Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

By Gayle Littleton

December 2016

In November 1954, after just getting out of the Air Force as a preflight mechanic, I got a job at Boeing as a preflight mechanic on the B-52 airplanes just rolling out of the factory at Plant 2. Our job was to install "travelers" on the airplane for work that was not finished in the factory and to get the airplane ready for first flight. This was on the 17th B-52 that was produced.

After several months of working on the airplane in the rain and snow during a very cold and wet winter, the airplane was ready to fly. All the workers lined the runway as the airplane started down the runway to the south toward Associated Grocers at the end. As the smoke poured out of the eight jet engines and the airplane lifted off the runway, the right inboard trailing-edge flap came off. The airplane tilted to the right a bit but kept going, and we could see other parts falling off well past Associated Grocers.

Fortunately, after a couple of hours of flight and fuel burn-off, the airplane came in for a rather hot but perfect landing. We found later that a retainer pin on the jack screw was missing.