Ruminations from the Ramp
Ruminations from the Ramp
By Tony Vasko
If you are reading this, you have survived into the new Millennium (or still have to wait one more year if you are a purist). We ended a century that started with people awed by steam locomotives and an occasional balloon at the county fair. By the time it was two-thirds over we were walking on the moon. Even by science-fiction standards, that is some change.
In our own business there have been many changes exclusive of the aircraft side. I can remember being in Operations watching weather maps being slowly etched into paper wrapped around a revolving drum. The image was literally burned into the sensitized paper by an electrostatic spark copier. I can still smell the ozone from the spark. The data on the map had been laboriously accumulated by observers scattered across the country reading instruments and flying balloons. Now, during the preflight briefing our Captains are handed a satellite picture taken minutes before and in full living color besides. There’s the hurricane, there’s the jet stream. Want another view? One second, Captain, while I call it up!
Who too (if they are old enough) can forget the clattering teletypes that clicked and clacked in a cacophony of nervous energy? The machines were never really silent for they clucked in sympathy with messages not routed to them. Then they really took off when it was theirs. For the more urgent messages the machine was equipped with metallic sounding bells that binked away to tell the agent to come and tear off a yard of hot message.
I was hanging out in Eastern’s LaGuardia Operations one day in between teaching some DC-9 maintenance classes when one of the machines went into a spasm of binking bells. Obviously the message was of great importance so even the blasé agent came over to see what it was. The machine finally began to chatter away and soon we read it was an urgent catering message addressed to "All Stations." With more clashing and flashing of keys it proudly stated that the two and a quarter inch cracker did not have to be precisely two and a quarter inches in diameter but could deviate from that standard by up to three-sixteenths of an inch. I was much relieved for I pictured teams of caterers wielding calipers next to piles of rejected crackers wiping their brows in relief.
Some things stay the same. I was reassured of this by a friend calling from another airline that operates aircraft for sports teams. Among other things he mentioned that one of their B-737-400 was out of service. It was up at a Canadian station and had been marshaled in by a rampie who was familiar (I suppose) with the shorter B-737-200. Said rampie carefully guided the aircraft onto the painted lines and around in an arc so it would end precisely on the designated parking spot. The tail too described an arc and managed to catch a light pole. The left stabilizer tip got a good crunch that put the aircraft down for a few days. (–400s are really a lot longer than –200s)
Like the B-737-400 being longer than the B-737-200, I proved that the "stretch 8" (a DC-8-61) was longer than a "regular 8." Unlike the rampie, I was marshalling the "stretch 8" out of a congested hangar ramp to depart for a pilot trainer. I carefully turned the long aircraft to avoid the outstretched wingtips of another "8." I did fail to notice that they had parked my aircraft way back so its tail stuck over the blast fence into the United Airlines hangar ramp. Therein resided a light pole for the UAL side. In making that turn, I hooked the right horizontal stabilizer tip into the pole. Oh my. That was my one and only but it was enough to last a lifetime.