The day we started to work on the plane Frank Gonzales, the foreman, decided that the first major part of Air Force One to be removed was to be the left rear horizontal stabilizer. That meant that he would have to get someone into the rear end of the fuselage to determine exactly what would need to be done first, to remove it. Seems logical enough, right?
O.K. so, we sent Khoa Duong, the smallest guy in the crew, into the rear of the plane. After about an hour he emerged with the necessary information, explained to Frank what he thought needed to be done. He told Frank that he thought it would take “about an hour” to remove the necessary components to start the removal of the stabilizer.
However, we needed to coordinate the turning of one of the hydraulic components in the rear of the fuselage by moving the pilot’s yoke, or steering wheel, which meant someone, had to sit in the pilot’s seat and turn a dead steering wheel until the elevator was in right position. Khoa would tell that person when to stop. It was, at that point, that we realized we had no way to communicate with the person that was in the cockpit, nor did Khoa. Can you believe it; it doesn’t get more basic than that. But remember, none of this had ever been done before. Aircraft of this caliber are simply not meant to come apart! Since we had no walkie-talkies we had to use our cell phones to communicate, which fortunately we all had.
Khoa was an interesting guy, he was a Vietnamese national who became a citizen and joined the United States Air Force. His dream was to get appointed into the 89th Airlift Wing so that he could work on “Air Force One”. Although he did maintain and repair aircraft for the Air Force, he was never given the chance to be part of the 89th AW, or to work on Air Force One.
When this opportunity came to him, Khoa was long out of the Air Force and a was a freelance aircraft mechanic who had worked for Boeing Aircraft. The week that this opportunity arose, Khoa had been offered a high paying job to work with his partner on a project for another aircraft company. Guess what? For a lot less money, Khoa could not bring himself to pass up on the project of working on SAM27000. For him, it was a dream-come-true. He was a true patriot in his heart and soul. He was so proud to be working on this plane. He could now tell his children he that he was working on Air Force One.
Khoa estimated that it would take “about an hour” to prep that stabilizer to be removed. He was stuck working in that tail section for seven days! He would come out only to have lunch and when we were finished for the day. Those early days also went well into the night. Because that’s what it took. He never complained. In fact, it was joy he gained from the work. Needless to say that week he didn’t drink a lot of fluids.