I Could Not Believe My Eyes

It was probably the winter of 1965 that Vietnam began to directly affect our avionics shop. We first noticed it when our authorized number of personnel was reduced by half while the workload remained the same. The second thing we noticed was that parts that had been readily available became difficult to acquire. Case in point: a receiver-transmitter for the AN/APN-59 search radar system installed on the KC-135.

I was in charge of the midnight shift when a major malfunction inside a receiver-transmitter rendered a receiveer-transmitter beyond repair in the field. Once we had authorization to do so, it was shipped to depot for a major rebuild. As usual, we were notified of its arrival, but instead of being notified of a new unit en route we received a backorder notice with a projected arrival date of unknown.

The flight schedule changed each day, meaning that we cannibalize from one aircraft to another until the cows came home, so to speak. These units weighed about seventy pounds – no simple task. In addition, the likelihood of premature failure increased significantly with excessive handling. But we had no choice. Finally, after nearly sixty days of swapping units a new receiver-transmitter arrived. The evening shift was up to their ears in returning aircraft. So the job was handed off to my shift.

A new person fresh from tech school was assigned to my shift. The initial leaning curve from classroom to aircraft was steep, so he would work under my direct supervision for the next few weeks. After assigning the jobs I showed our new man the unit we were to install, set it on the shop cart, and pointed him toward the airplane. I was a few minutes behind him. When I stepped out the door it began raining those big-as-you-thumb drops and he was running for the shelter of a wing.


At running speed the swivel-wheels were always subject to shimmying.  Continuing to run guaranteed that it would eventually swap ends and then turn over. And that was exactly what happened.

This unit, the size of a bushel basket, catapulted from the cart and bounced across the ramp like a giant head of black cabbage.

I could not believe this was actually happening. The end bells were dented, and I was certain that our new receiver-transmitter had just been reduced to junk. How would I explain this to my NCOIC?

Fortunately, there were no witnesses. We took it back to the shop. While he was finding some back paint I replaced two broken tubes and then hooked it to the mockup. Surprisingly, it passed all the tests and we installed it before dawn.