All Those Wonderful Stories...
Transocean Air Lines 1946 - 1960
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.
Hanger 28's Fractured Physics
by Bob Allardyce