Airport do-it-all keeps 'em flying in Florence

Oct. 14--FLORENCE, S.C. -- He can fix and rebuild the engine, change oil filters big and small, figure out what's making that rattling sound and even talk you through an emergency landing.

And, he can do it all day long and has been for more than four decades.

Tending to the needs of aircraft -- all the needs -- is all in a day's work for Florence's Maurice Lemmond, the mechanic (and more) extraordinaire. His career has spanned nearly half a century, 43 years to be exact. With it comes a wealth of knowledge and responsibility, including telling people that their single-piston Piper, twin turbo prop Cessna or Leer jet needs some work.

"It's a bit like being a doctor," Lemmond said. "You have to tell them there's a problem and here's what we have to do about it."

For some of those problems Lemmond even uses medical tools, like a dental scaler to locate tiny holes or even a baroscope -- a scientific device used for measruing atmospheric pressure -- in a plane's engine to see what's going on inside.

"People kind of look at us funny when we use the baroscope, but it works," Lemmond said.

Those are just some of the tools the soft-spoken and knowledgeable Lemmond -- technically, the director of aircraft maintenance at Florence Aviation, which is the Florence Regional Airport's Fixed Base Operator located on the west side of the airport's grounds -- uses every day.

Lemmond says his work requires knowledge, skill and even a bit of gumption.

"It's a lot of responsibility," Lemmond said. "Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night to think of stuff you need to do or take a look at. There's always something going on."

Round the clock

It's a surprise he ever has time to sleep. When he's not working in the Florence hanger where, on a recent afternoon, three aircraft sat in various states of repair, he's at the Lake City Airport working on planes or helicopters, or he's at various other airports around the state and region, working on planes or performing inspections.

If he does get a chance to sleep, he might get a call like he did the other day for a US Airways Express flight that hit a bird while landing. It wasn't serious and it occasionally happens, but he needed to inspect the engine and make sure of it.

Lemmond, 61, is one of only a handful of mechanics that can inspect planes in the state. Since every plane needs annual inspections and charter planes need them even more regularly, he's pretty busy. One of the planes he was working last week was Piper Cheyenne IIXL, a charter in for one of its semi-annual inspections.

"It's a challenge and it keeps you on your toes," Lemmond said looking over the turboprop Cheyenne, which seats up to seven people. "You're dealing with peoples' lives. If this thing quits, they can't just pull over onto the side of the road like a car, so we try to keep everybody safe and compliant with regulations."

No surprise

Lemmond's vocation is no surprise. Even as a toddler, his parents tell him, he was a gearhead, taking apart things and putting them back together. Tinkering continued into his youth with his bicycle becoming a regular patient and then it was off to Florence-Darlington Technical College for a degree that took him to working on planes at 18.

Planes, not cars?

"I always liked to see airplanes," said Lemmond. "As a child my parents would take me to the airport to see planes take off in Charlotte, and I love the mechanical side. And I like to fly, too; I'm a pilot so it all kind of worked together."

He liked planes, but he does the car thing, too. In his spare time he rebuilds automobiles.

"Well I've always liked cars and still do and I've restored several old muscle cars," Lemmond said. "I still got one, had an old Oldsmobile 442 and recently got an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser wagon a month ago that I'm working on in another hanger."

Joey Rogers, president of Powers Aviation and a pilot, said Lemmond's skill is like a security blank for the airport.

"The biggest thing is safety and the No. 1 thing in safety is to make sure your plane is maintained well, and we count on people like Maurice to do that," said Rogers. "[Maurice] has been doing it for a long time."

Rogers learned to fly 27 years ago in one of Lemmond's planes.

When Lemmond was just 25, he took over the maintenance business at Florence Aviation after the owners basically threw up their hands and turned it over to him. From there he grew it, expanding to the current hanger he's called his home -- or operating room -- since 1987. Since then he sold the FBO business to Powers Aviation in 2001, which allowed him to focus just on maintenance and not so much operations. Powers Aviation donated the property to the airport in 2008.

Lemmond, however, stayed put. And probably always will.

"I'm just going to keep on keeping on until I get tired of it and as long as I enjoy it and keep my health good like it is, I'll keep on," Lemmond said. "I don't feel any different than I did 40 years ago."

Copyright 2012 - Florence Morning News, S.C.