OOPS,  Howard’s Airplane Got Dinged
By Charles Dobrescu

(As told to Emil Schoonejans)

Frank Andia and I were TWA mechanics during the 1950's and were paired as a 2-man team at LGA. We towed inbound aircraft to the hangar and outbound aircraft to the airport’s terminal building, aka, ‘the station’. We did pre-flight inspections on each airplane prior to handing it over to the outbound flight crew. This is known as “checking it out” and/or “signing it off” as OK for flight. Our work shift was Graveyard, midnight to eight a.m., which began after the hectic inbound traffic was handled by the Twilight shift, four p.m. to midnight.

Work teams used tractors and tow bars, to move the offloaded airplanes to the hangar area. We parked them either on the tarmac or the hardstand, or when necessary pulled them into the hangar depending on what work was to be accomplished overnight. “To do” work information was received by the shift supervisor, Chet Brown and his foremen Dunkel, Webster and Cooper, via long-line teletype messages from Kansas City. The next day’s disposition messages would include assigning each aircraft to a specific flight, thereby properly routing and positioning it for planned maintenance at the next layover airport.

Anytime “Uncle Howard” was in New York, his airplane would immediately be parked in one of our two LGA hangars. (Since he owned 78% of the company stock, they also were really his hangars).

Well, after Frank and I had moved the last of our graceful ladies, Lockheed Constellations (the prettiest airplane ever built) into hangar #4, it was about time for our 2 a.m. coffee break. With Frank driving the tractor and me unhitching the tow bar, Frank managed to hit and slightly damage Mr. Hughes’ B-18, a Douglas military bomber prototype based on the DC-2 design. His plane had been parked tail first in the southwest corner of hangar #4.

Poor Frank panicked. “We are going to be fired,” he said over and over until I could get his attention by telling him “we have a hangar full of qualified A&E mechanics and we will fix his baby and he’ll never know the difference.” At that point, in retrospect, I now realize that I should have taken over the driving task. Frank, while still quite upset, agreed to my directive, “let’s go tell the crew chief what we did.”

TWA hangars #4 and #6 are interconnected by a drive-through area which also accessed the office spaces. Driving at top speed, governed at about 10 mph, Frank then proceeded to hit and demolish a wall-mounted TWA trophy enclosure case. I can still hear the cacophony of sounds from the broken glass and shattering of the trophies as the debris hit the concrete floor and echoed throughout both hangars.

The case contained trophies which TWA teams had won in airport league bowling and softball competition. The case was mounted directly opposite the General Foreman’s office. The General Foreman was Mr. Jerger. I then told Frank, we could very well have handled repairing Howard Hughes’ airplane, but obliterating Mr Jerger’s pride and joy was different.

“Now we will be fired,” I said.

However, the story has a happy ending. Howard’s airplane was repaired prior to his return to LGA and volunteer workers rebuilt the show case, trophies replaced. Frank and I were subsequently and permanently transferred from TWA’s Maintenance Department into TWA’s Flight Operations department as Flight Engineers.

In a complete state of grace, we never broke any Hughes/TWA property after that fateful day!

Charles V. Dobrescu ( 1951-1987) Worked as a mechanic, a Flight Engineer and Captain based at New York’s LGA.