Monday, February 27, 2006
Why Planes Break Down In Christ Church
When I was the Comptroller (military money man) for a military cargo plane (airlift) group on Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, I managed the compiling and submitting of monthly reports of our airlift services in the Pacific to higher headquarters. A sergeant worked for me who did the actual work, I just had the pleasure of explaining his findings. We used a novel method of tracking aircraft performance against scheduled arrival times throughout the Pacific, which included weekly flights to Australia and New Zealand. If an airplane was delayed enroute because of a mechanical problem, we would add the delay time to the scheduled arrival times at bases along the way. For example, suppose a C-141 cargo plane was delayed 24 hours leaving its home base, Travis AFB, California, on the start of its mission which included Hickam AFB, Hawaii, then American Samoa, Christ Church in New Zealand, a round robin of bases and communication stations in Australia; RAAF Richmond near Sidney, then Woomera, then Alice Springs, back to Christ Church, American Somoa, Hickam, and home.
If the plane was delayed, we would just add 24 hours to the scheduled arrival times at each base, and if the plane made the new scheduled times, we would report the mission as 100% on time, even though against the original schedule the performance was 0% on time. If the plane had a problem enroute, we would similarly adjust the schedule for the mechanical delay time. The bottom line was that our statistics showed that we operated an almost 100% on-time system.
That impressed my bosses, but it didn’t impress the U S Army general stationed in Australia, who informed my boss that our planes rarely arrived according to schedule. His point was that if he was told to expect our plane at his base on Wednesday and it didn’t arrive until the next day, it was late. And our lateness caused him problems. He had people all packed and ready to leave, or work ready to be done by someone who was supposed to be arriving per the schedule. When that didn’t happen, work and lives were disrupted.
My boss noted that I told him each month that we were almost perfect in accordance with our reporting system. He said an Army general was chewing on his ass telling him just the opposite. I said I would check it out and report back.
I soon found the Army general was right, and the problem was caused by something the Air Force had little control over.
Our review showed that our aircraft had little or no mechanical problems flying the route. They rarely if ever had mechanical breakdowns except for one stop, Christ Church, New Zealand. In fact, on each mission the aircraft usually broke upon arrival at Christ Church on both the inbound and outbound legs, causing a delay of 24 hours each breakdown. What was it about Christ Church that was so rough on Air Force airplanes? The commercial flights going in and out didn’t seem to have any problem.
After considerable study and much pondering of data, we finally got to the bottom of the problem, which we found involved the bottoms and other delectable parts of New Zealand women. It appeared that they and their parts were crazy about Yanks, and vice versa. Therefore, the crew chief on each plane would save a mechanical discrepancy, actually quite minor, but which upon arrival at Christ Church was declared a danger to flight operations until repaired. All the single guys and Class B bachelors would indulge their and the young ladies fantasies, then bid a fond farewell with the promise of return in a couple of days, when another mechanical emergency would miraculously occur.
What was I to do with this unexpected revelatory information? Had I been an honorary Jew then, I would have asked myself, “What would Solomon have done?”
Instead, I asked the sergeant what he thought. He thought that our airplanes would keep breaking down in Christ Church every time they landed there. His statistics supported his judgment.
That’s when I earned my gold leaves – my Major officer insignia. “What if we only stop at Christ Church on the way out?” I said.
The change worked beautifully. With Christ Church as their goal, the aircraft arrived at each enroute base precisely on schedule with the precision of fine Swiss watches, until the inevitable breakdown at Christ Church on the return leg. At that point, no one minded the delay. Some lovely New Zealand ladies had their love lives cut in half, but the Yanks were just that much more eager and ready to entertain them, and make the best use of their reduced time together.