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Why Mechanic?

     When I joined the AF there was no mystery about why I wanted to be an airplane mechanic.  My Uncle Jim Way had been a mechanic on a B17.  I had worked on my own car and was inclined toward mechanics in general.  The air force recruiting officer assured me I could get mechanic's training by joining for three years.
     The mechanic's training at Chanute Field was what I wanted when I joined the air force.  I tried hard to learn what I needed, and made good grades.  This was the first time I felt like a successful student.  In one class session we were given instruction on soldering metals together.  The practical test was to bond two flat pieces of copper.  My project was done very well and the instructor called the class around my bench to see the excellent workmanship.  After having performed very poorly in high school, this small level of success in aircraft mechanics was a real boost to my self-esteem.
       Following the general aircraft mechanic's training I received engine mechanic's training.  I specialized on the WP 4360 radial engine. That was the largest radial engine made before the jet engine took over.
     Not all my experiences at Chanute were worthy of praise.  After completing the mechanic's training there was a short period of idle time waiting for assignment to another base.  During that period graduated students were assigned to stand by in the flight operations area and be of assistance when possible with the handling of aircraft arriving and leaving the field.  A pilot called on me one day to assist him with preflight of a B-25 he was about to take on a flight.  After the engines were started and I removed chocks from the wheels, I signaled the pilot all was clear to taxi and proudly gave him a snappy salute as he departed.
     The next day there was a notice on the bulletin board that pilots were not to use students for ground operations.  As it turned out, a B-25 had taken off with the access ladder still in the nose wheel well.  The ladder was crushed and dropped to the ground after takeoff when the wheels came up. I then realized I had caused the problem and that I should have stowed the ladder before clearing the pilot for taxiing.  I was not properly briefed for the task, but I knew I made a mistake that could have been serious.  The memory still leaves me embarrassed.
     Overall, the training at Chanute was uneventful.  The instruction was given very skillfully, made use of excellent training movies but very little hands on work.  More remove-and-replace experience with disassembly and assembly of engines would have perhaps strengthened the curriculum.

Harmless Fun

     Most of the trouble I got into was outside the mechanics' classroom.  Always open to having a little harmless fun, I entered the mess hall one day to find airmen ahead of me erasing a letter here and there on the chalk board menu. When I got near the menu I elected to participate by removing a letter or two.  The mess officer was having his fun, too, watching us playing with his menu.  The next day I was called before the squadron adjutant who assigned me the task of scrubbing the barracks floors and walls from one end to another.  I think it took about a week to get it done.  In basic training we had scrubbed the floors daily with naphtha soap and a stiff bristle brush, and with a toothbrush when necessary.  There it was called a GI party.  The floor was literally clean enough to eat from.  At Chanute the same wooden floors were mopped daily with a wet mop until the dust was sticky.  You could not walk the floor without shoes and still have clean socks.  This annoyed me that the barracks floors were not kept clean, and the duty imposed on me was almost welcome because the floor was in good shape after a week of scrubbing.

Jim Way
Airplane Mechanic