My First Duty Assignment


This a C-121, Super Connie. It’s not one from Charleston AFB, but rather the personal aircraft assigned to General Douglas MacArthur, or so they say.

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It was the summer of 1957 when I reached my first permanent duty assignment, Charleston AFB, South Carolina. I was fresh out of tech. school where I’d earned the title of Airborne Radar Navigation Equipment Repairman (another decade would pass before someone coined the word, Avionics). I was 19.

Charleston was a large base, part of the MATS network (Military Air Transport Service) and populated with C-121 and C-54 aircraft, somewhere near 100 of each. Keeping the navigation equipment working was a tall order.

The ramp was marked off in alphabetical sections A through O and each section was many airplanes wide. I usually worked midnight to eight and my primary duty was periodic maintenance where I tested, repaired and/or replaced navigation equipment after a said number of  in-flight hours were reached (there was also extensive additional work just as important, such as electrical, hydraulic, engines, tires, brakes). The aircraft were most often located in nose hangers adjacent to area J through K.

The flight line supervisor (chief) was a Master Sergeant whose office was in a metal Quonset hut was located at A section, a quarter mile from where I usually worked. With so many aircraft and maintenance people in his charge I seldom saw him, so his name has faded into my blurry past. But I remember him as an old man, perhaps 40, and worked directly under the supervision of a young commissioned  officer who had probably never been close to an aircraft before arriving at Charleston.

A change of the guard, as it were, occurred during the winter of 1957 when a Second Lieutenant, a fresh zit-faced ROTC graduate, was placed in charge over the flight line chief. I never knew for certain, but I sensed that he didn‘t stay out of the way when he should have. There was unnecessary friction. Perhaps he didn’t realize his primary purpose was to take the heat when something went wrong. And things sometimes did.

One morning, prior to 0500 hours, a flight engineer was testing the four engines on a C-121 that was fresh out of periodic, a necessary step before taking the bird aloft for a test hop. Unfortunately, one of the men holding the brakes nodded off while the engines were under full power. The Super Connie jumped the chocks, made a sharp right turn, and chopped a maintenance stand into small pieces. The men standing by with fire extinguishers at the ready were somehow unscathed. After daylight, the flight line chief found a six-inch piece of propeller at his office door which was a half-mile from the incident. No doubt, the lieutenant‘s superiors turned the heat on.

Early one evening, a few weeks later, the Chief walked though my C-121 where I was servicing the radio rack.

“How’s your new boss?” I asked as he made his way from the flight deck to the cargo door.

“You mean the new lieutenant?”


“I don’t think he’s as old as you are, Laughlin ,” he said, after reading my name tag. Then he smiled, and added, “the first day I saw him I didn’t know if I should salute him or burp him.”

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