A first career in aviation recounted
AN INAUSPICIOUS START TO AN AVIATION CAREER
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.