SLS Mobile Launcher on the roll

SLS Mobile Launcher on the roll

On the 24th day of July 1965, at NASA's Kennedy space Center, a crawler transporter moved and Apollo Mobile Launcher for the first time. In this first test the crawler transporter moved the Mobile Launcher exactly 1,749 yards. At that point the test was stopped to allow evaluation of the move. In the days that followed technicians discovered pieces of steel and, more importantly, pieces of brass laying along the crawlerway. The discovery of these metal fragments led to the discovery of 14 tapered roller bearings that had been damaged on the crawler itself. This unexpected damage stopped all testing and left the crawler transporter and the Mobile Launcher parked on the crawlerway until further notice.

In short order the problem found its way into the news media. For the first time widespread doubts concerning the Apollo program began to sprout from Florida to Washington DC. Even the iconic Walter Cronkite spoke about it on his evening newscast as he told his audience that the crawler transporter and Mobile Launcher were sitting on wooden blocks under the Florida sun and no one was sure if they would ever move again. Of course the problems were solved, the crawler transporters did move again and the three Mobile Launcher’s served the United States space program for the next four and one half decades supporting Apollo, Skylab, ASTP and finally- as Fixed Service Structures- two of them tended to the Space Shuttle.

With the conception of the Constellation program NASA determined that a new generation of Mobile Launcher was needed. Construction of the new Mobile Launcher began with delivery of the first major components to KSC in February of 2009. This new 390 foot tall mobile launcher was intended to support the Aries I launch vehicle. On February 1, 2010, however, the Obama administration sent to Congress its FY2011 budget proposal which contained no funding for the Constellation program. With that the Ares launch vehicles and all related hardware were subsequently defunded. Yet the contract for the construction of the Mobile Launcher remained running and the launcher was basically completed by August 2010. Then there it sat, outside of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) having no vehicle to support until the Congress could undo the Obama FY2011 NASA budget proposal.

Much like Cronkite back in 1965 many in the current news media attempted to make an example of the Constellation Mobile Launcher in order to call into question the future of NASA's human spaceflight program. One very popular commentator, who is a friend of mine, made a habit of asking guests what they thought about that "B.W.M. (Big Waste of Money) out there sitting by the VAB." This would seed some conversation concerning NASA's human spaceflight program and its future. Of course in today's modern news media spicy conversation often trumps reasonable examination. The fact is that supposed big waste of money actually could not become a big waste of money until it was actually scrapped. With that in mind the United States Congress was determined that in its rebuke of the Obama FY2011 NASA budget they would protect as much of the money invested in the Constellation program as possible. Those "sunk costs" included hardware such as the new Mobile Launcher.

In the summer of 2011 the information came out that NASA planned to use the Constellation Mobile Launcher as the mobile launcher for the new Space Launch System. A reasonable examination of the Mobile Launcher finds that although the structure outwardly looks like a complete launch tower it is in fact little more than a framework. None of the critical equipment that would make it vehicle specific has yet been installed. Thus, the new Mobile Launcher can easily be adapted to almost any launch vehicle. By way of this reasonable examination NASA has now breathed new life into the Mobile Launcher and successfully pulled some $238 million out of the Obama administration’s wastebasket. Now, along with the revival of the Orion spacecraft and other Constellation hardware, some $500 Billion in taxpayer sunk costs have been recovered.

Just after 10:00 am on the 16th day of November 2011 a crawler transporter lifted and moved a Mobile Launcher and its Launch Umbilical Tower for the first time since the early 1980s. At that familiar snail’s pace so often seen as the crawler transporters move spaceflight hardware, the new Mobile Launcher was taken out to Lunch Complex 39B. In testing reminiscent of the early days of Apollo the Mobile Launcher was being run through a series of compatibility tests and checks. After two weeks on the pad the Mobile Launcher was again lifted and slowly rolled back to its parking place near the VAB. Although overlooked by most in the media this simple test was a symbolic milestone in the process of undoing the Obama administration’s myopic cancellation of America's program to return to the moon. As I write this, I'm looking at my computer screen and watching by way of the Internet while a half a billion tax payer dollars are rescued from the Obama administration's waste-can as the new Mobile Launcher rolls smoothly along the crawlerway at the Kennedy Space Center.

What was once condemned as a "BWM" is now back on track to become a critical piece of hardware in America's effort to explore space beyond low Earth orbit.



November 10, 1975- ~7:12 pm


Teleported Into Leif Garrett land

Into Leif Garrett land

Could this be true, or am I just wishful thinking?

History is a fun thing, those of us who study it and research it know that the old saying that it repeats itself is absolutely true. In some cases it becomes a tragic yet predictable truth- yet in other cases it becomes a wonderful stroke of karma.

In the year 1977 the absolute hottest teen idol on the face of the earth was a bushy blonde haired singer named Leif Garrett. Blessed with a bookable voice and armed with the best backup musicians and producers that money could buy Leif Garrett turned into an adolescent money-making machine for those who cared for nothing more than the bottom line in the accountant’s ledgers.

Basically, the instant that Leif Garrett’s numbers again the slip he was abandoned and left to his own.

Our contemporary version of Leif Garrett is an idol constructed totally of bubblegum who goes by the name Justin Bieber. His name when spoken in a household that contains girls under the age of 11, I can be the equivalent of scratching a blackboard for any parent. In our household every time I see the bubblegum idol the only question I have for myself is "how long before he's going to be in rehab?" My only hope can be that his star falls before my little girls discover him.

As a parent, with two little girls, my hopes concerning the toppling of the bubblegum idol may be coming true sooner than I had actually expected. A paternity suit has been filed against the lollipop Pharaoh, and although this could likely be a simple publicity stunt or a false allegation I for one am pulling for Justin Bieber. You see a test will be taken to see it little Justin is a daddy or not and I'm hoping he's lucky enough to actually be a daddy. I say this not for the reason you may think. But rather because if it is true, scurrilous as it may be, the positive daddy test result will instantaneously teleport the bubblegum idol into Leif Garrett land… Forever. His sponsors, hanger-ons, managers, agents and recording labels will flee like Bamby from a forest fire.

With any luck it may be five or six years before the money leeches in the music industry can cook up a new bubblegum idol. At any rate my bet is for rehab for Justin somewhere around 2017.


I Have a Dragon On My Head

This past May when the weather turned fine and wonderful I went about my normal spring duty of cleaning the windows in our home. Since we live near the water our house consists of three floors that are almost all Windows. The second floor alone has a total of 19 Windows all of which are large, new and very energy efficient. Those qualifications alone make them a chore to clean. Upon finishing the last day's cleaning I discovered that my left shoulder was pretty sore. I figured that over the summer the soreness would fade-but instead it got worse. By early October I had decided that it was time to visit the doctor.

If it wasn't for the welds on the tank dome gores of the Saturn S-IVB stage and the need to inspect them for microcracks back in 1964, we probably would not have the amazing technology known as the MRI. Thus I found myself sprawled beneath one of these machines as it clacked away while hovering over my sore shoulder. A few days later surgeon took those films, slapped them on a light table, looked at me matter of factly and said, "This is very straightforward- you have torn rotator cuff. You'll need surgery ASAP." Then without batting an eye he added that my left arm would have to be immobilized after the surgery for no less than seven weeks and I would there after have to be in the sling for no less than four months. When he asked what I did for work I told him I was a writer. He said that was my good luck because the fingers on my left hand could still punch the keyboard.

After hearing testimonials from other folks who have had the same procedure I realized that there would be a lot of "discomfort" in that seven weeks and the odds were good that I sure as hell wouldn't want to be pecking at the keyboard with that left-hand. It was then that I saw an advertisement on the TV for some new voice recognition software called "Dragon." Although voice recognition software of 10 or 15 years ago had been a nightmare I had the feeling that it may have come a long way since then. Considering that price software was reasonable and that for me, as a writer, it was also tax-deductible I decided to buy it.

Now here I sit with my swollen fingers, my immobilized left arm, talking into a headset that came with the software that I learned how to use in just one evening and writing this blog. I have a Dragon on my head… Of course, that may just be a hallucination generated by the pain medication that they gave me after the surgery.

The biggest problem I found so far with Dragon is trying to put the damned headset on with just one hand.

While discussing the details of my surgery with the doctor who would perform the task we sat in his office and he carefully and professionally showed me the finer points of the procedures. As we began to talk about my rehabilitation, I mentioned that I had purchased some voice activation software to aid me in my writing while I was on the mend. The doctor stopped talking, his eyes widened, suddenly everything about my surgery had been put aside-"Did you get Dragon?" he asked excitedly. "Yeah." I replied.
Soon we were chatting about the voice activation software that he currently used in his own office and how the company that sold that software was no longer supporting it-he was going to have to select a new package. It turned into one of those scenes where I shortly became aware that my surgeon had done thousands of surgeries just like mine and so what really sparked his interest was the new software. Frankly, I found the situation highly reassuring-I was in the hands of a true expert. It was sort of like jumpseating on airliner and in the middle of the whole flight you happen to mention that your dad was a railroad engineer and thereby you suddenly discover that the guys flying the aircraft are train buffs. Suddenly the whole task of flying goes out the window while you sit there and chat about trains all the way to Baltimore.

Anyhow, for the next five months I'll be writing this blog by talking to my computer. The best part of that is-I really haven't bought anything that allows the computer to talk back… Yet.


Tales from the Blue Book; SHAVINGS


School wasn't something that was hard for a guy like Marvin. Elementary was no problem, Junior High wasn’t much of a challenge and High School just sort of went by. Art was his best subject, but he really didn't have an interest in anything else… and so he went on to College.

College wasn't hard… well at least not first three weeks of it. You see, his college was noted for its distinguished humanities department. When he arrived he knew that somehow he just would not fit in… and so he didn't.

It was Tuesday afternoon in HU-101, basic writing, and the homework was being handed back. He got his paper filled with red marks- so many, in fact, that it was hard to read what he had written there himself. Quickly he flipped the page over facedown on his desk- in the hope that the person sitting behind him hadn't seen it. English had never been his best subject- in fact his writing had frustrated English teachers as far back as he could recall. This was especially true of his spelling. “YOUR SPELLING IS ATROCIOUS” was the normal comment made by teachers who graded his spelling, yet never took any constructive actions to correct the problem. They simply passed him with a “D” for Don’t ever have to have you in my class again. One of his English teachers went so far as to have a stamp custom made that said “Marvin, YOUR SPELLING IS ATROCIOUS” so she would not have to write it out. Marvin was impressed that she’d actually invested in a stamp with his name on it. That is… until the day he graduated. As he walked proudly across the stage in his cap and gown, passing the administrators and faculty, his English teacher reached out and stamped him on the forehead… then she gave him the stamp and told him to keep it, because he was gonna need it.

Marvin had always found it rather amusing that a guy like him could so effectively annoy someone like English teachers with a college degree. And all they could do about it was to keep reading and get more aggravated. Besides, he figured anyone who is dull enough to major in English deserves to be frustrated. Marvin could always picture them sitting up late at night, grading papers with a red pen size of a baseball bat, shaking their heads and making a "clicsh clicsh" sound with their tongues and being frustrated beyond end when they got to his paper.

"We will go over the homework in a moment," Marvin’ English teacher, Mrs. Wilson said as she moved back toward her desk, "but first…" Her voice muffled as she bent down behind her desk.

Standing and spinning at the same time she produced a Homelite chain saw, and started it with a single quick pull.


She lurched toward Marvin rev’ing the saw.

"Holy shit!" he leaped backwards from his seat as if ejected.

ZANGO! With one swipe she took off the seat back and the heel his left sneaker.

The door was out of the question he reasoned as he crawled over his classmates and their desktops, the sounds of the saw at his butt.


Mrs. Wilson rev’ed the saw, its exhaust blowing papers onto the floor as she charged toward Marvin looking to draw and quarter him. He leaped through the open window.

ZANGO! Another swipe.

Out the window he went plummeting from the second floor and hitting the ground like a sack of sand. Marvin rolled a bit and then sprang to his feet as half of the window shade flopped at his left. Looking up he could see that up on the second floor Mrs. Wilson now had her skirt hopelessly caught in the saw.

"What the hell was that all about?" he mumbled brushing the grass from his chest.

For a second Marvin contemplated the half-severed heel of his sneaker, then decided it was best to get out of there. Flopping into the library he sat down attempted to repair his shoe, it was no use.

"Shit." he exclaimed.

A moment later he realized the word was echoing across the stillness of the library. He looked toward the librarian’s desk expecting a stern “shush.” Instead she produced a Homelite chainsaw, and started it with a single pull.


She leapt atop her desk kicking the books aside with her orthopedic shoes! She rev’ed the saw.


"Aw nuts!" Marvin bolted for the door only to be stopped by the chewing blade as the librarian headed him off at 629 of the Dewey decimal system. Marvin dodged as she took a swipe at him.

ZANGO! A bust of Ben Franklin decapitated.

ZANGO! Half a globe.

ZANGO! A Thesaurus because just a Thesau.

Marvin ducked, spun, kicked her in the rear. Stumbling forward the librarian slammed into a large book rack. The texts rained down on her as the book rack collapsed. The entire section of books turned into a giant pile as a grinding chewing noise came from under the books and ground slowly to an end.

Marvin made for the door.

"I must be losing my mind," he reasoned. Trotting across campus in a near panic his mind raced. There must be some safe place somewhere on the campus- and he had to find it. Two buildings later he found himself in the counselor's office. If he were actually losing his mind, this was the place to go.

There was no waiting, so he got to go right in. Marvin sat down next to the counselor's desk. A sweet mousy little lady, the guidance counselor came in with a delicate cup of tea and sat at her desk.

"Hello," she said sweetly, "what's going on today?"

"Sometimes I wash my socks and my underwear with a red shirt," he told her preparing to regurgitate all of his problems in this single visit "and they all come out frigging pink. I go through girlfriends like most people go through bulk packages of toilet paper. The last one told me that she was leaving me for everyone else. My roommate ate the last of my peanut butter and people are trying to kill me all over campus… am I going nuts, or what?"

She raised her eyebrows a bit and then softly said "Oh, I don't think so. You may need a little shock treatment, but other than that…" She shrugged.

Standing up Marvin decided to go out and give life one more try. Who knows maybe a few chainsaw attacks in one day was just a coincidence. Closing the counselor's door behind him he gave another thought to the flopping heel his sneaker.


The blade of a Homelite chainsaw burst through the counselor's door from the inside! Sticking in the door it stalled inches from the back of his neck.

"Oh… Heck." The counselor’s voice squeaked softly from behind the door.

That was it, the last straw. If Marvin was gonna stay alive he had to not only get off campus, he had to get out of town. Making the familiar hike down to the bus depot, he bought a one-way ticket home, hopped aboard and kept a close eye out for chain saws. 36 hours later he dragged into his parents front door and collapsed in one of their living room chairs.

"Mom, dad… It's been a nightmare." he whimpered to his parents with his face buried in his hands.

"Don't worry son," his folks said in unison, "you're home now, just relax, it's going to be okay…"


If you like Wes' writing check out his books HERE


Sort of like camping

Where I live- surviving a hurricane, or a tropical storm, or even one of our classic Nor'easter is sort of like camping... only without the premise of "fun."

After the storm, you wake up at first light without the aid of an alarm, having "slept" in your cloths. There are no TVs, no computers and no lights- because the power failed hours earlier. Outdoors there is an unusual silence that is broken only by the low "putt-putt-putt" of some of the neighbor's generators. There is no traffic as fallen trees and downed wires prevent cars and trucks from going anywhere.

Our community is on the tip of a point of land that juts into Chesapeake Bay with one road in and out. Thus all around us, the water that had previously been whipped into crashing waves is now calm and glass-like. The roar of the enraged water is gone and seemingly all at once the neighbors step from their homes to do "the walk." The streets are peppered with leaf greenery ripped from the trees and the normal background sound of insects, birds and other critters are silenced because they are all still sheltered from the storm. Even the screeching seagulls have flown far inland and sheltered in a dumpster or landfill somewhere. It is one of the few times that all of the neighbors come out, all at the same time, with nothing better to do other than to walk around and talk to one another. After all, there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. Everyone tours the damage asking the same basic questions; "How'd ya' do?" "Did ya' come through okay?"

Eventually life settles into getting along without the power company being involved. Cooking done on outdoor grills, food preserved by the ton of ice you bought or froze yourself while getting ready for the storm. Toilets flushed with buckets of water either stored in your bathtub, or scooped from the bay, or bailed from the kid's swimming pool. Everyone helps everyone just because someone may need help. Soon kids actually play outside. Folks relax on their decks or in their yards simply doing nothing because nothing can be done. Families join one another cooking, eating and sharing food in the refrigerator because it won't last long anyhow. Often the three day cooler works better that any other appliance. As darkness falls, assorted forms of off-the-grid illumination are used and soon everyone goes to sleep early, because there is no reason to stay up late.

It's just like camping- only instead of picking up your home and taking it back to civilization when you are done, you simply stay in your house and wait for civilization to come back to you.


My favorite holiday

Anyone in my family will tell you that my 2nd favorite holiday is Thanksgiving- I love the food, in fact I could eat a turkey dinner every week. My 1st favorite holiday, however, is the Memorial Day weekend. Sure, we take that time to honor our veterans and service members and those who gave their lives for our liberty. I give plenty of thought to that every year. However, to me, this weekend means some other things as well. From deep in my childhood, every Memorial Day, my dad would BBQ chicken on the grill while the Indy 500 blasted out over the radio (yes- in those days you could not get the race live on TV, but there were 3 local AM radio stations that carried it). Then- when the chicken was eaten and the race was won, there were the old war movies on TV. As the weekend expired, summer began. Those reasons alone make up my favorite holiday.

Over the years, in my own household, I have tried to keep the tradition going. Of course now the Indy 500 is a 4 and one half hour live TV event- not to mention the only time all year that I actually tune in ABC (or any of the three once-great networks). I have two kids of my own- who could care less about the race, but at least one of them does like the chicken. And considering daddy duty I only get to watch bits and pieces of the old war movies, my favorite of which is "Midway."

Of course I watch "Midway" whenever I can- not because it is a classic, but because it has so many cool aircraft in it. Who cares if some of the clips are out of context, or that you have a guy taking off in a Wildcat and coming back to crash in a Hellcat. Who cares that a lot of the Jap Zeros are actually T6s with a rising sun painted on the side- they're radial engine aircraft for crying out loud! I'll sit and watch "Midway" over and over again as if was a first-run feature, just for the airplanes. And if my wife asks me why I'm watching it "again?" I'll reply that it's (in the words of double ace Carl Brown, whose Aviation History class I attended in my freshman year at Embry-Riddle) "I love to watch the planes fly and the Japs die." Which does not go over well with my wife... because she's Japanese.

One afternoon while sittin' and watching "Midway"... again... my wife and my sister-in-law (who is equally Japanese) were getting ready for us to all take a trip to the mall. My wife shouted "Let's go!" My sister-in-law leaned over the couch and said, "Turn the TV off- let's get going." Without looking over at her I replied that I could not turn off "Midway" because, "I wanna see who wins." She said, "We won." I gave a hurumph and said "If that was true, then at this very moment I'd be surrounded by..." I looked at over toward two unimpressed oriental ladies standing in our living room which was decorated with Japanese nick-knacks and screamed "JAPS!!!!" They took my remote away and dragged me to the mall. I guess she was right- they won.

While at Embry-Riddle as a student, the showing of "Midway" was a huge attraction. This was mostly because the majority of us students spent most of our time sitting in our rooms building models of WWII aircraft. Sure- we were airplane nuts, but the most important aspect to our free time activity was that at the time there were 5,000 students on campus and less than 2 dozen were females; there wasn't much else to do. When they showed "Midway" in the University Center in 1978 it was standing room only. Although the movie had come out in 1976 it was a box office flop- there was still a lot of anti-war mind-set running around the nation. So, just a year or so later the film could be had for on-campus showing. What self respecting university would have the nerve to show a "War Movie" on campus? Embry-Riddle would- hell, what other university would have a double ace teaching Aviation History! Poor Carl Brown often had to field questions about TV's latest twist on WWII... "Baa Baa Blacksheep." I recall one student asking him how real it was- Brown replied "Have ya' ever seen Hogan's Heros? It's about that real." Of course, later, when "Midway" finally came to network TV, we combined it with model building and had the best of both worlds. Today, although Embry-Riddle has far more girls on campus, my bet is that the dorm room have the same scores of WWII airplane models.

So it was that this Memorial Day weekend my wife took the kids to have a "girl's adventure" at a friend's house and they left daddy alone at home... to cook chicken, watch the Indy 500 and all sorts of old war movies in peace. Although I did spend some time gazing out the window toward the stars and stripes waving out on my flag pole and respectfully considering all of those who served under those colors, I also caught the "Midway" marathon on TV. The United States won- every time.

Now... summer has started.


Solid Clouds

It was way back in my bachelor days, years before I met my wife. I boarded a People Express flight from DTW to MCO and snagged a good window seat on my way back to my pathetic "trying to earn enough money to get back into college at minimum wage" life in Daytona Beach. As I took my place at the window a good looking blond girl who was about my age came and took the aisle seat in my row. "My luck may be changing." I wrongly thought to myself.

Of course, like any good aviating bachelor, I immediately tried to impress the young lady next to me with the fact that I was a pilot and I knew all about how to fly. It didn't take long, however, before I correctly concluded that this person seated next to me had exactly zero interest in me or the fact that I knew how to drive airplanes. Likewise, it took about 90 additional seconds of listening to her talk before I also concluded that the lights were on, but no one was home in the aisle seat. In fact the dingbat wouldn't shut up as she rambled on across three states about going to the Boy George concert in Orlando. Before we hit the Florida state line I was attempting to crawl into the book I'd brought for the flight.

As we approached Orlando we let down through a few broken layers of cubie-clouds and the aircraft was doing the standard turns needed for traffic and to set up the approach. About then the dingbat in the aisle seat leaned over and asked, "Yer' a pilot... why do these airplanes always do these little turns like that?"

How could I resist?

Turning to her as serious as an instructor pilot I said, "They're avoiding the solid clouds." She frowned a bit. I went on, "You've heard the term solid clouds... right?" The dingbat nodded- the rattle sound coming from her head sounded like the silverware drawer in my house- "Well," I continued to explain, "clouds are made up of ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere by vertical air currents, and if those crystals get packed close enough together they can form a solid mass. We pilots are trained to spot those masses and maneuver around them." At that moment as if on cue, the aircraft took another turn, "Ya see! There goes one now!" I pointed out my window. The dingbat leaned over me straining to see out the window. "Did ya' see it?" I asked. She said she'd missed it, but asked me to point out any others. I told her that since we were getting lower and into warmer air there probably wouldn't be any more. The dingbat was disappointed.

If you like Wes' writing, have a look at his aviation spy thriller which is also his first novel, INVISIBLE EVIL it's a national best seller!

After we landed at MCO, the dingbat simply got up and said "C-ya'..." as I recovered my book bag and delayed as much as I could before leaving my seat. As I stood up and started to walk up the aisle, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a neatly dressed fellow in a golf-shirt smiling broadly. "I loved the solid clouds bit." he laughed. "Oh... you heard that eh?" I replied. He smiled even more widely and said "Every word... you really had her goin' there, she was buying ever word of it. I'm gonna remember that one." He asked if I was from ERAU and I said that I was. "I'm on my way to get a G-III type," he told me, "This one's gonna make a great story for the break room at FlightSafety." The two of us walked and talked for a bit through the terminal and as we went our individual ways- him to his G-III type and me back to scratching my way back into college- he said "Stay clear of those solid clouds!" I replied, "Hey, we're trained for that."

This fun tale was brought to you by Wes' 18th Great Lakes history book World War II and the Great Lakes ! Plenty of aviation stuff in here too. Hey... Wes can't help it.

One Sharp Old Bird

Along the way to a career in aviation you come upon scores of assholes. After a while they are about the same as stepping in dog poop- annoying, inconvenient, foul, yet blending in with all of the other times you've happened upon them. You rarely remember them. The other side of the coin is that unique individual that you meet who encompasses all that an aviator should be about. A person who inspires you simply by their casual demeanor- although they have done great things in aviation. They make you want to be like them- if only in some small way. For me, the most memorable of those select few aviators was one old bird by the name of Russ Purchase.

Being from the Tri-cities area of mid-Michigan I first heard of Russ when I was in the Civil Air Patrol in the early 1970s. People spoke of him in legendary terms. It seemed that he'd flown everything, done it all and was doing more. In the summer of 1978, after my freshman year at Embry-Riddle, I met Russ for the first time when I got a summer job at his FBO called Airflite and Serve-a-Plane. Airflite was not only an FBO, but was also a Falcon Jet service center and I was hired by Russ' hangar ram-rod, Tim Alexander, to work as a stockboy in the parts department- it was my first job in aviation. I was introduced to Russ by Tim who stated, as only Tim can, "This is Russ, he owns the place." then he added to Russ, "This is Wes the new parts guy, he thinks he's gonna be a pee-let" (Tim's favored slang for "pilot"). Russ, a thin, balding guy with a sweet little old man air about him, smiled and welcomed me to Hangar 6. That summer I really did not interact much with Russ before heading back to college and driving myself so far into debt to the University that they would not let me back in.

Thus in September of 1979, after getting the news that ERAU would not let me back in until I actually paid them instead of just signing promissory notes, I needed a job- any job- and fast. The first thing I did was call Airflight and talk to Tim. He told me they needed a "hangar rat" and I could start the next day. I had no idea what a hangar rat did, but it was a job and it was aviation related, so I jumped at it. The fact was that the hangar rat does just about everything and anything, but mostly you're a janitor. If it's full- empty it. If it's empty- fill it. Everything else- ya' paint yellow.

On my first day as the hangar rat I ran into Russ, who was a bit surprised to see me- he said he thought I'd be back at school. I explained that I'd run out of money and he fully understood. Knowing that Russ was the local FAA Designated Examiner, I also brought up the fact that I was aiming to take my private pilot checkride sometime in the near future. I'd passed my private pilot prog. check at ERAU, but did not qualify for their new Part 141 Self-examining authority, so I'd need an FAA ride. He told me that I could use one of his Cessna 172s just for the cost of fuel when the time came. Then he added, "When yer' ready, I'll fly with ya'..." and he smiled. Although the check pilots at ERAU scared the crap out of me, Russ had a very different air about him. He did not treat me like a student, or a wet nose, or a wannabe- all of which I actually was. Frankly, I could not wait for the chance to get Russ' signature in my logbook.

At work everyone seemed to have an aviation story to tell- except me, of course. I was way too new to aviation to have many good stories of my own... at least, none that could compare to the other guys. The corporate pilots sat around and told stories of Falcon Jets. The mechanics told stories about about the guts and innards of aircraft. The avionics guys told stories about circuitry and stray electrons. And the lineboys told stories about everyone who was telling stories. When Russ Purchase told a story, however, it was about something like flying the Ford Trimotor. When he got into one of those tales, I just sat there and listened... wide-eyed with my mouth hanging open and a little drool running down my chin.

I recall one Ford Trimotor story the best. Russ was a captain on the Trimotor flying out of assorted mid-Michigan cities to Chicago. They flew in all sorts of weather with few aids to navigation and fewer weather reports. In those days Russ and his fellow Trimotor pilots had a "rule" about engine outs on takeoff. The rule was that no matter what, with an engine out at takeoff, NEVER try and turn until you have plenty of altitude- "Just keep her flyin' straight as an arrow and get yer' altitude as ya' can, a foot at a time." The notion was that a turn in the low and slow part of the takeoff climb would cause the Trimotor to stall and spin into the ground. Now, I have no idea if that is an actual aerodynamic characteristic about the Trimotor or just a myth of the era, because I've never flown a Trimotor. I have no information as to what the Vmc is for the Trimotor, so I just took Russ' word for it. Anyhow, he was departing Saginaw's Harry Brown Airport back in the Trimotor days with a "boatload" of passengers and cargo. In those days the "field" part of the term "Airfield best described the airport, which was also surrounded by farmland. The Trimotor had hardly broken ground when the right engine "just quit." Russ was doing his best to keep her flying and kept telling himself not to turn, just keep goin' straight and get altitude a foot at a time. He was getting his way with the aircraft as he had a very slight climb. Then he looked out the window, and "Here comes a barn!" Get a little altitude, get closer to the barn, get a little more altitude, get a lot closer to the barn, get a little more altitude, barn's fillin' the windscreen. Hold yer' breath and nudge her up a bit... cleared the barn by a few inches. Whew! Russ breathed a sigh of relief, then looked over at his first officer... who had fainted dead away. With thoughts of modern airports, emergency landings, airways, fire and rescue equipment and the NTSB, I asked Russ, "So, what'd you do then?" He replied casually, "We flew to Chicago... that's where we were goin'."

Russ was not just a guy stuck in the old days and old equipment. Once he was away from the hangar for a whole week and I was told that he went to Atlanta... to golf. That figured- because the autumn weather in mid-Michigan had been beyond crummy for nearly two months. The next week Russ was back and I stopped into his office- probably to empty a waste basket or some such thing. I asked how his golf trip to Atlanta had been. He told me that it had rained all darned week. Then, with typical Russ matter-of-fact he added " I just went and got a Falcon 50 type. Been meanin' to do that." I was totally blown away- here I was sweating every prog. check that I'd done at ERAU in the 172, and this little old guy just goes out and gets a Falcon 50 type rating as an afterthought! As I went about my hangar rat chores that day it struck me that I would never, ever, EVER, rise to that level of aviation ability. Someone whose scope of demonstrated ability can so easily go from the Ford Trimotor to a Falcon 50 type in an afterthought.

While the autumn of 1979 went on the weather remained just plain rotten- every single day. Either the winds were gale force, or the rain was coming down out of a 200 foot ceiling, or the snow was blowing instead of the freezing rain. The days ticked off, and so did the days remaining in my private pilot endorsement. It was already November and I had not even touched an aircraft since late summer. It was not looking good for my private pilot checkride. I sheepishly went to Russ' office in an attempt to outline my problem. I'd no sooner told him the date of my endorsement when he stopped me. "Son,..." he said softly, "when you get to be my age, you don't worry about dates. Just keep yer' stuff here, and when the weather breaks- we'll go." and that was that.

One of my chores as a hangar rat, for which I often earned over-time pay, was washing aircraft. That involved pulling a bird into the hangar, closing the hangar door, using masking tape to close every opening on the aircraft, washing, rinsing it and then removing the tape. If the owner asked I'd also be happy to polish the spinners with Met-All... because that took about 2 extra hours... of time-and-a-half pay. One day I'd washed a Cheyenne for a local construction company, and I'd accidentally left the tape on one pitot tube. The following day the pilot (whose name is changed here to protect the innocent, and the stupid) climbed aboard and went ripping down the runway, only to abort his takeoff run as soon as (he stated that) he saw he had no airspeed indication. He taxied clear and came back toward the hangar. On the radio he was furious and it echoed through the lobby of Hangar 6 "That kid left tape on my damned pitot tube!" Oh yeah, I was doomed, a real pilot was about to drill me a new one- I felt about two inches tall as the aircraft screamed up to the hangar. Russ came down and said nothing- rather he just went close to the lobby door and waited. Bill the Cheyenne driver came bursting in through the door and proceeded to scream at me wagging his finger and holding up the tape. He went up one side of me and down the other... then Russ spoke with a quiet authority that it was like hitting Bill with a CO2 fire extinguisher. "That's what preflights are for Bill." The enraged pilot stopped, turned, and stormed back to his airplane. The entire lobby by then had been filled with mechanics attracted by the commotion and as the door slammed behind Bill, they all burst into laughter. Tim looked toward me and said "If he says anything else to ya' just ask him if he knows where his keys are." Russ began to giggle a bit as he headed back up to his office. Tim then explained that the previous spring Bill, the Cheyenne God, had locked the aircraft's cargo door and left the keys hanging in the lock, then flew it all the way from Milwaukee like that. By the time he got back to MBS the flopping keys had worn a hole in the skin of the aircraft. Apparently Bill was not real good about preflights.

On another occasion, we were "dumping" the hangar, or taking all of the aircraft out to get to one at the back and then putting them all back again as fast as possible so as to not let the weather take too much of an advantage of the open hangar door. We were in the process of putting the last aircraft, a Lear 35/36, back into the crowded hangar and my station in the operation was to be at the button that commanded the door to roll up and down. The lineboys were experts with a tug and could fit aircraft in with less than an inch of space between one extremity and another- they did it all the time. Their motto was "As long as you don't get into those negative inches, yer' fine." My station was also right next to the lobby door and Russ was standing there with the pilots of the Lear that was being parked. As the lineboy tugged the jet ever so slowly through the hangar door, the tip tank got close to the door frame... real close... as in about 1/4 inch. I could hear the pilot start to hiss as he expected a crunch that never came. The jet cleared, the tug was cut loose and I had the door closing before the motion stopped. The pilot barked "THAT JUST BARELY GOT IN THERE!" Russ turned to him and said, "Say that again... only without the exclamation point."

The morning of November 22nd, 1979 started out gloomy, but by mid-morning Indian Summer broke across mid-Michigan- it was perfect for my checkride! All I recall of that morning is bounding up the stairs to Russ' office. As I trotted in, Russ was at his big desk with a huge smile on his face as soon as he saw me. "Go ask Tim." he said. I went back down to Tim's office and he was waiting for me too. "Get otta here and go fly." he said faking a sneer. As I bolted he shouted "Punch out first!" I hit the time clock, grabbed my flightbag and headed back to Russ' desk for my oral. On the way up the stairs it suddenly dawned on me- I hadn't studied for the oral! At Embry-Riddle the orals were a really tough and required days of study for me, now I had to walk in and do it cold and in front of an aviation legend to boot. I sat down and Russ asked me a basic question about weight and balance, then he started teaching me all about Falcon 50 takeoff performance, V1 cuts, V2 climbs and balanced field. Then he told me to go pull the 172 out and preflight her... my "oral" was done. As I was pulling on the tow-bar, again a bit of cold reality hit me- I had not flown an aircraft since the end of summer.

Russ strolled out, climbed aboard the aircraft and simply said, "Let's go." He asked for a soft-field takeoff and I made it happen- it felt good to fly again. We headed out from MBS and over to the east. As we flew along Russ was looking out the window toward the wingtip. Then he simply said, "I think the little ball is out from the center a bit." I looked at the turn-n-bank and sure enough, the ball was about 1/8 out. "Damn," I thought to myself, "this old bird is sharp, I'd better sharpen up myself- RIGHT NOW!" Russ had me do some stalls, some slow flight, asked me how would I get from where we were to some of the other local airports and finally asked if I lost the engine right now where would I go. One of the few things that I knew for sure at that time was that when an instructor pulls an engine on you, the first place you look to go is straight down. The oldest trick in the book is to get you to look out rather than down- the best field, it is said, may be right under you. I looked down and sure enough, there was the perfect field for a forced landing, right under me. "I'd go there!" I answered pointing straight down. "Okay," Russ said. Then he leaned over and said, "Let's head back." I figured it was time for some more takeoffs and landings. But Russ leaned over and asked "Mind if I take it?" Now... at Embry-Riddle, when the check airman (AKA "prog. pilot") asks to fly the airplane back to the airport, it means you have failed in a very, VERY big way. I must have looked at Russ with horror on my face as I choked and stuttered out something like "Sure...okay..." He must have known instantly what was going through my mind as he grinned and said "You passed, yer' okay... I just don't get to fly the 172 very much." I worked the radios on the way back and took a few moments to savor the fact that I was flying with Russ Purchase.

After parking the 172 down at Hangar 4, Russ stepped out and said to meet him up at his office for my temporary certificate. The lineboy told me to just leave the aircraft on the ramp because they were gonna dump the hangar anyhow. So, I just gathered my stuff and walked up the ramp. Along the way I wondered what the guys in the hangar would say when I got there. They all knew I'd been waiting for weeks for this, especially Tim who teased me constantly about wanting to be a "damned pee-let." My bet was that one of the first things he'd say was "You owe me a beer" because he often said that. With that in mind, I went into the hangar and headed straight to my hangar rat's room. The previous week we'd finished a "C" check on a Falcon 10 and the guys from the jet had given every guy in the hangar who worked on the jet a six-pack of beer... including me. Being a non-drinker and not wanting to make the customer feel uncomfortable, I politely accepted my six-pack and just stashed it in the hangar rat's room for who-knows-what. Now, I figured a joke on Tim was a good use for that beer. I grabbed the six and stuck in my flightbag then went into the lobby. As I walked by Tim's office, he called me in. "Congratulations, ya' damned pee-let," he said reaching out to shake my hand, "Ya' owe me a beer." I reached into my flightbag, pulled out the six-pack and said "Here ya' go." as I set it on his desk. He chuckled and said "Just tell me you didn't get that otta Dow Corning's Falcon." I told him where it came from and he was more than happy to take the gift. Upstairs Russ made out my paperwork and I was officially a private pilot. When I went past Tim's office again he asked if I wanted to take the rest of the day off and celebrate. I told him no, I just wanted to punch in and get back on the clock- I still needed to earn enough to get back into Embry-Riddle.

A month later, I was ready to head back to school. Russ had my last paycheck printed and ready so I would not have to wait for money before heading down to college. As he handed me the pay-stub he quietly said, "You'll notice I didn't charge you for your checkride, you're gonna need every dime down at school."

Russ later sold his FBO and all of the trimmings to the Aero Services network of FBOs. He stayed on for a year or so as a manager, and then retired. I happened to be there visiting on his last day. He drove up in a huge motorhome, said his farewells and drove off into retirement- in style. In my aviation career I do not think that I achieved 1/100th of Russ' mastery of, not only the flying, but also the business of aviation. I'm sure that most of us who knew him would be forced to admit the same. He was one sharp old bird. Russ is no longer with us, but I've got his signature in one of my logbooks, and of that I take pride. I got my private certificate from a legend in aviation- yep.