Sunday, April 23, 2017

So Ya Wanna Fly?

So Y'Wanna Fly?

May 1956.

3.00 AM Graveyard Shift, "Move Crew" Room, United Airlines San Francisco Maintenance Base.

"Hey Aussie, 'ave ya seen Don?"

"Naw," I say. "He's probably sleeping in the seat storage room. He was flying this afternoon."

"When's he gonna get his Commercial license?"

"Dunno, but didja y'know he's taking classes at San Mateo JayCee for his A & P."

Any conversation to stay awake. We keep one eye out for the foreman, a good bloke but a company man. John Blackwell, fresh out of the Trappist Monastery in Ogden, is out on the ramp in the morning chill saying his Rosary; Jerry Mukai's leaning back in his chair staring into blue collar airspace; Brown is reading yesterday's Chronicle he found on a DC6 coming in for overhaul. It's the ugly hour when you know the shift's half over, and you don't want to be farmed out for some grunt job with another mechanic who's behind on his job and all that's left is the shit work.

"Todd, what's Sather have to pay for his flying time?" I ask.

"I think Cessna 140 time's about $14 an hour solo," Todd replies.

"No way," says Brown, always ripe for an argument, his eyes just clearing the top of the broadsheet newspaper paper. "A guy I know only pays $12." Brown always knows a guy.

"Critch," says Todd, "when I was a mechanic in the Air Force they had a program called Aviation Cadets - they will teach you to fly. It takes about 18 months and when you're done, ya got yer wings and they make you an officer."

"No shit! Where do you sign up"

"Nah," interrupts Brown, "you'd never qualify, Todd. You've gotta have two years of college and they only take the smartest guys." Once again, Brown knows all about it.

"Bullshit, I was with a mechanic who didn't have any college and he got in! Dunno what happened to him but I know only 50% of the guys make it through. It's tough - the academics, the military chickenshit. It's a real 'Tiger' program. They keep saying they only take the top 2% and wash out half of them."

I think, "Well that let's me out. I'm no 'Tiger' and my academic career was not brilliant having left school at age 16."

"Hey, Aussie, wanna go down and find out about it?" asks Todd.

"Sure, why not. I don't have anything planned after the shift's over."

Don't have anything planned? What's to plan. I've been in the USA since Christmas last year and the horizon is void. Can I get my A & P? Perhaps. Go to college? How and where and with what? I have no money saved but perhaps if I joined the service I could get something out of it without shelling out any dough. My background as a mechanic is mostly fabricated although I'm a quick study and smart enough to stay out of trouble.

Shift over, coveralls sweaty and dead tired, we head out in Todd's car for Mission and Market Streets, and up the stairs to the Air Force Recruiting Office.

Todd takes over.

"Good morning sergeant, we'd like to sign up for Aviation Cadets."

The six striper takes a look at us and figures if he can talk us into signing up as enlisted swine, he just might make his weekly quota. "Aviation cadets, no way," he thinks.

"Well, you have to fill out the application, have a physical and take the written test. It'll take all morning, do you have the time?"

I look at Todd, his eyes like two pissholes in the snow. "Why not?"

Now, thanks to the sisters of St. Joseph I've always been good at tests. All you have to do is figure out what the test writer or the prospective employer wants and give it to him. .

The Application

Education: Hmm. Attended St Ignatius' College Riverview. Sounds good and it's true. High School: Gunnedah High with passes in, let's see: Physics, Chemistry, Math I and II, English.

Work Experience: Mechanic, Clegg and Tyrrell (well that's stretching it a bit, but they'll never check that out) QANTAS Sydney, Aero Engineer and Mechanic (got a certificate proving that) United Airlines, got a job there.

Citizenship: Got my passport - Thanks Mum, thanks Mary.

"Here y'are sergeant."

He looks and is pleasantly surprised.

The Test.

Thank God it's general knowledge, aptitude and some basic math and science.
What's this airplane? What's that capital? Sines and cosines. Pythagoras. Elementary algebra. Some nonsense about train schedules and interpretation of graphs. Fun stuff. Piece o'cake; Coulda done it in 7th grade.

An hour later, I emerge from the test room. Ex Airman 2nd Class Todd is still in there.

The sergeant takes the test and runs it through a scoring machine. He is more than pleasantly surprised, he's impressed but tries not to show it.

"Take this paper over to that office across the room and give it to the nurse. We'll give you your physical this morning."

Geez, a physical, at this hour. Don't know if I can even make water. Oh well, what the heck, it's something to do. Nice nurse, bit old for me 'tho. Fill out the medical form. Childhood sickness? I'm not totally truthful, but then I'm not sure what I've had. Good thing I don't know what caused my brother's or parents' or  deaths. Venereal Disease? No, never. Christ, can't tell the truth here but I'm almost a virgin. Physical restrictions? Nope.

Strip off down to my shorts, see the doctor, turn, cough, get a 'finger wave up the rear. Touch the toes, look left, look right, can you see my fingers? How many? Say aaah!

Back to the Recruiting Sergeant. Still no sign of Todd.

"Am I in?" I tactfully ask.

"Well, no. This is just the beginning. You'll have to have another more extensive physical, and a two day exam north of here at Travis Air Force Base near Sacramento. You'll get a letter setting it up."

I head out and find Todd in the waiting area sitting in the cheap leatherette seats.

"How'd you make out?" I ask.

"Didn't pass the test. Aww. I really didn't want back in the Air Force"

"Wanna beer?"

Todd's 3 AM "Hey, Aussie, wanna go down and find out about it?" changed my life's direction more than any other planned decision.

That's life.