Recollections of a Small Town
NOT AN OLD WAR STORY
This is closer to a love story about two ugly mechanics. They were
ranked by the army nomenclature as Engineers. Neither had a degree from
MIT or anywhere other than a few years in the car or engine factories of
Detroit and Muskegon. They learned to build things there.
In the armed forces they became aircraft engineers with a focus on
making sure airplanes were capable of flying off the ground and keep flying
when above the ground. One flew with bomber crews and the other baby-sat
his plane on the ground.
Rudolph Koolovitz was the guy in the air. William Perlacki was the
one on the ground.
Perlacki lived in a hut beside the hardstand where the plane parked
between flights. We envied him because his place was evenly warmed with
a controlled flow of used oil to a “heater” of his design. It was soon
evident that he had a serious love for his airplane. He was awake all night
making sure that no detail of engine or hydraulic performance was questionable
when his baby had to fly.
He was there when his flying counterpart arrived with the pilots
and crew. The two engineers conferred briefly and climbed onto the flight
deck with the pilots for pre-flight check. If they were satisfied, we were
also. He was there when his big bird rolled back to the hardstand. He was
glad we were back, but didn’t smile until he had scanned the plane and
got a report of any malfunctions.
Rudy was as adept with a slide rule as any MIT graduate and used
it to calculate weights of crew, fuel, bomb load and relay to pilots power
settings needed for take off and climbing. He was never wrong. He leaned
between the pilots during takeoff, his eyes on the instruments and a huge
hand planted on the throttles to keep them at full power during the crucial
minutes. Then he turned to his panel to monitor engine performance, fuel
consumption, and a slew of other things.
A crucial in-flight job was to keep fuel evenly balanced between
the tanks by cross-feeding as necessary and adjusting mixture to engines
using too much. Just to move fuel from one wing tank to the opposite one
required the calculations of a chess master, we thought. He never created
a vapor lock, wasted fuel, or shut an engine down.
On the ground, these two “Pollacks” could not have been more different.
Rudy was a huge, happy, laughing bear. Perlacki was spare to gaunt, affable
enough when we visited his hut, but never cordial or much interested in
getting to know us. We wondered if he had lost an airplane and the crew
flying on a bad day. It was a question that couldn’t be asked. No one ever
saw him away from the flight line. Rudy answered to, “Hey Banana Nose”
“You, Pollack!,” quite happily.
There was some quirky love affair which lasted as long as necessary.
A private affair between engineers, flying crew, and an airplane. When
we departed each unto our own homes, the memories of old love affairs are
uniquely selective to each. This one is in there somewhere. Or should be.
August 8, 2002
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