Ask a Veteran
These Museum staffers and volunteers once served their country in the armed forces. Now they serve in a different way.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- AirSpaceMag.com, November 10, 2011
Dane A. Penland
John Shatz has loved airplanes since he was five years old, but when asked what led him to join the Air Force in 1955, he says, “You know, I've often wondered that myself.” Could it be the uniform? “Yes,” he deadpans. “I wanted to look like a bus driver.”
Before he retired as a major in 1976, Shatz’s favorite assignment was with the 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron, based at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base from 1965 to 1967, working as a maintenance officer on his favorite aircraft, the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.
The 421st flew the F-105 for only two years, and Shatz was the maintenance officer for the squadron during that time. He had approximately 125 men helping to keep the squadron’s 18 F-105s running 24 hours a day.
The F-105 was skittish. “The more you flew it, the better off you were,” says Shatz. "Basically, the airplane never quit flying.” If a -105 had to go to the depot facility for maintenance, when it returned it wasn’t put on a mission right away. “You knew that something was going to go wrong,” says Shatz, “and probably within the first 30 minutes of flight.” After the aircraft had made two or three local area checks, it could be rotated back into service.
One of the -105s in Shatz’s care didn’t follow the routine. When the aircraft was at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, someone had installed the wrong power unit and had blown every fuse and circuit breaker. Normally that would demote the airplane to hangar queen status, so the pilot who was to ferry the airplane back to Thailand, Shatz’s friend Frank Reamer, went to the officers club and downed a few beers. But after a few hours, maintainers found him and told him the airplane had checked out. The next day, Frank flew the -105 on its long, overwater trip from Clark into Thailand. It turned out that the airplane was assigned to Frank. “At that time, the average fighter pilot did 100 missions, but rarely more than a few in their assigned bird,” says Shatz. “By hook or by crook and sheer accident, Frank flew 80 of his 100 missions in that airplane. It’s unheard of.”
Shatz would be reunited with the F-105 years later. After he retired, he volunteered at the Museum archives for a couple of years before taking a staff position in 1989 as a specialist with the preservation and restoration side of the house. In 2007 he led the restoration effort of the F-105 in the Museum’s collections. His last restoration will be the Curtiss Helldiver. “When that’s done,” he says, “I plan on hanging up my hat and wandering off.”
Shatz is photographed with the Museum’s Republic F-105D Thunderchief, which is on display in the Boeing Aviation Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Read more about the F-105 here; or listen to Shatz describe the idiosyncrasies of the F-105.