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 had to be crated, loaded into a truck and driven to the distant overhaul station. 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?
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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 and 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.
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