January 1945 until September 1945

Attached to Air Group 85 on the USS Shangri-La, CV-38

 

 

Maintenance Support - Making it all Happen

Pilots. Aces. Medals. Kill flags. Glamorous. Heros. College boys.

The pilots got all the glory; wore the leather jackets, the officer caps with the inside brim support removed, got all the press and media, and 65 years later the historical attention is still very much focused on the pilot and his machine in the air.  Pilots are admired and respected. Mechanics are not.

The mechanic is not glamorous or admired by society.  They were 2nd class citizens in the military chain of command not being officers but enlisted men, they were not the brave knight riding off into battle wearing the princess' scarf.  They were dirty, sweaty, greasy, and totally involved in delivering their product: Safe and reliable airplanes for the pilots to fly.  Without him behind on the aircraft carrier, in the hanger deck and on the flight line, busting his ass to keep those airplanes flying, there is no romantic machine, no debonair pilot, no bullets bombs or rockets thrown at the enemy, no carrier launches or recoveries, and no battles won. 

The enlisted mechanics, Petty Officers and Chief Petty Officers, got them flying, and kept them flying.  Without the behind the scenes effort on a constant basis there would have been nothing in the air.  For every hour an airplane of this type spent in the air, it takes approximately 4 hours of maintenance or more—on average.  The actual may be different for a period war-time carrier based Corsair, but that’s sort of a ball park figure. 

It took engine mechanics changing spark plugs, oil, filters, setting timing, changing damaged cylinders and accessories, fixing leaks.  It took sheet metal mechanics making repairs to damage caused by battle and use.  It took airframe mechanics changing tires, repairing torn fabric covered control surfaces, painting markings and repairs, replacing battle damaged components.  It took ordinance men cleaning, sighting, and loading up the guns, as well as loading bombs & rockets.  It took the ship’s company Bosun’s mates working all the deck jobs to launch and recover aircraft from a carrier.  Each person trained, experienced, working hard and giving it their all; 12 hours on 12 hours off 7 days a week.  

Remember the Marine Corsair TV series "Bah Bah Black Sheep"? Remember the old cigar chomping Sargent? He used say things like "that's MY airplane, college boy!" and he'd always grump and groan and give the college boys hell for bringing his airplanes back broken. But who was up all night so the next day they could launch again? The old cigar chomping maintenance leader and his mechanic kids. The college boys knew who they needed to keep them flying good, reliable, safe airplanes.



enlisted

The webmaster is an ex-Navy aircraft mechanic from the cold war days, an AD1 Machinist’s Mate First Class.  Having spent 4 years active duty as a powerplant mechanic on the Lockheed P-3 Orion, a land based over water patrol and anti-submarine warfare airplane, and having flown the P-3 another 8 years in the reserves as an F/E, and gone into commercial aviation as a pilot/mechanic/flight engineer, he understands that no historical presentation is complete without paying tribute to the mechanics and support personnel that made it all possible.

Today, a restored “War Bird” is a romantic vision of the past.  Today they are rare and very expensive machines to own, restore, and operate and they represent not simply a world war relic, but aviation at the very pinnacle of the piston-engine era.  

However--back in the day--these were the same thing that top-line military jet aircraft are today, a weapons delivery platform for the purpose of fighting a war.  They were dirty, dented, patched, marked up with greasy hand prints and over-sprayed paint.  They were air-worthy weapons delivery platforms, they weren't called that yet but they were just that.  Look at all the era pictures, “presentation” and “cosmetic concerns” were not on the list of required things for airworthiness.  The mechanics kept them flying, they didn’t have to keep them pretty.  A restored Corsair and a war era Corsair are visibly two entirely different things.

We also had a manufacturing and supply chain of such capacity that more aircraft were being delivered than were being lost.  That is why aircraft with a lot of damage were shoved over the side of the ship, engines, parts, guns and all.  In one instance (documented on this site) from landing time on the Shangri-La to jettison time over-board only 8 minutes elapsed.  More NEW Corsairs were on the way and coming aboard constantly, which is another reason cosmetics were not an issue. "Overspray? Who cares! It'll probably be replaced before the airframe has 1,000 hours on it." Even in today's Navy, the only "pretty" and "perfect" and "museum ready" aircraft are the Blue Angels demonstration team aircraft. A working military aircraft is painted only to stop corrosion, and not to make it look nice.