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.”
A life’s passion
Anholzer soon returned to Long Island, where he briefly taught at Aviation High School and then went back to work for PAA’s inspection department. In the late 1950s, his boss at PAA unexpectedly recommended Anholzer build a Boeing 707 model for the Operations Department to use in planning construction of hangars and terminals. Anholzer later described his first model for PAA. “It would have a wingspan of 39 inches. I don’t remember the scale, but it had to be accurate. I built it out of pine.” The model was so useful that the director of PAA’s Planning Department, Gus Ririe, soon added Anholzer to his staff which traveled to learn more about aircraft and engine components at Pratt & Whitney, Boeing, and the Air Force. “My model building experience led to and became a big part of my job. We laid out the work on paper, and built models of buildings, machines, and engine test cells.”
By 1960 PAA chose New York’s JFK Airport as its main overhaul base for the “Jet Age.” Construction was based upon the scale model Anholzer’s team built of buildings, hangars, and taxiways. When the facility was completed, Anholzer became assistant foreman in the shops, but returned to the planning department each time PAA purchased different engines and aircraft, including the Boeing 747. Anholzer’s first image of the giant aircraft was a scale drawing which left him gasping, “All the facilities around the world had just become obsolete to handle such a large airplane.”
Eventually Anholzer became manager of PAA’s Design Engineer group for the new maintenance and overhaul base at JFK Airport. “It was the biggest planning job in PAA history,” wrote Anholzer, “and it all started with a handshake between the Boeing president and Juan Trippe of PAA.”
No sooner was the JFK facility finished then PAA assigned Anholzer to build an aircraft service maintenance dock.
“This [dock] was to surround the 747 with scaffolding for the inspectors and mechanics to reach every part of the aircraft under service. The project would cost $2.5 million. I wrote the functional specifications and the winner of the bid was to build a model before approval of construction.
The model cost $5,000 but saved us lots of changes at a later date. When we pulled the first 747 into the service dock, the whole hangar crew stopped work to see it fit. My stomach was doing back flips as I ran around the airplane checking various clearances from all levels of the dock. It fit like a glove.”
Anholzer retired from PAA in the 1970s. He volunteered his skills to restore vintage aircraft for the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, Long Island. Remote-controlled aircraft remained his favorite hobby.
The man who loved model airplanes was himself a model of generosity and patience for the young people he taught, and those who worked with him.
Mechanic “Hank” Anholzer’s passion was aviation and aircraft models were the river which ran through it.
Giacinta Bradley Koontz is an aviation historian and author. She was the founder and director of the Portal of the Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation and Museum from 1995-2001 (the site of Charles Taylor’s grave in North Hollywood, CA). Giacinta holds a BA in anthropology with a minor in U.S. history and has given presentations on pioneer aviation since 1995.