The Space Race Begins~Part 1

27 May

A Slice of Life
Bill Lites

Bill Red Spot Plane

I have always been interested in aviation. I grew up during the WWII years, when aviation technology was on the increase. I’m sure my parents bought me toys that were popular with other kids during those years. Thus, as can be seen in the photos below, those toys may have had a lot to do with how I perceived aviation.

Along with that, you might remember the blog I wrote about my “Parachute Man,” who got lost on the front bumper of a car when I was about 5 years old. That incident and my recent meeting with a real WWII paratrooper (Bob Bearden) at an airshow in Texas, remind me of how aviation has been an important thread running through my entire life’s experiences.


And then came the “Big Event”, when I was 6 years old, and took my first ride in a real airplane. That life changing event took place in 1945, when I flew with my family in an American Airlines DC-3 from Dallas, TX to our new home in Albuquerque, NM. That one airplane ride hooked me on airplanes from then on! I remember reading about other people who credit their first airplane ride as the catalyst for their aviation career. I can truly say, that was true for me too.


During my grade school years, I started building small wooden model airplanes that I hung from my bedroom ceiling or placed on stands to sit on my desk. My parents bought me an electric train set one Christmas, but the interest in model trains didn’t last long and I was soon back to building model airplanes.


Next came flying rubber band models made of balsa wood sticks and tissue paper. Not being satisfied with the limitations of the rubber band models, by the time I got to high school, I had started building and U-Controlled flying models airplanes. That hobby shared much of my time with auto engine mechanics.


By the time I finished my tour of duty with the U.S. Navy, my love of “Everything Aviation” had pretty much helped me decide to become an aircraft mechanic. However, unbeknownst to me, my involvement in the “Space Race” actually would start in 1958, when I enrolled in my first Mechanical Engineering class at Northrop Institute of Technology (NIT), in Inglewood, CA. I had intended to attend NIT to take their Aircraft & Engine (A&E) course to become a certified aircraft mechanic, but the registrar had other ideas.


He talked me into taking their Aircraft Maintenance Engineering course which would give me a Mechanical Engineering degree and an A&E license, and of course, more money for the college. But, before I finished all my courses at NIT, the direction of my life’s career changed, and I would kind of segue away fromthe A&E mechanic job. Now my plan was to be a “Liaison Engineer” in one of the many aviation companies, there in the Los Angeles area, where I would coordinate engineering drawings with the manufacturing department for incorporation into the finished product.


However, the A&E Schooling did help me get a part-time job at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in 1960 servicing aircraft for local commuter airlines. I loved that job. Some of the activities I performed for these airlines consisted of adding fuel and oil to airplanes for turn-a-round flights, as well as towing planes to the overnight parking areas when needed. What a thrill that was, as it required communicating with the airport’s control tower on the airplane’s radio.


—–To Be Continued—–

One Response to “The Space Race Begins~Part 1”

  1. Louise Gibson May 27, 2015 at 8:45 am #

    You have had such an interesting career. Bill. Thanks for shaing your experiences.


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