Gull Air Operated 1975 - 1987
Richard was good airport manager. My time at Barnstable Municipal Airport was brief but I enjoyed working for him. It was no surprise when he left Hyannis to take on the leadership of Logan International Airport.
In the summer of 1973, I was employed at the Barnstable Airport as a Line Service Technician. All aircraft ground services were provided by the Town of Barnstable (Airport). The duties included assisting with parking of aircraft, accepting deliveries of fuel, fueling all aircraft and also included Airport Rescue Fire Fighting (ARFF) duties. Other duties included keeping runway/taxiways clear of debris and (trying to) control the seagulls.
Cape Cod summers were busy... winters not so much. I stayed on after the summer season and at one point took on the position of Airport Operations Supervisor. Pay was always in question from day one. I remember the ad in the paper read "Town of Barnstable - 2 postions Town Dump - Gate Guard $2.00 an hour. No experience required. Ramp Service Agent - $2.00 an hour. Experience required.
I took the job hoping once there the pay would increase. Not so much.
Airport employees started discussions with the Teamsters Union. The town did not like this move and put pressure on the staff to keep the union out. With low pay and additional pressure I decided after about a year and a half to move on.
1936 - 2016
I got a call from Air New England to fuel their DC-3 at the terminal. The fuel tank was on top of the wing between the fuselage and the engine. I parked the fuel truck in front of the aircraft and positioned my step ladder, climbed up and started fueling. It was a very windy day and the flight crew did not place gust locks on the rudder and elevator. The locks are a separate apparatus to keep unnecessary movement of control surfaces while on the ground. The gusts were moving the elevator to its top position and back down and within a minute of fueling, the elevator fell off the aircraft and rested on the ground. I stopped fueling and went into the terminal to find the pilots. I informed them that they might expect a flight delay.
The summer months brought in the private aircraft of its time. The Gulfstream II was the premier aircraft and the Mellons of Kentucky flew theirs to the Cape frequently. Gulfstream I was a more frequent visitor. The Lilly's flew their Saberliner and BAe125's were a regular.
Even though our duties were to park and fuel these aircraft, we often assisted the passengers with their bags and other related services. The passengers always appreciated our assistance. I always remember Ethel Kennedy would go out of her way to thank us for our efforts.
In 1973, it was decided by airport management to hire attractive young ladies during the summer to assist with airplane arrivals. Their uniform was hot pants and halter tops (not unlike airlines of the time). I had mixed feelings about their presence.
I would be providing hand signals to pilots when parking their aircraft on the ramp and they would not always be looking at me. A couple of minor incidents occurred.
I remember one night getting a call from a inbound Learjet requesting fuel upon arrival with an immediate departure (quick-turn). I marshalled the aircraft to its parking position and pulled up the Jet-A fuel truck. Policy required approved payment method before any fueling was initiated. I was given a credit card from the passenger, F. Lee Bailey. Back in 1973, credit card transactions took awhile to get authorization. In the truck you had a credit card addressograph as well as a current revised listing of cancelled credit card numbers. After checking the card number, I informed F. Lee Bailey that I could not accept this card. He was not happy. He gave me another card and I went back to my cc book and then informed him that this card is also declined. Even with phone calls (not an 800 number) I could not get authorization.. At this point he took took my name to ensure my removal from employment.
The other passenger was Ernest Medina. Medina was the Army Captain that was court martialed back in 1971 for his part in the "My Lei Massacre" in 1968. He was defended by F. Lee Bailey and acquitted but resigned from the Army and joined F. Lee Baily's Enstrom Helicopter Corporation. Medina gave me his credit card and it was approved and the fueling finally began.
The quick-turn was not so quick. My employment continued.
One day during the summer months, an Eastern Airlines (DC-9) aircraft upon landing contacted the tower ground control to inform them they thought they saw a small child on the runway. The tower contacted airport operations and we immediately went out to the beginning of runway 24 and found a baby sitting on the number. How did a toddler find its way on to the airport? Even though in those days the perimeter fence was not what it is today, this little rascal made a mad dash from a home boarding the northeastern area of the field. The Barnstable police were able to reconnect the little one with its mother and probably had a few words of wisdom to share as well.
Another duty of airport operations was to try to control the seagulls on the runways. Birds and airplanes don't get along so well. To the seagulls the airport runways were a perfect hangout. They could fly their clams from the beach, drop them from altitude and have a cracked shell feast await them upon landing. One or two were not much of an issue but when the flock got to be a dozen or two, you needed to let them know it was time to go. Driving out with the yellow truck would give them flight but only for a moment. The shot gun in the cab when used gave a more lasting effect but we were only allowed to use blanks so the loud noise shooed them a way for just awhile.
Seagull shooing was a regular thing along with picking up clam shells.
The airport was not unlike everywhere on the Cape... the warmer the weather the busier it got. When fueling aircraft we always took each customer one at a time. Many would call airport operations and request their aircraft be fueled before they arrived. During the busier months, operations would radio the fueler with tail number and gallons requested. We would add it to the list and continue fueling and move on to the next. On one occasion, while fueling an aircraft, I recognized an individual running to his aircraft, jumping in, start, taxi and take-off. His aircraft was on my list but had not got to it before his arrival. I didn't give it too much thought just thinking he decided to not take on fuel at this time.
An hour or so later, I see him approaching me on the ramp while I was fueling. He looked a little disheveled but extremely angry. Minutes after take-off he ran out of gas and was able to put it down in a field. He returned to the airport to let me know it was all my fault for not fueling his aircraft as requested. I took none of his venting and ignored his rant. He took the complaint to the airport management, were Richard Hodgkins pretty much gave him the same treatment. This pilot had no regard for a proper preflight and he was very lucky he was able to come back to the airport to rant at all.
I went through all the incidents recorded with the FAA for this time period but found nothing, I can only believe that it was not reported and or recorded. This was not an incident that I would every forget and I'm sure that holds true for the pilot as well.
The summers were very busy but soon after Labor Day it was like a switch got turned off. Staff was reduced and we continued our duties but less hectic as the previous months.
As we approached winter, we prepared to add additional duties... snow removal. The Cape had seen light snow fall in some years and other years got quite the dumping. The airport didn't have a staff just for snow removal. It was not contracted out. The maintenance and operations staff were responsible for removing snow throughout the airport which consisted of about 6 people (2 maintenance, 3 ops and 1 janitor). I remember working my shift at ops (fueling, maintaining the fuel storage, crash rescue, monitoring the radio unicom) and assisting with shoveling snow at the terminal. After my regular shift I would continue to shovel and then at about 9 pm I would get in the plow and take over keeping the runways and taxiways clear of snow. The snow is coming down, the windshield wipers are going back and forth and your going down the mile long runway and turn around and go back and do it again. After several hours of plowing and after being at the airport for nearly twenty hours I nodded off and veered from the runway and woke up when the plow took out a runway light. Time for another cup of coffee and make note to maintenance about the light. Just another day at BMA.
Sitting in the operations office late one morning, doing some recordkeeping while listening to the tower frequency. I could hear the tower talking to a pilot without any response in return. The tower was telling him he was entering a controlled air space and interfering with aircraft approved for landing. Still no response. A light aircraft was on final and approved to land on runway 33, when a Cessna 150 was lined up to his right to land as well The Cessna elected to land on taxiway "A" as the other aircraft touchdown on 33. The Cessna, after landing, continued to taxi quickly to the base of the tower. The tower had already contacted me and told me to go after this lunatic. As I sped up the ramp towards the tower, I could see a large individual jump out of his aircraft, leap over the 4 foot fence dividing the ramp from the tower and banging his fists on the tower door. The tower asked me to see what he wants. I told them that I might wait for back up. Once the man saw me at the fence he came running back to my pickup truck, leaping over the fence and approaching my window. My window was closed and he was banging on the window and making unintelligible sounds. I could tell this man was frantic and frustrated but I didn't feel threatened by him. I rolled down my widow to try to make sense of the situation. After a brief moment I recognized that he was deaf and also could not speak. I quickly gave him a pen and paper were he wrote out his urgent message.
This gentleman was authorized to fly from uncontrolled airfields only and was limited to specific areas. He was flying over the shoreline between Sandwich and Barnstable when he saw a couple standing on their beach buggy on a sandbar with the tide coming in quickly. They were frantically waving for help. The pilot couldn't radio anyone so he went to the closest place he could for help. I told the tower to call the Coast Guard and an HH-52 helicopter was dispatched and was able to rescue the couple.
The pilot was very happy that his complete disregard for airport protocol came to a positive end. He kept shaking my hand and hugging me for my assistance. I then wrote down the procedure for getting him back in the air and back home.
Just another day at BMA.
Frank Joy was the President of Cape Cod Ready Mix. He was also an avid aviator and I got to know him while at the airport. He offered me a job and I decided to make the move.