Master Mechanic Profile – Frank C. Hannam

Nov. 4, 2005
In this new feature, AMT will relate stories from winners of the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award. Named in honor of Charles Taylor, the first aviation mechanic in powered flight, the Charles Taylor “Master Mechanic” Award recognizes the lifetime accomplishments of senior mechanics. The first profile covers the story of Frank Hannam who began his career as an aircraft mechanic in 1920. He immigrated to the United States from England and worked for Fairchild, Curtiss, American Airlines, and Douglas Aircraft among others. He received the Charles Taylor Award in 1998.

Frank’s Hannam’s journey as an aircraft mechanic began in 1920 when Lord Tranchard of the British Royal Flying Corps introduced a training program for mechanics. This apprenticeship program opened in 1920. After passing a physical test, Frank became the fourth person to enter the program in September of 1921.

The training was a very structured program that lasted three years. Each morning, the apprentices would start off with exercises. They would then go into the shops to learn how to file, hammer, chisel, and other skills. They became proficient at metal fabrication.

The apprentices then advanced on to metal forging and lathe operation. They learned from coppersmiths how to braze copper line. They would go to the metal foundry and work in the metallurgical lab and determine torsion and tension strengths of the materials they were working with.

After school, Frank was assigned as a Leading Aircraftsman in the Royal Air Force. At the age of 18, he was in charge of a crew of mechanics working on Rolls- Royce rotary engines. His crew also worked on the U.S.-built Liberty engine that was used on the DH-4 and DH-9 that became part of the airmail system.

After graduating from the training program, Frank was assigned to fighter squadron 58. The commanding officer of the squadron was Arthur Harris. Harris eventually took command of bombing operations over Nazi Germany from 1942 to 1945 and would be known as “Bomber” Harris because of his relentless bombing raids on Germany.

After a year in the service, Frank was given the opportunity to get out of the service and work as a civilian. He took up that opportunity and went to work at a shipyard in Southhampton installing engines on flying boats.

After the contract to build the flying boats was over, Frank transferred to the shipyard to become what the British called a fitter (another name for a mechanic or machinist). He worked on ships there in the shipyard and managed to make a few trips across the Atlantic to the United States.

Immigrated to the United States

Eventually, Frank decided to immigrate to the United States. He got his immigration papers and sailed on a ship to New York. He sailed as a third-class waiter and jumped ship in New York, that is he didn’t show up to return.

Once in the United States, Frank looked in the newspaper for a job. There were two ads in the paper for airplane mechanics — one with Fairchild and the other with Curtiss. So he went to Curtiss for an interview. He told the interviewer he had five years experience on aircraft. Frank says the guy didn’t believe him, and he didn’t get hired. Considering that Frank was only 20 years old at the time, it would be difficult for most people to believe he had been working on aircraft for five years.

So Frank went over to Fairchild and told them that he was 23 years old. They bought his false age and he was hired as a mechanic. When the engine program he was working on there closed down, he ended up going back to Curtiss to get a job there. He was walking by a hangar at Curtiss Field and noticed a Rolls-Royce engine in the hangar. He mentioned to one of the Curtiss employees that he had worked on that engine during his apprenticeship, and the next thing you know he was hired.

Frank ended up working on the Burnelli team. Burnelli was a Texan who developed the idea of having a lifting body on an aircraft. In other words, the main body or fuselage of the aircraft would provide lift — not just the wings and tail. Frank worked on the Curtiss engines that were installed on the aircraft and eventually became a flight mechanic for Burnelli.

After his stint with Curtiss, Frank worked at American Airlines and Newark Air Service in several capacities.

Teacher, Designer, Engineer

In 1931, Frank became an aeronautics instructor at Putnam Trade School in Connecticut. He developed the first trade school aeronautics program in the United States. He worked there until 1935 when he resigned.

During 1935 and 1936, Frank worked for Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, California. Then in 1937, he became an instructor for the Sacramento City College aeronautics department. He taught several courses including welding and mechanics. He left the school in 1945.

From 1945 to 1954, Frank ran an aircraft repair shop named Aircraftsman at Hannam Field, south of Sacramento. It was during this time that Frank designed a motor mount to accommodate the larger 400-horsepower engines. Other accomplishments included converting more than 200 aircraft to crop dusters and designing a new set of wing fittings for Travel Air.

In 1955 Frank took a job with Aerojet. There he worked on the Titan I and II missiles. He also worked in Aerojet’s non-destructive testing branch teaching and training inspectors. He worked there until 1963.

In 1963, Frank thought that maybe running a Western Auto store in Lincoln, California, would be fun. That fun lasted until 1966, then it was time to move on.

From 1966 to 1969, Frank worked for CDI, Philadelphia. He worked as a contract engineer involving himself in numerous projects including tool designer for the 747 with Boeing, and with Douglas as a manufacturing engineer on the DC-10.

Frank continued to work in the industry in various capacities well into his later years. He was awarded the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic award in 1998 after 71 years as a mechanic. His original A&E certificate was a four number certificate that was issued in 1927. Frank passed away on June 14, 2000. We would like to thank Richard Dilbeck of the Sacramento FSDO for sharing Frank’s story with us.