The Liberty Gazette
December 1, 2015Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
There used to be this problem with the F-111 fighter jet where the engines were flaming out when they reached 30,000’ where the shock wave would block air flow, which is critical for jet engines. The test pilots had been trying to make it work, climbing to 30,000’, and when the engines would flame out they’d descend to get enough air to re-light them, and climb back up, but it would happen again.
The folks working on the problem near Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth were employees of General Dynamics, including young engineers such as Norman, who was in his first job since graduating from college with a degree in electrical engineering. Norman had received several job offers, and General Dynamics not only offered the best package, but they were also in the hometown of his bride, making that decision easy.
So on they went, testing the engines to find out the problem that needed to be solved. Building the F-111 had won General Dynamics a visit from a congressman and a big check. Now Norman and his fellow engineers put the engine on a test stand and started fiddling with things that would affect how the air traveled through it. They experimented with plates and spikes here and there, adding them to the engine to redirect air flow, to break it up, causing a turbulent flow into the engine. When they got the configuration right it would eventually keep the air moving through the engine when it reached high altitude, in spite of the shock wave.
Norman’s part in this effort was to work on the instrumentation of the plane, so he went to work connecting probes and manometers to test pressures, making adjustments and recording numbers. Two big block walls separated Norman and the others at the test stand from the workers in the engine monitoring room, yet the noise level was still quite high.
The work paid off, the solution was found, and Norman moved on to the next project, putting his efforts into the B-58 "Hustler", the world’s first super-sonic bomber.
On Norman’s last day with the company he was to report to the flight line at 7:00 am to test an antenna resistance. The antenna was built in to the skin of the airplane, behind the cockpit on the pilot’s side, so Norman gave his tool and equipment list to the union workers and climbed up the ladder. There in the cockpit were so many switches and levers and knobs and buttons that he was afraid to get in the seat in case he might accidentally move something, so straddling atop the plane, Norman got the job done.
"Even though I didn’t fly those things," he laughs, "I rode that baby - but on the ground. That’s probably the safest way."
You may remember Norman Dykes from when he was Liberty’s city manager, or you may see him still at the weekly Rotary meetings here. When you see him next, ask him to tell you what he knows about a Navy pilot dropping a message-clad rock on the family farm.