat-hanger that served as the TV set’s UHF antenna may have helped too.

Cronkite was saying that they were expecting another live TV broadcast from the moon shortly. There was not a hint that he had been on the air almost continually since about four o’clock in the morning. Just the excitement in his voice told me that something historic was taking place and it had my total attention. I sat, alone, cross-legged, on the foot of my parents bed, in the darkness. The party commotion happening just up the hallway seemed so distant it was as if I was in the studio with Cronkite myself. Perhaps countless other viewers across America felt exactly the same way at that moment. Now, Cronkite told us, the crew was ready to do their final TV broadcast from the Moon. The CBS “simulation” showed a model of an Apollo CSM from the rear with the expanse of the slightly curved lunar surface just below. Soon the voices and cross-talk from Mission Control made it apparent that the TV show from the moon was about to begin.

NASA’s Public Affairs Officer (PAO) announced that we were one minute… and then two minutes into acquisition of signal with Apollo 8, and CAPCOM Ken Mattingly, who had recently changed shifts with Mike Collins, told the crew that all of their systems looked great. Then the PAO announced that they had a TV picture in Mission Control. Quickly the picture shifted from the simulation of the flight to the fuzzy, slow-scan TV images of the lunar surface. It actually looked like a fishbowl with the words “Live Transmission From Apollo 8” superimposed on it. After a few moments, CBS cut back to Cronkite as the crew moved the camera to another window. The picture turned to a view inside Mission Control as the crew started out by saying that this was Apollo 8 live from the Moon, as if we did not already know that. Next they all gave their final descriptions of the moon and their impressions of the place that no human had ever before visited.

"The moon is a different thing to each one of us." Borman led the narration, "I think that each one of… each one carries his own impressions of what… of what he's seen today. I know my own impression is that it's a vast, lonely, forbidding type of existence or expanse of nothing; it looks rather like clouds and clouds of pumice stone. And it certainly would not appear to be a very… inviting place to live or work. Jim, what have you thought about most?"

"Well, Frank," Lovell picked up the narration, "my thoughts are very similar; the vast loneliness up here of the moon is awe-inspiring, it makes you realize just what you have back there on earth. The earth from here is a grand oasis in the big vastness of space. Bill, what do you think?"

"I think," Anders continued, "the thing that impressed me the most was the lunar sunrises and sunsets. These, in particular, bring out the stark nature of the terrain, the long shadows really bring out the relief that is here (and) hard to see in this very bright surface that we’re going over right now. We are now coming onto Smyth's Sea, a small mare region covered with dark material. There's a fresh bright impact crater on the edge towards us. And mountain range on the other side. These mountains are the Pyrenees.”

About then the signals from the moon were disturbed and the crew’s show became abbreviated.

“Apollo 8,” CAPCOM interrupted quickly, “we’re not receiving picture now, over.”

Anders continued with his description as Houston repeated that they were not getting a picture. Suddenly the crew fixed the problem and I found myself looking through the rendezvous window, over the sill and out toward the Moon. All of my thoughts of presents and Christmas morning were suddenly muted. There were three guys up there circling the Moon, and I felt as if I were right there with them. Of course their view of the Moon was a great deal better than my blurred, washed-out black and white TV view. But still, it was THE Moon, and we were all there— all of us who were growing up with spaceflight.

From the din of the Christmas party voices out in my living room I heard a few quips of “Look at that!” as the same show that I was watching was playing on the TV out there. They, however, could not hear the words of the astronauts who were pointing out craters and evaluating the proposed site for the first lunar landing. Although, from my perspective, I was alone watching the event, it was later calculated that this broadcast was watched by more humans than any other single event in history to that date. Suddenly the crew stopped their lunar observations and said that they had a message to those of us on earth. They read from the Book of Genesis. It was a fantastic moment that added a shade of faith and humanity to the pure technology of the mission. It also got them sued by an atheist.

My parents ended their big Christmas party about an hour later with half-drunken and completely-drunken neighbors and relatives stumbling happily out into the bitter-cold mid-Michigan winter night. Fortunately, most of them lived nearby in our subdivision. The one who was the most intoxicated ended up face down in a snowdrift near our driveway and was able to be poured into the back seat of his car and driven home by his wife. Mom and Dad were left to clean up the house and prepare for Christmas morning. That, of course, meant putting us kids to bed. We all scrambled into our sleeping nests having been told that the sooner we went to sleep, the sooner Santa would come. That worked well on my younger sister and brother, but I found that my thoughts were centered more onto my 1/96 scale model Apollo CSM. I lay there in the dark holding it up as if passing over the lunar surface, or peeking into its small windows and looking at the little crewmen inside. I also studied the big Service Propulsion System engine bell. Cronkite had told us dozens of times that it had to fire in order for the crew to return to the Earth. Oddly, at the ripe old age of 11, unlike some adults, I had no doubt at all that it would work. 

I fell asleep with that level of innocent confidence.


A Little Secret About the ERAU Flight Team

Early in the fall of 84 I was, where I always seemed to be found, hanging out in the Avion office, when two AHPs, Mitch Williams and Nick Fasano, came in talking about re-starting the Flight Team. Sitting there just listening I could tell that these guys had zero knowing about National Inter-collegenet Flying Association, or "NIFA" events, but they had tons of motivation. President Hunt, who loathed the team and NIFA, had passed away the previous year. We had often debated over the existence of an ERAU flight team- I wanted it to be more than a club and he wanted it to be gone. I never won any debate with President Hunt- especially that one. I'd been on the flight team since 1978 when we were called "the flight team club." Now he was gone so I figured why not?” I began to explain to Mitch and Nick how each event went and my relationship to the old team.

Bang, I was back in the DAB Flight Team- which now had exactly
three members; Mitch, Nick and me.

The team grew, but struggled to be competitive. Pilots had to pay for their aircraft use and travel as well as hotels and food. Yet, still we pressed ahead under Mitch's leadership and Nick's management skills- which were quite cunning.

Early in the fall trimester of 1985 I was elected to be the team's Chief Pilot and replacing Mitch who had become an ERAU flight instructor and a team coach. One afternoon, about a week before the 1985 NIFA Regional Flight Meet, I got a call to come to University Provost EriDotens office and bring the teams assistant Chief Pilot, Dan Ferrichello, with me.
University Provost Eric Doten

We arrived on time and Doten asked us into his office. He sat down and reclined at his desk and said,

“President Tallman wants to wish your team the very best of good luck in the upcoming Regionals.”

Dan and I looked at each other and I said,

 Tell the President we said thanks.”

Then Doten pointed at the door and said,

 Close the door.

Dan dutifully went over and closed the door. Its funny, but I remember this like it was yesterday, but years later when I asked Dan he hardly remembered the meeting at all. Anyhow, Doten said,

“President Tallman wants to fully back and fund the Flight Team. Thats aircraft, practice time, uniforms, hotels- everything. There is just one catch, he cant get that all past the Board of Trustees unless you guys succeed. You must get into the Nationals, otherwise no deal. This whole thing must also remain a close secret, if one whiff of this gets out, the deal is off. So, you must get into the Nationals this year and no one outside of this room can know about this deal until after Tallman announces it after he gets it past the Board. That’s the deal.
After leaving Dotens office Dan and I walked over to UC and stood on that little balcony that then overlooked the campus. Standing there I looked at Dan and I swear he had turned pale- looked like he was about to spew. I asked him what was wrong and he said,

This is huge. Oh my God, what if we dont do it? What if we screw it up? How are
we gonna do this?”

I just looked across the campus smirked and said,
Shit, we own this fuckin’ place.

 I was that confident in our team.
Me supervising flight practice 1985 at Flagler Airport, FL

 As Chief Pilot, and a former hockey player, I knew the value of having a “deep bench” and I decided to restructure the team in that manner. In a deep bench your first line can play just as good as your third line and you spread the talent out so you are covered fully in any situation. So we went heavy on ground events and greatly expanded the overall team that fall. I also looked for pilots who could fly the air events just as well in the Cessna 172 as in the 150. That way if something happened and we could not use ERAU’s aircraft, we could rent 150s and still be competitive. I even went so far as assigning a team member to call FBOs near Murfreesboro, TN, where the Regionals would take place, and get prices and aircraft availability; just in case. If we got hung up without our school’s aircraft, the odds were good that we would have to rent and 150s would be what could get. We were working hard and things were looking good as the date for the Regionals approached.

On the eve of our departure for the Regional meet we had two ERAU stretch vans leaving to drive up to MTSU and two of our coaches were to follow in two ERAU chickenhawks. We also had tropical storm Kate coming up the Gulf of Mexico. As we were boarding the vans, I got called up to Director of Flight Ops. Paul McDuffee’s office. He told me and the coaches that he would not release the school’s aircraft for our use due to the storm. The storm itself was of no real threat, but McDuffee was being overly cautious.

I told our coaches that no one should tell the team until the next morning when we were at MTSU. That way, instead of it being a giant bummer for them to stew on all the way to MTSU, it would be seen more as an urgent problem for us to overcome.
Colin Askurn and Sheri Byrd watching flight events.

It worked- everyone pitched in when they got the news and soon I had four guys out renting and getting checked out in Cessna 150s. We juggled the pilots in the flight events and went hard on the ground events. I had two guys who could not seem to make friends with the 172 for landing events, but could put a 150 down in your backyard, switching places with my two
chickenhawk aces, both of whom had never flown a 150. Meanwhile our ground people were just super. 
Our guys doing the best they could with what we managed to rent.

We finished the meet having done beyond our best considering McDuffee's bogus decision. That night at the banquet a rumor was started by the MTSU team that since there were fewer teams than usual (as I recall it was something like 4 or 5) then only first place and second place would go to the Nationals. When the scores were announced, we got 3rd. After the banquet the Auburn team captain shook my hand and said,

“See ya’ at the Nationals.”

 “We were told that third doesn’t get to go,” I replied.

 “Bullshit!" he half shouted, "Third goes! Go ask the guy from NIFA.”

I asked and he said,

“Of course 3rd goes, third always goes. I’ll see ya’ in Texas next spring.”

That was it.

Of course by then, most of my team was back at the hotel and somewhat dejected. So I got the whole damned bunch into one hotel room and told them that we were in the Nationals! I’ll never forget walking from that room to go across the parking lot to a 7-11 to get a slurpie and hearing the sound of that celebration behind me. They had done one hell of a job. To this day I am really proud of those folks and what they did for our university. There were a lot of outstanding individuals on that team.

As soon as I got back to campus I gave Doten a full briefing. He agreed with me that McDuffee was acting like an old lady by not giving us our aircraft. The storm turned and died and we could easily have had our own aircraft. Still, it had been McDuffees call yet the Flight Team had gotten the result that General Tallman wanted anyhow. The next day Mr. VanBibber, (aka "Mr. Van," a veteran Vietnam F-4 pilot, who was our Flight Team faculty advisor) and I had a "how'd it go" meeting with McDuffee. Of course, me being the one student on campus with zero fear of administrators laid it on the line in that meeting. I told Mr. McDuffee that he had deliberately put my pilots at risk by forcing us to fly rented aircraft. Our ERAU aircraft were kept to the highest standards of maintenance in the general aviation world and my pilots had gained a high degree of skill and confidence in them, but because of his decision not to allow us the promised university airframes, we ended up flying aircraft that we had no idea how they had been maintained, and that such was not the environment that our university was about, especially when it came to the best pilots on campus.

I thought Mr. Van was gonna crawl up the back of his chair! He began to try and talk me back out of what I had just said, tellin' me that that's not really what I meant to say. I simply said that if I hadn't meant it, I wouldn't have said it. McDuffee knew me too well and just ducked and let it pass. What Mr. Van didn't know, is what I knew. The fix was in, and McDuffee could not do anything to derail the flight team- we had earned a place under General Tallman's wing, and we were safe.

About three weeks later I was in Mr. Vans turbine engines class and after class he said he needed to see me in his office Most ricky-ticky. Once there he told me that hed talked to Doten and gave me the big news” that the university was now sponsoring us. I did my best to act surprised, but Mr. Van only bought that for about a heartbeat. He said,

You shit, you knew that all along didnt ya?

"Mr. Van" the F-4 driver (R), Buck Wyndham (C) and coach John Stanton strategizing air events at the 1985 NIFA Southern Regional Meet  

I told him about the meeting with Doten and that we were ordered to keep it a secret. He just shook his head, pointed at me and said,

"That's leadership."

"In spite of McDuffee," I quipped.

We had a good laugh and at that evenings team meeting I told the gang. They were stunned and in total disbelief until Mr. Van told em that it was true. Everyone, except Dan and I, remained stunned for a long time; but at least we could finally talk about it.

In the years ahead Mr. McDuffee and I always got along and he worked his way up the administrative ladder at the university and did so many good things for the students and school that it makes that moment when we butted heads (among a few others) to be little more than a trivial footnote. In 1998 I flew a Falcon 20 into DAB and took my boss over to see the campus. He got to meet Mr. McDuffee who pointed to his own head and then to me and said,

"See these gray hairs? They're mostly from him!"

Today the Daytona ERAU flight team is exactly what we all wished it to become.