TAL: The First Aviation Conglomerate

Skyscape Interiors, Trim, & Upholstery Division of AEMCO

Another internationally known division of AEMCO was Skyscape Interiors by AEMCO (Trim and Upholstery Division), which was founded and headed by Will Aaseth. Known for its luxurious interior decorating of executive and military aircraft, Skyscape Interiors refurbished President Eisenhower's aircraft, the Columbine. The aircraft was formerly President Franklin Roosevelt's Sacred Cow and featured a built-in bed behind a painting on the wall. Every aircraft redecorated by the Trim and Upholstery Division of AEMCO was designed with soothing colors and custom-built interiors that included upholstered divans that could be converted to berths; retracting polished wood tables; a stainless steel buffet and refrigerator; draperies, and radio and television consoles.


Many time- and money-saving devices and manufacturing techniques were developed by Superintendent Sam Besser and his crew. One of these ingenious ideas, the "hidem" solution was used to secure fabric to the insides of airplanes being plushed instead of the old-style trim tracks. With approval by the Army of the "hidem" technique, Besser was able to eliminate the installation of thousands of screws. He also invented the small press which allowed one man
to use the new technique, instead of two or three as previously required.

 

AEMCO's Trim and Upholstery Division also manufactured the "Child Eze" chair, designed by Howard Mackey and advertised as a Christmas gift for youngsters.

Left: "Child-Eze" chair, designed by Howard Mackey and manufactured by AEMCO's Trim and Upholstery Shop. It was advertised as a Christmas gift for youngsters. Orvis and Edith Nelson's daughter, Holly, seated in one of the chairs.

Above: Orvilla Swiger and Sam Besser, Trim and Upholstery Shop, Oakland, California

Sam Besser was a quiet but effective boss who instilled a family feeling among the craftsmen who decorated airplane interiors. One seamstress even thought the Trim and Upholstery Division was the finest department at AEMCO. "It's got them all beat for friendly relationships," she said. "They'll have to burn the joint down to get rid of me!"


In 1952 the renowned Stanford Research Institute of Menlo Park, California, contracted with AEMCO for all ground and flight operations connected with their "flying laboratory," a C-54 aircraft on loan to SRI from the Air Force for electronic research. Most of the projects were classified information. On the flights of the C-54 flying laboratory, many advanced electronic devices were tested.


AEMCO was also awarded a $3 million dollar contract to recondition sixty-eight U.S. Air Force twin-tailed C-82 Fairchild Packet Transport planes. These troop and cargo carriers were frequently referred to as Flying Boxcars because of their 2,916 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Military freight could be loaded into the Packet through two clamshell doors which opened up the entire rear of the long, square-side cargo hold. Self-propelled vehicles such as jeeps, trucks, and bulldozers could drive in under their own power. The C-82 could carry forty-two paratroopers with full equipment. It could also tow two Army gliders with personnel and equipment. Rigged as an ambulance plane, the C-82 could accommodate thirty-four litter patients and four attendants. Specially-designed strap suspension litters could be installed in twenty minutes. Because of the growth of AEMCO during the fifties, it had outgrown its facilities at the Oakland International Airport. Recognizing AEMCO's needs, in 1958 the Port of Oakland built one of the world's largest hangars at a cost of over $1 million dollars. Designed to accommodate the largest airplanes in service and those still on the drawing boards, the hangar measured 225 by 260 feet. Its roof was supported by the largest cantilever span of any building in the United States and allowed complete entry for aircraft with wingspans of 160 feet. The doorway was 50 feet high and 200 feet wide. In addition to the new super-hangar, the port leased an additional twenty acres to Transocean.


AEMCO's first project in the super hangar was a contract with MATS for the modification and technical order changes on C-124 Douglas Globemasters. These aircraft were designed to carry more than 200 troops or 50,000 pounds of cargo at over 300 mph. They had a wingspan of 174 feet and a gross weight of 180,000 pounds.


Other AEMCO contracts included: PARC (Periodic Aircraft Reconditioning Cycle) on Convair C-131 hospital aircraft, the first to be awarded to a civilian contractor for progressive maintenance on this type; rehabilitation of Lockheed F-80 jet fighters under a contract from the Mutual Defense Aid nations; and the processing of 3,036 Air Force T-33 jet trainers under a four-year contract that contributed more than $32,000,000 to the economy of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area. During the early 1960s (after AEMCO had been taken over by the Atlas Corporation), AEMCO assumed management of the U.S. Air Force aircraft maintenance facility at Chateauroux, France, under a subcontract with the pioneer French manufacturing firm of Louis Breguet. Douglass Johnson and Stan Morketter headed up the operation. The Aircraft Engineering and Maintenance Company (AEMCO) continued in business, rather like a postscript to an historic enterprise, until 1964.