BEE Shop Files: The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave…

Mark Conley

Active member
There are a few tales of unmentionable knuckle busting maintenance horror in the annuals of the Air Force Logistics Centers passed around the ramps on dark nights when the supervisor isn’t around. The one I remember most fondly was the tale of the Thing That Would Not leave.

“The Thing That Would Not Leave” (TTTWNL) started off life as an ordinary Boeing 707 back in the early 60’s. As fate would have it, she was selected for a refit as an EC-18, a most necessary but ungainly looking aircraft in the Air Force inventory. The transformation involved the re-shaping of the proud lady’s sleek nose lines into something that looked grotesque… a bulgy blimp like housing for a special tracking system. Her and her sisters spent many hours tracking space objects, incoming test nosecones, and rocket launches, from the warm shores of California and Florida to the frosty reaches of Alaska. But eventually, as the flying hours accumulated, it would be time to send the planes to the current Air Force logistic Center for airframe and accessory rehabilitation.

Now, the normal time for most refits was 90 days. However, something strange happened when the TTTWNL arrived. My personal theory was that the return of this particular aircraft from the frosty climate of Alaska to Oklahoma made the spirit in the aging 707 long to stay in the warmer climate. Others stated that a departing gypsy mechanic that was laid off during the terrible personnel Rifts of 1992 threw a curse on the aircraft. Still others theorized that the plane had devoured an evil sprit on one of its many flights over the Sea of Japan. Whatever the reason…the plane would not leave.

First, it was the discovery of massive leaks in her fuel system. No matter how many personnel climbed in to the aging planes fuel tank to effect repairs to the sealant, nor how many times the tests had gone perfect and the forms signed off…once the beast was airborne, new leaks popped up like geysers from the wings. It was only after the sealant was practically replaced in the whole wing tank system that she stopped that trick…sot of. Then, it was the discovery of corrosion in her fragile aluminum skin. A re-skin job and thousands of rivets later, she boasted a new lower fuselage skirt…but that still wasn’t the end of the saga. Electrical problems, engine problems, problems with the pneumatic systems, and once again, the re-occurring fuel problems kept the beast close to the center, and out of the hands of her Air Force masters.

She went through maintenance crew after maintenance crew, with the same results. No one could tame the beast, and the costs were rising on the project. The best of the best had had their chance with her: They had even gone to the point of a priest performing an exorcism on the airframe; The TTTWNL shrugged that off without even blinking. She had outwitted them all. It was finally decided that they had a plane that could not be fixed; the next stop for the old lady would be the bone yard out at David Motham in Arizona.

The evening of the decision, it is told, one lone mechanic went to the plane and had a talk with it on the flight line. He told her of the decision, and informed her of the practice for old airframes, which was disassembly by guillotine. He asked her to think it over.

Well they tried one more flight in her. She finally passed the flight checks, was signed off as functional, and went back to her outfit. It had been 18 months, but slow painful work and a final threat proved to be the straw that broke her back, and sent her to skies to perform her mission.

Until five months later, when her familiar form entered the landing pattern, and she parked in her usual place on the flight line. It seems her main spar had finally developed severe cracks and ruptures that threatened to allow her wings to come off in flight. They had sent her back in hopes that one more fix could keep her going. It was not to be. Her shape was so horrible, they immediately red-x her permanently, with not even the option of flying to the bone yard in Arizona. It would be a ramp scrapping for her.

Then, the most odd thing happened. A group that trained people in battlefield repairs was formed at the logistic center. They had need of various airframes for practice with battlefield repairs and such. And yes, the center just had such an airframe…sitting on the ramp. She went to her new home, with neither whimper nor complaint. She sits there in her spot to this day.

Some say she is a testimony to the spirit of the mechanics that put them back in the air. I say to this day that she really is the testimony of just how far a plane will go to get out of an Alaskan assignment. For those that have never seen an EC-18…enjoy the photos at the bottom of the page. It almost looks like a smile on the nose of that plane…doesn’t it?
The C-18 will only bring little kids to say "IT'S JAYJAY THE JET PLANE!!!"

Sadly I know what that stupid cartoon looks like.

Exorcisms on a plane's frame? what's next, carriers vs. transports? (think AvP)