Brunswick Aviation Inspector to Receive Award for 50 Years of Service

Aug. 28--BRUNSWICK -- Sometimes there's a reward in just finding a good job and sticking with it.

That's a rough translation of what the self-effacing John Butler told the workers at Stambaugh Aviation this week after it was announced that the FAA would be there Friday to give him its Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award.

"It's an award just because I'm old,'' he told the gathered mechanics Monday.

And because he has maintained his FAA airframe and power plant license in jobs with major airlines and is now Stambaugh's chief inspector, the man who, basically, inspects the work of the inspectors.

Considering the thousands who work on aircraft every day and have through the years, the percentage of recipients is relatively low: Butler will be the 1,987th person to received the award named for the original airplane mechanic who is credited with designing and building the motor that powered the Wright Brothers' first successful flight.

He gets to work at 5:30 a.m. many days to complete paperwork before the workforce arrives and the distractions begin, and there is an abundance of paperwork to confirm every step in the maintenance and repairs.

"The work isn't done unless you have an amount of paperwork equal to the weight of the airplane,'' he joked.

Mark "J.R." Stambaugh said Butler's work ethic and dedication filter down to front line.

"We're blessed to have him with us. Anytime you've got supervisory personnel with that skill and dedication, it translates down to the floor. People strive to meet his expectations,'' Stambaugh said.

The company works mainly on Boeing jets but also some other brands, including Douglas, he said.

But it wouldn't matter what taxied up to the hanger given Butler's work history, Stambaugh said.

"He's been around about every aircraft ever built,'' he said.

At least the ones built since the 1950s. Asked why he chose aviation mechanics for a career, Butler said, "I grew up with airplanes. My dad started with TWA in 1938.''

There was another factor.

"I was about two weeks away from being drafted. It didn't think I'd want to carry a rifle and pound he ground,'' he said.

So he joined the Air Force and worked on fighter aircraft in Okinawa and on missiles at the Strategic Air Command's headquarters in Omaha.

When his four-year enlistment was up, he moved to the civilian side of aircraft maintenance although there were ways to make more money pulling wrenches.

"When I shifted, you could be an auto mechanic and make more money,'' he said.

But in the 1950s and '60s, "it was kind of neat" and, as an airlines employee, he could fly free anywhere he wanted so long as there was an empty seat.

"That was kind of cool,'' although a little tense at times, he said.

"I could go out to dinner in LA and come back, or I could get out to LA and there'd be no seat to fly back and I had to be at work the next morning,'' he said.

Those were the days when flight was still a big thing, when people paid a lot of money for their tickets and boarded flights in nice dresses and suits and ties.

Then in the 1980s, deregulation came, ticket prices dropped and airlines began falling away. He's seen National, Eastern, Pan Am and three versions of TWA disappear from the business radar.

"It was frustrating as airlines went down, and I had to look for a job in my 40s, 50s and 60s,'' Butler said, but he had a resume and the benefit of what people were saying about him.

"I've had a reputation of being able to deal with the FAA,'' he said. "We all have our jobs. We have to work together to get that plane in the air.''

In fact, it was FAA Aviation Safety Inspector Charles Blieberg who helped submit his application for the Charles Taylor award.

He walked outside Stambaugh's office Tuesday among the Boeing jets on the concrete. There were "seven-ohs,'' for 707s and "seven-twos,'' for 727s.

One primer gray 707 was likely "headed for the desert,'' to a big jet graveyard, which Butler said is kind of sad. But a 727, one of his favorites for its reliability, sat gleaming white with red lettering seemingly ready for the sky.

His all-time favorite, however, may have been the Lockheed Constellation, a four-engine prop plane with a triple tail. When he lived in Miami, a small commercial airline had three "Connies" that flew over his house hauling cargo to the Bahamas.

"I'd be sound asleep and they'd go over and I'd have to go outside and look at them,'' he said.

Asked about retiring, Butler said he thinks about it. He wouldn't have the trips from his home in Orlando to his house in Brunswick with his 15-year-old toy diabetic poodle.

"He has to have shots. My wife can't give them to him,'' he explained as he tried to coax the dog along by the leash before finally just picking him up.

He'll also have more time to fish and play golf, but he acknowledges it's going to be difficult to bring his career in for a landing after 53 years.

"I can consult,'' he said.

Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405

Copyright 2014 - The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville

Loading