During the first presidential debate on Wednesday night, October 3rd, 2012 the current President of the United States once again took a shot at “corporate jets.” When talking about Exxon and big oil the president chose to hold up general aviation executive aircraft as if they were a red flag pointing to part of what is wrong with America. This, from someone who routinely and sometimes frivolously makes use of the world’s most exclusive and America’s most expensive executive jet.
My personal revulsion for this demagoguery of executive jets and their users is rooted in the fact that I have a long history with that part of general aviation- from the VERY bottom, up.
Folks who know me, know full well that I took a full 10 years to work my way through the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. By work-my-way-through I mean that I paid for 100% of the cost from my own pocket and with whatever student aid I could scrape up. Working jobs from running a cash register at Kmart to washing rental cars to walking the floors at hotels, I wore a lot of name-tags and ate a lot of Rice-a-roni. As a part of that process I spent some of those best working days employed at a Falcon Jet service center.
In 1978, my first summer away from school, I got fed up with National Car Rental and car-hiking at MBS International Airport and walked across the field to Hangar 6 and a company called Airflight and Serve-A-Plane, which was a Falcon Jet service center. They hired me as a clerk in the parts department. For the majority of that summer I shuffled, received and stocked tiny components for the dozens of Falcon Jets that came and went through Hangar 6. Those evil “Corporate Jet” owners and their sinful machines paid for nearly a full semester of my college.
The following year, 1979, was the first time that I went so broke that the university would not allow me to register. Thus, I returned to Hangar 6 and Airflight, looking for work. This time they hired me as the “hangar rat.” For those of you who may not know it, the hangar rat’s job is to “Empty what’s full, fill what’s empty and everything else, ya’ paint yellow.” Thus I took out trash, mopped the hangar floor and cleaned the aircraft when they were finished with whatever maintenance had been needed. I earned extra cash by washing the jets and copped overtime by working on-call to do after-hours turn arounds of Dow Corning’s fleet. Likewise, when a big project came in, I was tasked with “dropping panels” or taking a speed-handle and unscrewing access panels on the aircraft. In doing that lowest of the low level jobs, I earned enough money to pay off what I owed to the university and finance yet another semester of my education.
Finally in the summer of 1985 I was hired for the third time to work at Hangar 6, where the company was now called Aero Services. This time, I was hired to work as a mechanic under the shop’s certificate. The task was one that I’m very proud to be able to say that I was a part of- the first ever “D” inspection done on a Falcon 20. This check involved removing everything that could be removed from the airframe, and inspecting, replacing, and re-installing it. And I mean everything, was removed, the windows, every stitch of the interior, the landing gear, the engines- even the fuel tanks had their bottoms dropped and were cleaned by a special team sent up from Florida. We were acting on procedures sent fresh from the engineers at Dassault. It was new stuff that in many cases no other wrenches had done before. For example, we uncovered the wing bolts, by use of dental tools, and inspected them- then we took specially shaped styro-foam plugs and inserted them back into the holes amid a bath of Mastinox compound. It was an all-day process, with no breaks or lunch, that two of us did in throw-away cloths because Mastinox compound is messy stuff- I loved it! The “D” inspection took the entire summer and we turned the aircraft over to the owner just two days before I left to go back to school. I recall sitting in turbine engines class the following week, still having Mastinox compound under my fingernails and a summer’s worth of earned income to invest in school.
My point here is that those “corporate jets” that Obama so easily condemns are not just a luxury for billionaires and millionaires, (one of which he happens to be), but rather they are instruments in the economy. They provide gainful employment by which hundreds of thousands of honest hard-working folks earn their living. In all of my years around Falcon Jets, I rarely met those millionaires and billionaires until I became a Falcon Jet pilot. And even then, the VAST majority of people whose work, I repeat, WORK, involved those evil “corporate jets” were just regular middle-class folks. They’re the ones who shuffle the parts, pump the fuel, answer the phones, mop the floors, turn the wrenches and do a thousand other jobs that Mr. Obama has never stooped to do. I can say that because, unlike the president, I HAVE done those jobs in the world of executive jet general aviation. I have punched the time clock at two in the morning and gone out to meet the arriving flight with a trash bag in one hand and bottle of spray cleaner in the other. And on those occasions, I was not alone- there were fuel trucks with amber flashing lights, there were limo drivers waiting for passengers and there were countless other airport employees. Then there were the off-airport people, the hotel alone- which would accommodate passengers arriving on those late night flights employed dozens on that shift. Then there were the food service people who brought out the tray of goodies that that cost enough to feed a slob like me for a week. Up the line were the people who manufactured the parts that supported those flying machines, the people working in the warehouse that stocked the parts, the companies that shipped those parts and its people. Those thousands of hands that reached out to do the work rather than reaching out to take a government hand-out.
So, when President Obama waves “corporate jets” like a red flag to represent the evil rich, (again- of which he is one,) what he is really doing is blindly slapping the faces of all of the hard working folks who support the use of those machines. As having been one of them, I find that to be beyond repulsive.
Today, I’ll be wearing my Falcon Jet hat and shirt all day. This just to illustrate the point that I’ve been where the president has not, and I’ve met the people that he, in a single swipe of his words has slapped in the face. In fact I’ll be wearing the hat until the voters of the United States re-distribute Barack Obama to Chicago- where he’ll spend the rest of his life traveling, exclusively, by way of private Jets.