"Redlined by Howard Hughes"

By Bill Gasper

Back when Engineering was located at Kansas City ’s Fairfax Airport , and aircraft modifications were called Engineering Orders (E.O.s) instead of Modification Orders (M.O.s), which came later, I was assigned a project to install ignition analyzers on Model 749A Constellation aircraft back in 1956. 

 The work involved quite a few wiring diagram changes, including some creative engineering to "shoe-horn" the analyzer control box into the crowded cockpit. All went well until the E.O. was submitted for approval of the cost. To everyone’s surprise, for the first time Howard Hughes showed a specific interest in my corner of TWA Engineering and “redlined” my E.O. 

 At least as I was told by others that “the man” had redlined it, and I tried to get a copy of the record with his initials for historical purposes. He was such a mystery man then, and I wanted something tangible to show that he was actually involved in my work. Apparently his rationale was that 749A aircraft lacked weather radar, and as a result the fleet soon would be retired.

 I never got to see the redlined document, but I did get swamped by a lot of “undo” engineering work to return the drawings to their original configuration. Ironically, we later modified the 749A to install weather radar, and the aircraft saw several years of service after that -- but without ignition analyzers.  

For engineers, we often had to look well beyond our plans, diagrams and schematics to find the true “big picture” – one that all too often was hidden between the ears of the high-powered folks who were always looking over our shoulders.

 Bill Gasper worked as an Avionics Engineer at KCK and MCI for the period 1955-1983.