All those Wonderful Stories

Hanger 28's Fractured Physics

By Bob Allardyce

Just who owned the diabolical mind that spawned the argument has long since faded from memory. There was something in the controversy for everyone. Tempers sometimes flared. Others joined because they simply loved pulling someone's chain by pretending to take one side or the other. They formed the Ray Babb contingent. Be that as it may, the dispute had an effect nearly equal to pouring sugar into an automobile's gas tank. Sticky verbal sludge seeped into every department of Hangar 28's highly efficient maintenance machine.

 

It began innocently enough. Someone put forward a proposition that had to do with aerodynamics and the laws of physics. Here is how it went: Imagine an airplane cruising along in a headwind. Now, imagine the headwind instantly reverses itself, becoming a tailwind. What effect would the wind reversal have on the airplane, if any? Pleading ignorance, a few prudent souls quickly ran for cover, but not the bulk of the day shift. The qualities of self confidence and hairy chested individualism that made TALOA's maintenance force so magnificent also prevented unabashed submission. Everyone was an expert. Two factions formed and clashed.

 

One group held that the airplane would continue on its way, largely unaffected. This was a variation of the house fly in a speeding passenger train proposition. The train might come to an immediate stop, but the fly would be unaffected. I joined this gang. The opposition stood firm: It should be obvious to anyone with even half a wit, the airplane would fall out of the sky. This group had no cute innovations to equal the fly in the train bit, or the fish in the moving fishbowl analogy. Nevertheless, what they lacked in imagery, they made up with raw argumentative energy. The late Ace Darrah, with his newly acquired commercial pilot's license was, as I recall, the acknowledged head of this bunch. Everywhere one looked one could see wide-eyed mechanics, nose to nose, arguing. Every coffee break became a battleground. Weeks went by without even a hint that the level of energy was beginning to ebb. If TALOA's HNL and Korean Airlift operations were to survive, a resolution had to be found.

 

Perhaps my only meaningful accomplishment at TALOA was to dig up two reference books on aerodynamics at Alameda's library. Both authors were respected professors of science. One at Stanford. The other at the University of California. I proposed to write each of the PhDs and offer them the proposition. Everyone agreed to accept the professors' judgment as the final word on the subject. Two letters were fired off. A week or so passed and I got a letter from the guy at Stanford. While he offered his opinion, he was clearly irritated by the need to waste his time with such a trivial matter, a non-issue, the answer was too obvious. His point of view? There was absolutely no question about it. The airplane would fall out of the sky. Darrah and his cohorts were ecstatic. Whatever attributes Ace possessed, and he had many, being a graceful winner was not among them. For a moment or two I considered suicide.

 

By and by the UC dude responded. He was much less passionate and far more scholarly with his reply (naturally). He went on and on for a couple of pages about this and that. The bottom line? The airplane would continue on unaffected. In fact, he used the fly in the train analogy. I was thankful that in my earlier state of despair I had not deep-sixed myself. Nevertheless, we were back to square one. I suppose if walls could talk the echoes of the controversy in the mechanics' locker room still butt, one against the other. Maybe it was too many 12-hour days linked into exhausting six-day weeks. Maybe it was a lot of things. I like to remember it as one of the best times of my life.