I think it was the summer of 1983 when a nasty line of thunderstorms moved across DuPage Airport west of Chicago, upending a number of airplanes and damaging even more. I was not having a good time as a novice FAA operations safety inspector in the DuPage FSDO. Taking any initiative — doing something — usually landed me on somebody’s carpet, and doing nothing but reading manuals and shuffling paperwork put me to sleep in total boredom. A bright spot was that I sat next to Theo Moore in the bullpen; Theo was the accident prevention specialist (APS), and I was picking up tips about how — and how not — to run a successful safety program.
Back home in Cincinnati a friend, Ted Schneider, owned an aircraft salvage and repair business, and I thought he’d like the chance to bid on some crunched flying machines. Yeah, it was probably illegal and immoral if not fattening, but I slipped across the hall on the second floor of DuPage Beechcraft to the airport manager’s office.
“Gee, it’s a shame about all the damage. Theo might want to do a safety seminar on high winds and safe tie-down procedures, especially for the owners of those airplanes. But how in the world would he get a list of names and N-numbers?”
(Well, c’mon, a safety program would have been a good idea — a little after the fact, but ... )
“That sounds wonderful,” said the airport manager’s secretary. “If you can stop back over this afternoon I’ll have a list for you.”
So later that day, when everybody else had escaped “into the field,” were drinking coffee in the break room or were closeted in another of the endless meetings, I went back and the lady handed me a neatly typed list. I slipped down the stairs to a pay phone in the lobby and called Ted.
“Hey, get ready to copy, Ted. Here’s a list of bent flying machines from that storm that went through West Chicago yesterday.”
Ted’s gone now, and I never knew if he got any business or if he was even interested. And I’m not really sure why I did it except that it made me feel good to help somebody in the flying business. I was genuinely worried about losing my soul in this place; pilots and mechanics were seen as incompetent, lazy, stupid or willfully lawless, looking for any shortcut to make money with no regard for safety.
To salve my conscience I did pitch the safety seminar idea to Theo, but he wasn’t much interested. Theo’s shtick was an obsession with left-turning tendencies — primarily P-factor — in airplanes with normal, clockwise rotating propellers. In fact, he conducted so many safety seminars on this topic that when he finally retired the local pilots gave him a propeller with one blade painted “Ass-Ending Blade.”
I did feel better after this foray into what would become a long career of involving myself in campaigns and causes and finding myself in places I wasn’t supposed to be. The stakes got higher when I went back to Cincinnati as a safety program manager (Theo’s old APS job with a fancier title). There were far more opportunities to work with pilots and operators with the added challenge of staying “undercover.” See, my boss, the office manager, considered me incorrigible, a “loose cannon” who might derail his career, and was openly out for my ass. The truth, I suppose, is that I was a problem employee, always seduced by that “if you aren’t living on the edge you’re taking up too much room” thing.
Clyde Mullins operated the airport at New Lebanon, Ohio, and was worried about a cell phone tower slated for construction right next to the airport, on base to final for the southwest runway. Would I come to New Lebanon for the township trustees’ meeting just to lend moral support to the airport group? Of course, I would come and could semihonestly call it a safety meeting. If my boss knew I was sticking my nose in local politics, he’d tell me to stay out of it.
“But, Clyde,” I said, “the FAA has already signed off on this thing; since ‘Airports’ has no objection to the tower, there’s not a whole lot I can do.”
“Yeah, I know, but it just might help if you’re there.”