Sunup, or sundown, there is never a bad time to be around airplanes. Being contract maintenance for the now defunct American Trans Air (ATA), we worked the night, whilst the fleet flew during the day. Not complaining, that was just the nature of the business, unless you were a UPS mechanic.
In regards to the title of this post, one of my favorite aircraft to work with was the masterful Lockheed L-1011. Love it, or hate it, it was a well thought-out, well-built, reliable airplane. My only ire with the type was not getting as much time with them as I would have liked, being ATA had about purged them from the fleet by 2007.
Thus, when one lucky night would have it, we were on duty when a Tristar was inbound from HNL with a load of United States Marines. She landed, taxied up to the FBO, pulled a wonderful 180-degree turn on the tight ramp, and came to a halt. Out the L2 door came the combat-ready (fully equipped, fully armed) Marines, smart looking, disciplined, and extremely courteous to us still-of-the-night aeroplane wrenches. Additionally, in the post-sanity, post decorum, post 9/11 world of paranoia, it was quite refreshing to see a planeload of fully armed passengers, with no one freaking out by the sight of a weapon.
Walk-around inspection complete, time for a quick line-check of the innards, and after a brief meeting with a malfunctioning air conditioning pack gauge on the engineer's panel, we took the "Tour." The tour was an adventure that could not be taken on most other aircraft, however, none made it as simple as opening door-after-door, as on the Tristar. Being more than one way to get under the cabin floor from the cabin itself, we began our adventure from the flightdeck down into one of the Electronics & Equipment bays (E&E), and from there opened a rear door to the forward cargo hold. Through other doors, one can literally run the entire length of an L-1011, from nose to tail, save for the landing gear bay, all without setting foot in the main cabin. Neat stuff. And, the ATA Flight Engineer (FE) was extremely proud to show us around his bird. About all Professional FE's were that way, but alas, they are no longer part of the crews, with all newer types eliminating them due to systems automation.
With the tour over, and literally dozens of "Oh's" and "Ahh's" later, we buttoned everything up, fuel topped-off, and it was time for the crew to get the old girl back to HNL. All the paperwork signed, we said our goodbye's to one of the nicest, if not the nicest, crews we had ever met, and it was pure music hearing those RB211's spool up and light-off. We watched them taxi out, take off, fly the Pomona Eight SID (Standard Instrument Departure) off RWY 08R, and our eyes followed that L-1011 until it went over the mountains. The whole affair was in the realm of the spiritual, for sure.
Looking back now, and seeing how homogenized aviation has become, with the overly quiet, two-engined airliners today, I was glad to have finally had the chance to get up close, and personal, with the 'ol gal before she was retired. And, yes, it did smell like a real airplane inside.
I also finally got the chance to do somersetting I had always wanted to do in aviation: I got to poke my head out of the escape hatch of an L-1011 (see photo above) - Another silly, personal goal off my bucket list.
Thanks for the experience, Lockheed.