"What's that Noise?"
It was June, 1967, and I was working as an A&P mechanic
for Trans World Airlines at MCI. At that time there were no terminals
at MCI, it was primarily the TWA overhaul base. I was assigned to the
crew they called "hangar engines". We would receive inbound
overhaul aircraft ferried in from MKC, remove the cowling and leave the
aircraft in the wash dock until it was ready to go into the overhaul bay,
once in the bays and on jacks we would remove the engines. Bays six and
eight were 707 bays, the doors and overhead pipes were put in place when
the 707 tails were expected to be shorter, so, we had to deplete all the
air from the main gear struts and blow the nose strut as high as it would
go to get the airplanes into the bays. Overhaul time was low then, about
5,000 hours, so we kept busy.
When we weren't doing that we dispatched and flagged
in transition flights. In the days before full movement simulators the
crews actually had to fly the airplanes in training. We would fuel the
planes and do designated checks.
Another job unique to MCI and Fairfax Airport in Kansas
City, Kansas, was to get Constellations ready for ferry flights to new
owners or for the smelter an independent contractor had set up behind
the ramp. at MCI The contractor would use spray paint cans to make lines
and we would take chain saws and follow the lines, then stab the airplane
with a forklift and drop the parts into the smelter. I felt like a reluctant
serial killer. Sometimes a Connie would strike back when fuel that wasn't
supposed to be in a tank would explode when the chain saw entered the
vapors. Wow! Destroyed South Pacific fleet and a lot of TWA birds.
There was a field behind building 2, engine overhaul,
with the left wing of N820TW which had crashed in training and about 65
each R3350 powerplants. The grass was deep, chiggers and mosquitoes were
everywhere. We would be sent out to find engines by serial number with
enough time remaining to get the Connie off the farm, hang them onto the
One early afternoon a good friend and I were going to
run a L1649 Connie to check for fuel and oil leaks. My friend was in the
Captain's seat, I was in the Flight Engineer's seat with the door open
for a clear view of 3 and 4 engines. "Clear to turn 3" came
the ground crew on the interphone. "Turning 3", I responded.
A radial engine standing a long time could collect oil in the lower cylinders
and firing those cylinders could rip them right off the engine case, so
we always counted blades. I held the starter switch and counted nine blades
before turning the mag switch to both. The cockpit shook violently, there
was popping in the exhaust, then a huge display of flame out of the intake
"What's that noise?", my friend asked. I don't
know, we have to keep it turning to blow out the fire. "No not that,
LISTEN!!!" he said. A buzzing sound behind the Captain's instrument
panel got louder and louder. Suddenly hornets about the size of golf balls
started coming out from under the panel, my friend started to yell as
he was repeatedly stung. I took one look and dived head first the twelve
or so feet down the metal fueling ladder we had used for cockpit access.
Number 3 engine was now idling, the fire was out. I had
bruises and I thought I had a broken hand, but it was just sprained. My
friend had to be taken to the hospital and had it not been for the company
doctor who had an office across from bay 4 still being there he may have
Luckily a lot of the mechanics at MCI were farmers, they
were used to hornets, wasps and other things that make my heart stop.
They got the engine shut down and sprayed chemicals to kill the hornets.
I was still on probation and was sure I would be fired for abandoning
my post, but, most of the supervisors understood.