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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About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

4 Responses to ERAU – models of integrity #2

  1. Sarah Ashmore says:

    When I was attending the Engineering program at ERAU in the late 70’s this was one person who’s name I heard a lot even though he had no interaction with my degree area.The people I knew who were in the A&P program both revered and feared the man and I can say of all the comments I heard, no one ever cast any doubt on his knowledge and integrity. I wish we had more people like him in the education field and it scares me to think what sort of influences the foreign A&Ps that maintain our airliners these days had in their lives.

  2. Guy Bowen says:

    I have had a very similar experience with a former flight engineer on a C-54. The gentleman’s nick-name was “Tex” and he was the line mechanic in charge of the Mustang Chevrolet’s used car make ready department for some 25 years. He was used as the crucible for all young mechanics entering the line. He was stubborn, gruff, and hardly gave you the time of day…except for the verbal abuse he would dole out if you did something stupid,wrong or both. By the time you were yelled at enough and were deemed to be not a dangerous element you were allowed to the next stage as a line helper or mechanic. Then the relationship changed and he would morph into someone completely unrecognizable from his previous self. If you made it to a peer relationship with him you felt like you accomplished something. Since I never underwent the “military experience” I have always imagined that he played the role of a DI. All of his harshness and bravado was meant to intimidate you into a formal pattern of behavior that made you ask the right questions at the appropriate time. I was coming from an electronics background at a time when GM was bringing more of these systems into their products so they saw my employment as a type of synergy of sorts. My “appropriate time” moment came when I had to let Tex proceed down a dead end trouble shooting session, biting my tongue the whole time. When he went to grab the electrical-A/C line mechanic Bobby, I checked a few ideas that I had. When he returned with Bobby I had found the issue and fixed it (a loose terminal). His demeanor had changed and it was clear that he was busy kicking himself in the ass for not catching the easy problem. From that moment on it was clear I was was going to get passed on to the next stage and his gruffness softened a bit (but not totally). He always thought I should get a haircut and I was never allowed to play “my” music in the shop and took particular enjoyment out of criticizing my tool collection.. We were never what I would call friends. My feeling of him went from “He has it in for me” to “He doesn’t like me all that much…but he tolerates me”. I’ll take “tolerates” any day! But I respected his base of knowledge immensely and he was the best general mechanic we had in the shop.

    I had a similar experience with our maintenance officer at the Centex wing of the CAF in San Marcos. He didn’t want the “longhair” touching the aircraft. But, with time, he learned either to tolerate me or stop verbalizing his discontent to every one within earshot. In reality I am certain that trust or respect had anything to do with our working relationship but I learned what I could.

  3. jaksno says:

    Well said!

  4. collen ryan says:

    Yeah I can relate the mechanic I apprenticed under as a sheetmetal worker only smiled once when telling me about trapping his neighbors cats who had been warned to stay off his property. A real hard ass german. Im 6-3 and this guy was 4-9 but he scared the hell out of me and everyone else. But you know he was the best sheet metal worker, and welder ive yet met now 32 years in the trade. i never once caught him in a mistake and I was trying hard. But i stuck with him because i knew he had what i needed.

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