Monday, January 14, 2013

A Legendary Encounter

Who was that mystery caller?
by David D.

While managing ground activities for the JetStar commercial jet that Lockheed built, I had an unusual encounter with Howard Hughes. The aircraft flew from home at Marietta, Georgia, to California for testing. The test director was named Robert Gross, coincidently the same name as the chairman of the board of Lockheed. One of major tests at Edward Air Force Base on a thrust stand was interrupted by call from a “Bob Gross” ordering us to stop and fly the aircraft to Lockheed's Palmdale facility. The call could not be verified. However, the test engineer thought it best to follow the order because he thought it was from our test director, Bob Gross. Upon arriving at Palmdale, David and his crew were met by two civilian guards from Hughes Aircraft with orders to quarantine the ship and spray it down for any contaminations that their “Papa” was going to fly the aircraft. "Who the hell is your Papa?" asked David. "Howard Hughes, Boy, know who that is?" was the answer. To make a long story short, Howard Hughes was allowed to fly only after team found out that Jack Reale, vice president for Lockheed, made the call, claiming to be "the Bob Gross, CEO" ordering the flight on his own. Reale was the only person Hughes would talk to at Lockheed. Hughes boarded the aircraft dressed in very casual clothes, with no belt and deck shoes, and made a test flight that was important to future JetStar sales.