He was not famous. He did not hold world records. He was, by his own account, an average boy from the Bronx who nearly got kicked out of high school when he hung around with a delinquent crowd that frequently ditched and got caught. But, by the time Henry “Hank” Anholzer was in his 80s, he proudly wrote his life story, most of which encompassed a remarkable career in aircraft maintenance for Pan American Airways (PAA) between 1941 and 1982.
Anholzer died in 2007 after volunteering for decades at the Cradle of Aviation Museum (CAM) on Long Island doing restoration of vintage aircraft. During his “retirement” he received the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award and was recognized in his community as a volunteer for historical societies and the Boy Scouts.
Senior curator at the CAM Joshua Stoff remembers him well. “He was an interesting guy,” says Stoff. “He had great stories to tell. He is sorely missed here.”
A river runs through it
Anholzer first became interested in building 10-cent model airplane kits after being inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s cross-Atlantic flight in 1927. He was five years old. Modeling aircraft was a hobby which re-occurred throughout his entire life, often leading to professional jobs, and always to adventures and great pleasure. Five years before his death he wrote that through the years dozens of home built planes were “long gone,” but, “I have all my engines to this day, except the Bunch Mighty Midget.”
It is not surprising that Anholzer kept his model aircraft engines for 70 years, as modeling was the passion that inspired him to finish high school, become a machinist and mechanic, and work for some of the most influential men in commercial aviation development. It also became a hobby which sustained him during personal challenges, and later led to satisfying retirement years.
Airplane modeling was the river which ran through Anholzer’s life. There are few academic references in which to follow his career in aviation maintenance, but his short autobiography suggests volumes of untold accomplishments. In his own words, he describes a linear progression from the boy racing remote control (RC) planes to the man in charge of building an aircraft service maintenance dock for PAA at JFK Airport. In summary, he wrote, “Model experience came into my professional life time and time again.”
“Delinquent” turns machinist
Anholzer grew up on Long Island after moving from the Bronx in 1927 and met boys who were also interested in model airplanes. It was a foreshadowing of his future career working for Pan American Airways.
“We bought white pine and made our own scratch built,” said Anholzer. “We built a small airport next to my house with runways from cement and hangars from cheese box wood. We sure were busy kids … all my spare time went into modeling.”
While Anholzer was building model airplanes, another New Yorker, Juan Trippe, started building an airline. He was so successful that one historian described him as “the man who shrank the earth.”
Trippe was 29 years old when he formed PAA in 1928. He ordered twin-engine Sikorsky S-40s and S-42s to carry passengers on routes in South America. Trippe named his new fleet “Clippers” after the sailing ships which navigated many of the seas over which his aircraft flew. Charles Lindbergh assisted Trippe to determine PAA’s travel routes and improve aircraft design.
PAA eventually flew to Mexico, Cuba, and the route from Panama to British Honduras. By 1937, PAA added M-130 (Martin) aircraft and flew to New Zealand and China. By 1939, PAA’s Martin aircraft were replaced by Boeing 314s. The 314 series hosted passengers on a lower deck, connected by a spiral staircase to the cargo and crew above. Some ships offered a separate compartment called the “bridal suite.” Engines could be accessed through the wings by mechanics for in-flight repairs. At more than 100 feet long, the Clipper’s 152-foot wingspan floated 20 feet above the waterline.
The awards will be presented at a celebration at the Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida, on March 29, during the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In.