The Portland International Jetport 2011 Aviation Exposition

Today was the first day of The Portland International Jetport 2011 Aviation Exposition. I only learned about the expo as I was flipping through a newspaper Thursday at a favorite local cafe. I probably would not have learned about it otherwise.

I knew the only planned aerial demonstration was a low pass by a B-2 Spirit. That didn’t excite me much. What I was most excited for was the KC-135R that was scheduled to be on static display. I was an avionics technician on Stratotankers for eleven years: four on active-duty and the remainder with the US Air Force Reserves. It’s the only airframe I worked on during my Air Force career, and I consider her to be “my plane.”

It was great to talk to the New Hampshire Air National Guard airmen who flew the tanker up from Portsmouth International Airport at Pease. A couple of them, upon seeing my KC-135R t-shirt and learning I am a former maintenance technician, encouraged me to consider enlisting in the Guard. I do miss the airplane and the travel. Hmmm…

KC-135R Stratotanker from the 157th ARW
KC-135R Stratotanker from the 157th ARW

I was an avionics technician on these tankers (GAC troop: guidance and control systems). Basically, any system involving a computer that neither transmitted nor received was mine. That included cockpit instruments, flight director, autopilot, fuel quantity indicating, inertial navigation, flight control augmentation, stability augmentation, etc.

KC-135R instrument panel
KC-135R instrument panel

For part of my career I was in a support shop called -21. It was our responsibility to install cargo rollers, cargo bins and VIP seating in the cargo bay for special missions. It was a good job without a lot of travel, which allowed me to take college classes and get my pilot’s license.

KC-135 cargo bay
KC-135 cargo bay
KC-135 boom pod
KC-135 boom pod
CFM56 inlet and fan blades
CFM56 inlet and fan blades

Changing the fan blades is a very detailed process. Each blade must be replaced in the same position, as they are perfectly balanced. Numbering the blades makes this job a lot easier.

Fan blades
Fan blades
APU exhaust doors
APU exhaust doors
They should chrome these wheels.
They should chrome these wheels.

I’ve spent countless hours standing fire guard while these tankers were refueled on the ground. Fuel truck after fuel truck…

Single-point refueling receptacle in main landing gear wheel well
Single-point refueling receptacle in main landing gear wheel well
The KC-135's flying boom
The KC-135's flying boom
I love Stratotankers!
I love Stratotankers!
I'm getting to be very familiar with this runway.
I'm getting to be very familiar with this runway.

I love the smell of US Air Force planes, and these C-21s are no different. They lack the smell of leather that you get in most other Lears. When I got out of active duty I went to work at Bombardier’s Learjet service center in Wichita, Kansas. These planes are small, but they’re sure sexy, and I love ’em.

The USAF C-21 is a Learjet 35.
The USAF C-21 is a Learjet 35.
I love these old Lears.
I love these old Lears.

I talked to a high school kid at this plane who told me all about the local flying club. He has 10.6 (he kept reminding me about the point-six) hours and has yet to solo. He pays for flying by working at Burger King. I have much respect.

The Bald Eagle Flying Club costs $750 to join and $75 each month whether or not you fly. As a member of the club you’re also part owner of this Cessna 172. The cost of flying per hour is $85, wet. To break even from what I’m paying now I’d have to fly four hours per month. Anything over that and I’d be saving considerably. Plus, it’d be cool to have airplane keys in my pocket. It’s certainly worth considering.

The Bald Eagle Flying Club's Cessna 172 interior.
The Bald Eagle Flying Club's Cessna 172 interior.

7 Comment

  1. Hey Brent

    A very nice write up of your day. I know my Dad worked on C-130’s,but I do remember him speaking of the KC-135’s. But I’m not sure if he worked on them. I grew up about 1/2 mile from one of the fire gates at PWM. We would ride our bikes up there daily in the summer and watch the planes land. I remember watching this HUGE plane do touch and goes there one day. I believe it was army as it was a dark green color. But I’m not sure. I still love watching the planes land.

    1. I frequently go up to the spotters area at PWM with my HUGE binoculars and nav/com aviation radio. It’s a lot of fun to hear the pilot’s and controllers talking and to figure out the highly-orchestrated dance happening on the ramp and in the air.

      It’s also fun, if a bit intimidating, to taxi in my little airplane with the commercial jetliners.

      When are we going flying, Jason?

  2. Brian Arbogast says: Reply

    Awesome throwback to the KC-135R and the world of GAC. You have made TSgt. Byrd proud. That tanker is definitely cleaner and nicer than the one’s we worked on.

    1. Thanks, Brian. This tanker definitely is one of the cleanest I’ve seen.

      I asked one of the airmen if I could open the lower nose door and take some pictures. She said no. Is there anything in that 1950s-era bird that’s a secret?

  3. I have worked for the City at Portland International Jetport for 6 years as their Airfield Electrician. It is great to visit these shows and to be out and about as the aircraft show off their stuff. I was in the Air Force as an Emergency Room Medic at Loring AFB 1977-1979. I was able to see aircraft in the day SAC was still flying Nukes 24-7.
    As an incentive in the winter months the Airmen of the quarter could receive a flight to Carswell AFB in Texas on one of our KC 135s. Having been Stationed at Carswell let me go on the cheap for sure and what a trip. Great training for the crew and all of us Airmen of the Quarter ( I was the hosptial squadrons pick) had a wonderful close up look at the aircraft that kept the B 52’s in the sky during the “Cold War”. The boomer told us and showed how it took a Major to get the aircraft off the ground, a Capt to navigate to the rendezvous point, where an NCO actually flew the plane. The gas station in the sky is still a testimonial to engineering and team work.
    Thanks Brent for the memories!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Vernon. One thing I do love about the military is all the experiences and memories. I was an honor graduate at tech. school at Keesler AFB and was able to go on an incentive flight about one of the C-130 Hurricane Hunters. That was a cool flight.

      I’ve been on several refueling flights and got to watch the process down in the boom pod. Very impressive technical achievement.

      NCOs definitely make the Air Force work (I was a Technical Sergeant). :)

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