A first ca­reer in avi­a­tion re­counted

AN INAUSPICIOUS START TO AN AVI­A­TION CA­REER

Flying - - Contents - By Stephen Pope

I used to be a lineboy at an FBO at Teter­boro Air­port in New Jer­sey called First Avi­a­tion. That was back when the op­er­a­tion was based at the north­east cor­ner of the air­port and, par­en­thet­i­cally, leased of­fice space to a then-new com­pany called Net­jets.

Let me start by ad­mit­ting I was a lousy lineboy. Why would any­one let me, at 18, tow mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar jets around a crowded air­port ramp? Sure, some­body also let me solo a Piper Cub at 16, but c’mon, that’s dif­fer­ent.

The first time I towed a Lear­jet I for­got to re­move the nose­wheel chock. For the life of me I couldn’t un­der­stand why the air­plane wouldn’t budge, so I gunned the tug’s en­gine and watched with sur­prise as the Lear’s nose rose up and clear over the chock, briefly bounc­ing on its strut in me­chan­i­cal protes­ta­tion. Co-work­ers who ob­served from the op­er­a­tions of­fice nearly keeled over from laugh­ter.

I ac­tu­ally was pretty good at tow­ing air­planes once I learned the ins and outs. Fuel­ing was an­other story. Once af­ter top­ping off a Baron, I for­got to put the fuel caps back on. I came in for my shift the next day — af­ter a rain del­uge that night — to find my boss on his hands and knees drain­ing wa­ter from the sumps.

An­other time I was top­ping a King Air as the pilots stood nearby. I du­ti­fully mon­i­tored the fuel level ris­ing to­ward full but some­how got my thumb wedged in the noz­zle’s trig­ger. Perched pre­car­i­ously atop a steplad­der, I watched as jet-a bur­bled out of the filler neck and spilled onto the wing. In a panic, I flung the hose in a wild arc, spray­ing my­self full in the face with jet fuel in the process. The noz­zle landed on the tar­mac with a thud. The pilots kept talk­ing through the whole episode — obliv­i­ous, or per­haps coldly in­dif­fer­ent — as I felt my way for the emer­gency eye­wash sta­tion.

An­other of my du­ties in­volved shut­tling pilots to and from lo­cal ho­tels. I learned that a par­tic­u­lar nose-heavy Dodge was suit­able for drift­ing on wet road­ways, and I’d some­times play around when ab­sent of pas­sen­gers. One time af­ter a rain shower, I pulled away from a traf­fic light and gave it just enough gas while mak­ing a left onto Route 17 to get the van nicely side­ways through the in­ter­sec­tion. That’s when I heard “Whoa, buddy!” from the Gulf­stream crew I’d for­got­ten about in the back. Whoops, sorry.

I fi­nally had enough one cold and blus­tery De­cem­ber night when I ran out the door with a chicken leg from din­ner still clutched in my greasy hand. It was a quick-turn re­fuel of a Chal­lenger that ar­rived in the swirling snow. When I trudged back into the warmth of the op­er­a­tions of­fice, I was handed a clipboard list­ing all the tail num­bers of the pis­ton sin­gles and twins that needed 100LL that night. Back into the bit­ing cold I went, clam­ber­ing up into a fuel truck’s dark and frigid cab.

There and then I de­cided I’d be hand­ing in my no­tice. Re­ally, it wasn’t that I hated the job. Col­lege beck­oned. It was fi­nally time to give that avi­a­tion jour­nal­ism thing a shot.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.