Transocean Air Lines 1946 - 1960
Transocean Air Lines - The First Aviation Conglomerate
Aircraft Engineering & Maintenance Company (AEMCO)
Transocean employees at the headquarters in Oakland remember well a certain day in May
1948. Orvis Nelson called a meeting of the 800 employees of the airline and its new subsidiary,
Aircraft Engineering and Maintenance Company. His podium was an engine stand in the
middle of AEMCO's halfmile-long overhaul line in Hangar 5. The purpose of the meeting was to
ask the employees if they would lend to Transocean the money needed to acquire an Air Force
contract for AEMCO. The awarding of the contract was predicated upon the company having
$75,000 in the bank to provide adequate working capital. But Transocean didn't have the funds,
and Nelson had been refused a loan by banks.
With only one day left to win the contract, Nelson made an emotional appeal to the employees
in a last-ditch attempt to get financing. He told them that in exchange for their contribution, the
company would share half the profit for the first nine months of the Air Force contract.
In an outpouring of confidence, the employees pledged $100,000. On the next day, Orvis
Nelson had the required $75,000 in the bank and the contract in his pocket.
Aircraft Engineering & Maintenance Company, U.S.A. E T-33s on AEMCO's "moving overhaul
line" at Hangar 5, Oakland, California.
Diagram of one of AEMCO's moving overhaul lines.
AEMCO employees, left to right, bottom: Nettles, Wackrow,
Foster, Tompson and Wai. Top: Yee, Adams, Gracy, Krug,
Hawkens, Ferriera, Bock, Himenes, Stoner, Wilson,
Caires and Lewis.
Making plans for AEMCO, left to right:
Sherwood Nichols, Orvis Nelson, Ray
T. Elsmore and Ted Borgard
AEMCO mechanics, Hanger 5, Oakland, Califormia
Above: The propeller shop at AEMCO
Left: USAF Douglas C-74 undergoing overhaul at AEMCO
When the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin on June 25, 1948, AEMCO was awarded a contract for
the maintenance of the military airplanes flying the Berlin Airlift to provide life-saving food,
medical supplies, and coal to the beleaguered city during the freezing winter of 1948.
One problem the mechanics encountered was coal dust deposited in the interior of the aircraft.
One C-54 yielded 243 lbs. of coal dust when it was cleaned. It was packed in jars and given
away to employees as prizes in an incentive program. The idea was a hit. The Berlin Airlift
contract ultimately enriched AEMCO by nearly $6 million dollars.
The men on the overhaul line became attached to one C-54 they named Workhorse Harry, a
venerable flying machine which flew the last official airlift flight to Berlin. When it entered the
overhaul line the men painted a sign on its nose, "Last Vittles Flight-1,783,572.7 Tons Airlifted to
Berlin." Harry had made 1,943 flights. In the month of February 1949 alone, it completed 194
flights from Frankfurt to Berlin during the massive effort to bring relief to the West Berliners.
Sherwood Nichols, center, by "Workhorse Harry," last aircraft to fly the Berlin Airlift.
The original contract was for
8,000-hour overhauls of forty-five
C-54s. It was later revised to require
each of those aircraft to be
reconditioned every 1,000 hours.
Each one passed through AEMCO's
15-station repair system, built around
a production line concept that had
been developed by Chief Engineer
Robert Lang and a contingent of
AEMCO employees. Headed by
maintenance superintendent Ted
Borgard and assistant
superintendent Ralph Frey, the
station repair system won acclaim for
excellence within aviation circles
because of the man-hours that could
be saved using the "moving" overhaul
line. A different style of the line was
set up for each type of aircraft, DC-4s,
F-100s, T-33s, and others. During
1958 and 1959, AEMCO overhauled
(under an Inspect and Repair as
Necessary contract) 100 T-33 aircraft