Memories Of Ground Support Equipment

Ground support equipment has been a part of flight since the Wright Brothers began flying.

Worse yet was the tendency of uncaring rampies to use one to start an aircraft and then shut it down without giving the poor engine a chance to cool down. The exhaust manifolds on those engines were quite visible through a grill and glowed a bright red when pumping air.

You could almost hear the valves distorting inside when shut down at that red hot heat.



Of course in this season one cannot forget deicing/anti-icing. Deicing was basically all we did back in the 1940s and 1950s. You got the snow off and it was up to the crew to get the plane out and off before the snow built up on the wings. I have written of a terrible fright I got (but only half of what the flight crew got) in deicing a DC-6B.

We deiced the airplane with a 50-50 mix of glycol and water with me manning the hose. The airplane was clean but the snow was pouring down. Off it went and we could hear it, but not see it take off. We were preparing to go back to the hangar to refill the truck when the airline rep came running over.

“He’s coming back on an emergency,” he said.

We heard him land and eventually the aircraft appeared through the snow. He parked and the cockpit window slid open and the captain yelled down, “You almost killed us you #$%@&% .”

Weeks later, he admitted it wasn’t us. He turned on the wing deicer heaters on takeoff. The snow melted, the water ran back to the very cold war cap at the back of the leading edge and built up into a ridge stretching the full span of the wing. A perfect spoiler.

My stomach still contracts when I think of that moment of the captain yelling down at us.

I have always been sensitive about deicing since that day and welcomed the changes that came in equipment and in regulations. Hold times and such were non-existent in my early days.

As usual it took a crash to put an end to the casual way we treated freezing precipitation. Gone are the first rigs I used, a hundred-gallon tank of glycol with an immersion heater, a putt-putt engine and a garden sprayer hose and wand. I deiced Connies and DC-6s that way by walking on the wing with a broom and then spraying it.

The advent of trucks with elevating booms, heated fluid and a mix selector made a world of difference, but it still isn’t easy. The fixed deicing stations and the like make it a lot safer for personnel. Driving a truck in a raging snowstorm with the fog and steam from the deicing is always nerve-wracking and has led to a lot of damages. Still, freezing rain, the worst of all weather phenomenon, will bring an airport to its knees as will major snowstorms.

On the other hand, there is nothing to bring joy to an auto shop (I still call the ground equipment shop that) like a lavatory truck.

Even after being dumped, flushed and steam cleaned, the aroma is there.

Having been a freight dog for the last 15 years of my career, I am not up on the latest developments.

But I certainly do remember having to carry the honey bucket off the airplane and pour it into the biffy truck. Many freighter conversions still use a port-potty design. A lot of things go down aircraft toilets, bottles being a favorite. Then, too, I have seen a biffy wagon that would not dump because the valve was clogged. After pumping it out, a nasty job at that, about 50 expanding plugs used on the aircraft toilet drain were found. That, and a selection of plastic soda bottles.

Still, the saddest sight I have seen was a lav truck driver who called for maintenance as a DC-8 wouldn’t dump. He said it was plugged and used a broomstick up the open dump hole to show me. He pushed it up hard and punctured the crust of ice that had formed in there and received the full contents of the tank over him. I was fortunately clear. There he stood, excreta all over him and, it being winter, the hood on his parka behind him full to the brim.

Water trucks are a different story – or at least I hope so. Again, what a change from my beginnings. Back then it wasn’t a truck, it was a cart. It was filled using a garden hose attached to a water tap. If it started looking a bitty tatty, it was flushed out using a mix of Clorox bleach and water. But that didn’t happen with any regularity.

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