ERAU – models of integrity #3

Builders:

Because the two previous stories said something unflattering about Embry-Riddles’s administration, let me share another, with the other side of the coin. My time at the University bridged two very different presidents. The latter was a bean counter with an MBA named Sliwa.  The Board of Directors got him because they bought some line that the school had too many former Military men, and they needed ‘a corporate business’ man. Sliwa was a disaster, and the board learned that the Military is a more reliable developer of leadership and integrity than 1990’s corporate offices.

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When I arrived in 1989, the University was in an era of outstanding leadership, defined by the president, Lieutenant General Kenneth L. Tallman, USAF.  If the leader is dynamic enough, the institution can operate with his ideals, all the way down to the day to day operations. This was the case with president Tallman.  He had set a policy that the school’s sole reason for existence was to train America’s next wave of aviators; it was not there as anyone’s place of employment, it was not there to serve the alumni, it was not there to be some monument. All that mattered was the caliber of student it was going to generate with each graduating class.  He distilled this policy into a 100 word statement, had it framed, and required it to be prominently displayed in all the departments offices. There would be no ivory tower building on his watch. It was a pretty enlightened attitude for a guy who was West Point graduate, a three star General, and a serious Fighter jock.

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Gen, Tallman, when he was Superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy. His experience included  graduating from West Point, being USN carrier qualified, graduating from Marine Corps Senior Staff School at Quantico. Note that he had served with every branch of the US Armed Forces.

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Let me share a singe story to illustrate the man’s approach: In 1989, the School lost a plane on a solo night flight, the crash found the next day. Although the school flew up to 250,000 hours a year, this was the first fatality in a long time. The school had a new public relations guy who faced this. The PR guy gave an interview to the News Journal where he took the initiave to  cleverly insert the detail that the student pilot lived alone, and the school had not found any friends on campus for background information. In print the next day, it was hardly three sentances, be it read as if the word loner was used. It set a tone that maybe it wasn’t the schools fault at all. Very clever and slick.

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A friend of mine worked in the adjoining office to the PR guy. When President Tallman read the morning paper, he was enraged. My friend said he physically stormed into the PR office, fists clenched, shaking with anger. He backed the PR guy to the wall and uttered just three words “You’re done here.”  President Tallman didn’t consult human resources nor the legal department to asses options, he just shit canned the PR guy. Tallman understood what command and leadership was about; The student pilot had been in his command, and now he was dead, and he would accept responsibility for this. It did not matter what the eventual outcome of the investigation would be, it would never change the fact that this student was gone, and there was no way of bringing him back. Tallman would not tolerate any disrespect or attempt to evade this. It is one of the strongest examples I can think of that demonstrates that the ethics and leadership requirements of flight are very different than what is considered acceptable in the corporate world.

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On our Carburetor Reference page, there is a story that relates to this; I wrote it last year, and I am sure that many people thought it was heavy handed at the time. Stop to now consider men that I was educated by, Men like Dick Ulm, Chandler Titus and Kenneth Tallman, and really ask yourself if someone going through a 40 Rotax course has really learned enough about decision making to do an annual on an aircraft that other humans will fly in. The answer is “no”. The people who would even propose this as acceptable maintenance have ‘corporate money values’, and they are in search of cheap and profitable. Historically, that doesn’t lead to good results in flight.

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“If someone chooses to buy a Rotax with their two German Bing motorcycle carbs, they are only fueling the trade deficit, and doing nothing to support American manufacturing and aircraft maintenance systems. And no, a person who took a 40 hour Rotax ‘mechanics’ class is not a trained aviation professional, they are just an extension of a foreign companies sales staff. For a reality check, my A&P training at Embry Riddle had the strict FAA requirement of 2,800 classroom hours.
If I had told the maintenance department chairman, Dick Ulm USMC ret. that I was ready to evaluate airworthyness on aircraft at the end of my first 40 hour week in the program, he would have laughed his ass off, and then punched my lights out. If I then complained to the University president, Kenneth Tallman, Maj. Gen. USAF, ret., I am pretty sure it would have had the same result. If anyone asks in 5 years why S-LSA”Light Sport category” failed live up to any of its potential to do positive lasting good for aviation, at least part of the blame will be on the fact the ASTM ‘certification’ standards on these planes are a bad joke, and the maintenance on them is done by woefully underqualified people.”

ERAU – models of integrity #2

Builders,

Below is a photo of Chandler Powers Titus, 1924-2010. The man was the human definition of aircraft engine mechanic. The engine repair station at Embry-Riddle Is named in his honor, because he worked there for Fifty-Four years.

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It is not even vaguely possible in a few hundred words to say anything accurate about this mans life. Lets just hit some big points: He is a US Army air corps B-17 mechanic in WWII; He moves from there to be a lower Ball Turret gunner, loosing his hearing to the two Browning M-2’s on either side of his head; He then beats out nearly 300 other applicants to be upgraded to Flight Enginner; He is now 19 years old; he elects to stay in the post war military and stays to Fly C-54s during the entire Berlin Airlift; After 10 Years in the service he ‘retires’ at 27 years old; He takes a job as a mechanic at Embry Riddle when they are still in Miami, and stays on in every teaching capacity, working with more than 10,000 A&P students. In 1995 he is awarded the FAA’s Charles Taylor Master mechanic rating, which requires 50 years of continuous A&P work, just to meet the application requirements. He is awarded the status of senior inspector, chief instructor and professor emeritus of ERAU.

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When he reaches the 50 year mark at the school, the administration gets the bright idea that it is time to retire him. They are going to throw him a dinner, and they spring the “thanks for your service” trick on him.  Word gets out to the alumni, and droves of them return from places all over the globe. At the dinner, Mr. Titus turns it around on those who would retire him, by taking the podium and pointing out that he has seen a lot of administrations come, and a lot go, and they better be more worried about their own jobs than his. To the great cheers of the alumni, this is a pure Chandler Titus moment. He stays four more years until he is good and done.

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To the above list, let me add this small fact: People who know Lycomings often mention Chandler Titus as the one human being on Earth who may have known Lycomings better than any person living. Stop and consider that Lycoming itself didn’t have anyone who worked on their engines every day for 54 years; When the wanted to know how things were done on their 1960 product line, they called  Mr.Titus. He also knew Continentals nearly as well, and he knew radials like no other man I ever encountered. I once asked him a question about slave rods in a 245HP Jacobs radial, and he gave me their entire history, including service bulletins and procedures, off the top of his head. It was 1993, and he probably had not seen the inside of one in 40 years. Riddle owns more than 120 planes, and they log about 2,000 hours each per year. 100% of these engines were overhauled in house by student labor in a system set up by Mr. Titus. They kept incredible records, and Titus studied part histories on engine series in detail and worked it statistically against the hours. The FAA gave the school the highest allowable TBO, in some cases 1,000 hrs over. The mean time between failures for the schools engines was roughly one million flight hours.

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Let me share a very important element of this man, one that was hugely influential to my own path, one that is important for anyone learning things in aviation to know and understand:

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Personally I did not like this man, but it did not stop me from learning from him. Saying he was gruff is the understatement of a lifetime. He liked some students a lot, others he never learned your name. I had him for two classes, I later worked in the next lab, I loved engines, but honestly the man never acknowledged my existence. My house mate Chris Welsh became very close friends with the man, almost family, but he remained unapproachable to me. Technically, my tuition paid his salary, but you would have to be pretty stupid to think that kind of appeal is going to move a guy with the guts to crawl into a ball turret for 25 daylight trips into the Third Reich.

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Honesty requires me to say that I feigned being pissed off about it at the time, but I will confess that it actually hurt my feelings. I was an outstanding student, I really cared about his particular expertise, and I was courteous to him. It made no difference. Over time, I accepted that he was simply too valuable a resource to discard because he didn’t have the time of day for me. The time it took to come to this perspective I now see as wasted, unrecoverable. Over several years, I learned a tremendous amount from him, and from the people he directly educated with care.  He was a very bright sun that hardly ever shone directly on me, but he did illuminate a great deal of landscape that I traversed. I took the lesson with me, and in all the years since I have never let my learning be limited by needing to be ‘friends’ with the person who was the master of what I wanted to know. In time I expanded this to not even needing to like nor respect the people who had information to learn from.

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Maybe half the stuff I know about planes comes from people I would never have chosen as a friend. I am fully aware there are many good reasons to dislike me. Do not set your goal on being friends with me, set it on learning everything I can teach you. That exchange in itself is a better basis for friendship than initially ‘liking’ someone. Trust me, on my worst day, I could run the White House protocol and etiquette department compared to Mr. Titus. I don’t know what he knew, but I am 50 times the people person he was. If I am not your kind of person, don’t let it stop you from learning what I have to share. -ww.

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When he was interviewed after retirement by an aviation career publication, Chandler Titus had this to say about the most important resource for mechanics, it was something I had heard him say countless times in the repair station:

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 “In my career I have found that the most useful resource for the mechanic is the information provided by the aircraft manufacturing companies who hold the most information about the aircraft you are servicing or flying.”

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If you are reading notes from me, pointing out how foolish it is to take advice from a local ‘race car guy’ or from an internet group of anonymous people for your flight engine, you are hearing the exact same line from me, only adjusted to our particular engine. I learned this from a guy who was hardly civil to me. It didn’t affect the truth nor the value in the statement.

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