Gene Shaw -  “just a mechanic”
By Jerry Cosley

A tribute such as this would normally not be included on Contrails, but Gene’s career reflects similar patterns among the thousands of TWA’s “mechanics-and-related” personnel, and we honor them all for their service, excellence and distinction.


David Gene Shaw, 80, died peacefully at his Kansas City home December 18, 2007, following numerous lengthy medical challenges. In Shaw’s view, any post-retirement illness was just another problem to be solved in a lifelong demonstration of responding to the challenges of life.

Born and raised in Moberly, Missouri, Gene joined the Navy in 1942 and served on surface vessels in the Pacific theater during WWII. That was perhaps one of the earliest challenges in his life, as he was only 15 years of age when he enlisted. He hoped the Navy would teach him all about diesel engines, but there was a long waiting list and he never received the training.

When he got out of the Navy in 1946, he solved that problem by working for auto service

and repair firms in Kansas City, and set about absorbing everything he could about all types of engines. It wasn’t long before he earned a valued reputation as a skilled craftsman, and in 1951 TWA signed him up to join its aircraft engine facility at the Overhaul Base, where he served with distinction until retirement in 1984.

With an infectious grin and a willingness to tackle any challenge, including designing and fabricating sophisticated tools that existed only in his “mind’s eye”, he was among a group of unusually skilled technicians who volunteered to spend their own time and sweat to

lovingly restore beauty, life and function to historic commercial aviation icons – a graceful Lockheed Constellation now at the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, Arizona; and a one-of-a-kind Northrop Alpha (The Alpha Project) which is featured at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC, both bearing the TWA’s livery.

President Ed Meyer was visiting Kansas City in 1976 and made a special trip to the base to see the highly-polished and fully airworthy Alpha, sitting like a jewel under hangar lights before delivery to the Smithsonian. Meyer was visibly impressed with the quality of the effort and encountered Gene near the plane. He looked at Gene, looked at the Alpha, and back to Gene and asked, “What do you do here?”

“I’m just a mechanic, sir,” Gene said.

Meyer’s arched eyebrows emphasized his appreciation with a reflective, “Yeah, right!”

Gene Shaw (1951-1984) was one of the consistent dedicated volunteers who spent nearly 12 months preserving two of TWA’s most famous aircraft. Resembling a Band of Brothers, these Alpha Project volunteers caught earlier “westbound” flights: Dan McGrogan, Jim Jones, Jane McCabe and Les Johnson.