Aviation Alum Richard Conni
recounts his time at WACC
The year was 1966. Myself and two other guys (Dennis Schaffer and another classmate) began school in September of that year. Since all three of us just completed four years in aviation in the US Air Force, the very basics being taught toward obtaining our A&P Certificates, were secondhand to us. If my memory serves me correctly, our instructors were Art Bauer, Firp Michael and Mr. Frank Pannabaker.
One day while walking around the old aviation hangar, we happened to notice an airplane sitting in the corner, supported by wooden horses. The aircraft happened to be a Piper Twin Commanche Pa-30 (S/N 30-219), which had been built in 1963. The airplane was minus the engines (Lycoming IO-320).
All of a sudden a light bulb went off as all three of us looked at each other, "Let's put this plane back to airworthiness specifications! Why heck, we have two years to accomplish this task!"
Here is a little history about the Twin Commanche. Apparently, the plane was purchased by a gentleman who wasn't familiar with the method by which the engines are fed fuel from the tanks. I don't know the full story but on takeoff from Lock Haven, he had to belly it on the runway. Of course he bent the props. The crankshaft, the fuselage and wings had minor damage.
We approached Mr. Firp Michaels with our plan. At first he was skeptical but he handed us a few requisition sheets and instructed us to order what we needed. A month went by and no word from anyone. Finally, I went to see the Dean and explained our plan. His explained that he didn't think we were serious, however, we were. He finally said that he would OK the purchases. To make a long story short, we began working on the school's Twin Commanche (N7195Y).
Mr. Pannabaker's Engine Shop rebuilt the IO-320's. Fast forward ahead after 1 and ˝ years, we were ready for a gear retraction and to hand the engines. All went off without a hitch. We pushed her outside, chocked the wheels and cranked the engines. All went well. Of course all the paperwork had to be taken care of along with the registration which was very time-consuming.
It was now getting close to graduation and our minds were set on getting a job with a major airline. I applied for a mechanic position with National Airlines in Miami, Fla., and was accepted upon graduation.
Once again, if my memory serves me right, the girls from the college were preparing for commencement. We all worked hard on raising money through bake sales, etc. The girls hired a singer and guess who it was-yes, Neil Diamond. His fee was $600.
Well, graduation came and my wife and I left Pennsylvania for Miami, Fla. And my new job with National Airlines. About a year after I graduated, I had to retrieve some paperwork from the college. When I arrived at the hangar I looked over my shoulder and there it was, our Twin Commanche PA-30, painted in the school colors. Whoa! I heard a voice calling my name. It was Mr. Firp Michaels. "Do you want to go for a ride?" Well now, let me think………my mind raced back trying to remember if we did everything correctly according to the manual. "Let's go," I said. He buckled me in and off we went. The school paid for the complete restoration except for the Bendix Auto-Pilot. We came in for a landing and I was thrilled to death! The plane is now owned by Dr. Jullian Larry Jordan II in Honschton, Ga.
Thank you Williamsport Area Community College for this awesome experience and a wonderful education which led to my career as an aviation mechanic!