Pan American Airways (PAA) mechanic and remote control airplane hobbyist, “Hank” Anholzer was sent to Honolulu, HI, at the onset of WWII to maintain aircraft appropriated for military service. Just 19 years old, Anholzer was immediately working long shifts on Ford Island.
In his memoirs he wrote, “Five other mechanics and myself had to do heavy maintenance on two PBMs and get it done in 48 hours. Both aircraft were tired and they were put back in shape with very little sleep on our part.
“In those days we got to be all-around mechanics, from doing fabric repairs to engine servicing. During my two and a half years in Hawaii I flew back and forth to the States in Boeings and PB2Y3s . . . The PBMs were based in Honolulu and did the island hopping with cargo and troops. They followed the progress of the war.”
Anholzer returned to school and earned his A&P, and briefly taught sheet metal for the Navy. He continued working for PAA and over the next few years did engine repairs including those on the flying boats. The mechanics were expected to buy their own tools, and eventually decided to retrieve the ones they dropped in the water by sending down a diver in a homemade deep-sea helmet. The diver nearly drowned and they abandoned that plan.
“The next idea,” wrote Anholzer, “was to build a large electro magnet with a 2-inch diameter steel bar welded in a horseshoe shape and wrapped with miles of waterproof wire. We went out in a rowboat and hooked it up to two aircraft batteries. It worked great, except the aircraft docks were floating, and held in place with anchor chains, and the magnet usually was drawn to the chains. We did retrieve some tools, but very few compared with what we lost.”
Anholzer returned to maintenance work on flying boats in San Francisco during 1944, while setting up his own business repairing crop dusting planes and WWII surplus artillery spotters. PAA transferred Anholzer to LaGuardia Airport in New York, where he supervised the conversion of Douglas B23s from bombers (with machine guns, turrets and bomb bays) to executive aircraft. “Juan Trippe used one (NC4000), and Roscoe Turner bought one,” wrote Anholzer in 2002. [Turner held several aviation records for distance and speed and was famous for his traveling companion, an African lion named “Gilmore.”] “I became good friends with Roscoe Turner’s mechanic and talked to Turner on several occasions.”
Marking the end of an era, Douglas DC4s ultimately replaced the remaining flying boats, perhaps the most romantic and beautiful commercial passenger aircraft of all time. In Anholzer’s words it was “A sad deal for us boat men.”
Modeler builds overhaul base
“By 1952, the Anzholzers were living in California where “Hank” inspected the construction of Douglas DC6Bs at the Santa Monica plant. The DC6 could carry up to 102 passengers. It was 105 feet long, 28 feet high, with a wingspan of more than 117 feet. Model aircraft building was never far from Anholzer’s point of view. “It was a very interesting job to see all those bits and pieces go together and work just like a model, but only on a little bigger scale.”
It was during this time when Anholzer met the famous aviator, Howard Hughes.
“[Hughes] was having a DC6B built for a secret project. He had six inspectors on one airplane. We had one inspector for two airplanes. They drove Douglas crazy with their demand for super perfection of aircraft parts. Douglas had to remove the airplane from the assembly line to keep the factory in production.
Howard’s inspector made Douglas change the wing center section three times. The center section consisted of four engine nacelles, landing gear wells and wing structure to outer wing panel attachments. The fuselage was lifted over the center section by a large crane system, lowered and bolted in place. In some cases lining up the attaching holes was a problem. Howard’s boys didn’t like that. They wanted perfect fit. One morning Howard came to the factory, dressed in his long overcoat and brown fedora, with men from his factory who removed the airplane, towed it across the field and into a big circus tent. The parts were sent across the field to Howard’s men to finish the airplane. Much later we found out it was to be set up as a television broadcasting station for educational films.”