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Lockheed mechanic writes about working on the planes

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Below is an article from one of the mechanics who worked  on our Connies while at LASI New York.
Tony writes for Airways magazine and for GSE Today.

Anthony "Tony" Vasko
From 1954 through 1964 I worked as a mechanic at Lockheed Aircraft Service International at Idlewild, now JFK Airport in New York.  It was more commonly called LASI by everyone. We performed the phase checks on the WV-2 and RC-121 aircraft for the barrier patrols and also, well remembered, the WV-3 for the Hurricane Hunters. Of course they changed the designations forcing the Navy to go Air Force in the designations. But they are still Whiskey Victors (Willie Victors) to me. Did a lot of work on those birds, also on a lot of commercial models too in my ten years there. Still working in aviation but now I'm in an office writing the manuals and procedures for everyone else to do at TradeWinds Airlines in Greensboro, North Carolina.

One thing I remember about the WV-3 that was different from the run-of-the-mill radar Connies was there were aerographers stations on them and they were the only "Connies" with bomb bays. Of course there were really only the chutes for the radiosondes that you fellows dropped into the hurricane to measure pressure. Since the Connie was pressurized these chutes had an inner and outer door with an interlock to prevent both from being open at the same time.  Outer door closed, open inner door, insert radiosonde and close inner door. Open outer door and drop sonde into storm.  Midnight shift where I mainly worked was a tiresome shift. Post-phase check aircraft run-ups were very long and tedious particularly when you had to pressurize.

In the spirit of a little harmless fun we found you could open that inner door on the radiosonde chute and work the interlock mechanism and then open the outer door too. Result was a large hole from inside to outside. When the ran-up all would go well until the pressurization was attemped. The cabin superchargers weren't that good and of course it wouldn't pressurize. Next step was to try to find the leak(s), usually the hatch to the radome or sometimes the one in the rear pressure bulkhead. You couldn't rule out a blown wing duct either. You had to be sharp to remember the WV-3 had that extra hole to the outside world but even after you did, it was impossible that both the inner and outer doors would be open. Right?  Lots of cussing when it was found.

Those R3350 were true hogs of engines. The DA/EA models which included the military R3350 -34 and -42 models (I seem to remember) weren't as bad as the earlier models like the BA models on the L-049 Connies. These were filthy engines that ooozed oil and sludge and had brittle cylinders. The BD models on the L-749 Connies were a lot cleaner and were the best of the breed for reliability. The DA/EA models were fairly clean but had a high failure rate and needed lots of tender care to keep them going.

Being a big person I was often the one to hump the PRTs off and on. You had to love your work to pull a number 2 PRT in a wind. Especially in a cold wind. Exhaust stacks were a constant problem with frozen ball joints, worn sleeves, stretched or broken clamps. A large mallet was a necessary thing as was penetrating oil and molykote.  Then there were jug changes. Also an interesting job and one that made you wonder why it was never an upper jug that failed.  Or at least why you never got assigned to an upper change.

The saving grace of the Connies were that they had the best cowling of any of the piston aircraft. Best access for the mechanic of all. The DC-4/6/7 had no firewall doors like the Connies so no access from the rear. Everything from the side. Straining to support a generator at arms length was not fun. The Connies made it easy to pull it from the back. Of course the auxiliary gearbox for the big alternator made it harder on the outboard engines and in the aircraft with the APS 95 radar modification they grew a Lycoming Constant Speed Drive in there and that killed the rear access altogether on the outboards.

The deicer boots on the Connie were a constant pain. Bad as the wing and tail boots were, the changing of a radome boot was an awesome job. Gallons of MEK were used to get off the old adhesive. Of course it was rubbed off by mechanics using rags and their bare hands. Lanolin hand cream was a necessity after a session of that as all the oil was leached out of your skin by the MEK and your hands had the consistancy of a work shoe.

Then there wasa the night the Allied Aviation Services oil truck driver came in and announced there was something wrong with that radar airplane out there. He had already put in 150 galons of oil into the left aux oil tank and it was still empty on the dipstick!  Since the aux oil only held 67 gallons this was intriguing. Less intriguing was the fact he had put the oil into the wrong airplane, one that was about to come into the hangar, instead of the one that had just come out. The aux oil cell (rubber bag) had been removed for a structural inspection. It was a cold night and so there was little oil on the ramp - yet. It had made a swimming pool out of the ventral radome - if you like swimming in 60 weight oil but the drain hole on the bottom was small and it would have been spring before it drained out by itself. The mechanics who had to go in there slid right down to the bottom of the radome. The carefully dipped buckets and passed them to the luckier ones at the hatch.  I was luckier yet, I was working the commerical side of the operation then and didn't go near it at all except to come over to gaze in awe at the shining pool in the radome and smirk.

The nearing of the end of the governments fiscal year meant one of two things, either the services had no money left (so didn't fly and didn't contract any work out) or they had too much left and had to spend it. Because of where the WV-3 were based, they had painted the tops of the aircraft white for solar reflection to help keep them cool(er). The Navy hurriedly issued a contract to strip and repaint some of them. Nothing wrong with the paint, just had to spend the money fast. Turned out the white tops were the first time we ran into Catalac paint, an epoxy? I think. The stripper in then was made for Dulux enamel and the like and wouldn't touch it. Repeated coats but it wouldn't even soften. No EPA in those days I guess for Turco products came in with something that was so nasty you couldn't even work in the same hangar as the aircraft being stripped. (Hangar 1 at Idlewild/JFK).

One thing I do know is that structurally the Connie was great. I do not remember any concerns about its structure even when you fellows were flying into a little turbulence  and I do not remember any special inspections for the WV-3 for that service. Biggest concern was rear spar corrosion from the belching PRT exhausts. Air Frame Bulletin 1 (TO 718) made us pull all the air-conditioning ducting on the aft side of the rear spar to inspect the spar caps. We changed some due to exfoliating corrosion. I don;t really remember anything else major with the Connies. Some of the later Lockheed aircraft should have fared as well.

I never flew in a military version of the Connie but I have the highest regard for you folks who did and took them into some nasty conditions. I write for Airways magazine and for GSE Today and have used some of the above stuff in my articles. You can use this message if you want in your website.

Anthony "Tony" Vasko
Greensboro, North Carolina

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