MMAC Celebrates 75 Years; Remembering 1981 - 1984
Vol.8 Issue 2
Entertainment montage from 1981 - 1984

Flipping back through the pages of history, 1981 through 1984 were remarkable on all fronts. If your memory is triggered by popular music, the ’80s were one of the most memorable decades. Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" album debuted, along with a very eclectic selection of fun music, including "Celebration," from Kool and the Gang, and "Mr. Roboto" from Styx. If you recall years by which movies were popular at the time, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" brought Indiana Jones into our cinematic memories. Harrison Ford also appeared in the cult classic "Blade Runner" as well. Ahead of its time was John Carpenter’s masterpiece, "The Thing," which is still captivating today, as is "E.T." by Stephen Spielberg. Many other movies entertained us in those few years, but reality brought us the "wedding of the century." Worldwide, 750 million viewers tuned in to see Lady Diana Spencer marry Charles, the Prince of Wales.

Widely watched wedding of Lady Di and Prince Charles

If you remember time periods by what happened in the computing world, IBM launched its first Personal Computer (PC) using the MS DOS operating system. "The Computer" was actually named as Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1982. Microsoft Word was released in 1983, and along came 1984; when Apple Macintosh Computers provided a very memorable Orwellian-themed, Superbowl commercial, and an alternative means of computing.

Personal Computers from the early 1980s

Politically, President Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor (the first female Justice) to serve on the United States Supreme Court; the country of Iran released 52 American hostages back to the U.S. after 444 days in captivity; and bringing honor to our military members who served, were killed, or considered missing in action in Vietnam, a Memorial Wall was built honoring their sacrifice in Washington, DC.

President Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court

Iranian hostages returned to the U.S. after 444 days in captivity
Vietnam Memorial Wall is built in Washington DC

As humans began exploring outer space again, 1981 was a very important year, as NASA launched the first - reusable - Space Shuttle (Columbia). Over the next few years, several other missions were flown, including one that carried Sally Ride (the first American woman astronaut) into space. Another mission brought Guion Bluford (the first African American astronaut) into Earth’s orbit, who researched the physiological effects of space on the human body. In 1984, astronauts also performed the first untethered Space Walk. The early 80’s were exciting for many Americans, as it had been over a decade since human beings walked on the moon.

First Space Shuttle launch, astronauts Sally Ride and Guion Bluford

Astronauts perform the first untethered space walk

The following is a chronological glimpse of additional events that happened from 1981 through 1984 in the Federal Aviation Administration.

On January 19, 1981, FAA announced that it had begun a program to improve navigational charts used by pilots flying under visual flight rules. The improvements were based on recommendations of an agency working group and were to be implemented in cooperation with the Inter-Agency Cartographic Committee.

January 20, 1981, Ronald Reagan became President. Charles E. Weithoner, Associate Administrator for Administration, became the Acting FAA Administrator.

Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO)

Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) members go on strike

The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) proposed a 32-hour work week and a separate pay scale for air traffic controllers. After 37 negotiating sessions with the FAA, PATCO representatives walked out of contract talks on April 28th, 1981. Robert Poli, PATCO President, proposed a strike if an agreement wasn’t reached by June, and that "the skies will be silent" if FAA’s negotiators didn’t "come to their senses."

PATCO continued to grapple with the Reagan Administration regarding contract proposals, and the Senate eventually responded by saying that a strike "will do nothing to further your [PATCO] goals of increased pay and changes in working conditions." However, an agreement was reached, containing four key provisions:

  1. A "responsibility" differential that would give controllers 42 hours pay for each normal 40-hour week worked.
  2. An increase in the night differential from 10 to 15 percent of base pay.
  3. The exclusion of overtime, night differential, and Sunday and holiday pay from the limitations of the Federal pay cap.
  4. A retraining allowance equivalent to 14 weeks of base pay for controllers who became medically disqualified after five consecutive years of service at the journeyman level or above and who were ineligible for retirement or disability compensation.

The first-year cost of the total package, which included a cost-of-living raise of 4.8 percent due Federal civil service employees in October, came to approximately $40 million or, on the average, $4,000 per controller per year. PATCO had been seeking a package that would have cost the government, initially, in excess of $700 million per year.

On July 2, 1981, PATCO's nine-member executive board recommended unanimously that the union's members reject the tentative contract. So, on August 3rd, nearly 12,300 members of the 15,000-member controller organization went on strike, grounding approximately 35 percent of the nation's 14,200 daily commercial flights.

As a result, President Reagan issued the strikers a firm ultimatum: "Return to work within 48 hours or face permanent dismissal." The government moved swiftly on three fronts -- civil, criminal, and administrative -- to bring the full force of the law to bear on the strikers. Federal officials countered the strike with several legal steps and fines, which eventually led approximately 875 workers to return to work. After the grace period, about 11,400 controllers were dismissed, reducing the total number of Air Traffic Controllers to about 4,200.

To keep airways open, approximately 3,000 ATC supervisory personnel worked at controlling traffic. The FAA assigned assistants to support those controllers and accelerated hiring and training of new air traffic personnel. Military controllers also arrived at the FAA facilities soon after the strike began, and about 800 were ultimately assigned to the agency. Steps were also taken to limit the number of aircraft in the National Airspace System (NAS), keeping certain aircraft on the ground to maintain safe spacing distance.

On September 4, 1981, the FAA announced it would hire approximately 1,500 temporary employees, including furloughed airline pilots, to assist in replacing air traffic controllers who were fired for striking. The temporary employees would not control traffic but would perform duties related to flight strip distribution and other controller support functions. Later, the FAA announced a $10 million contract with the University of Oklahoma, for training new air traffic controllers, to replace those who were fired for participating in the illegal strike.

Boeing 767 takes flight

The twin-engine Boeing 767 made its first flight on September 26, 1981. On July 30, 1982, FAA certificated the aircraft, which was the first entirely new U.S. commercial transport design in more than a decade.

Effective November 2, 1981, the FAA re-established 12 inches as the required height for registration marks (N-numbers) on fixed-wing aircraft. A 1977 request from the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) called for a reduction in the size of the N-numbers for aesthetic purposes, which succeeded in reducing the minimum size to 3 inches on small airplanes. However, law enforcement agencies and the Defense Department demonstrated that timely and positive visual identification was compromised by the smaller markings.

Blind airline passengers protested policies on stowage of canes during flight

November 20, 1981 saw a change in FAA policy regarding the storage of blind airline passengers’ canes at their seats. The agency had declined to permit this in an earlier rule, deciding instead that the long utility canes should be handed over to flight attendants to be secured during takeoff and landing. This policy aroused considerable opposition, particularly from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The NFB petitioned FAA on the issue and filed suit when the petition was denied. Meanwhile, more than 100 blind persons and their supporters picketed FAA’s national headquarters on July 5, 1978, to protest the cane policy. In January 1979, a U.S. court granted FAA’s request for time to reconsider the issue. After testing by the agency’s Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), the FAA in November 1980 proposed a rule permitting accessible storage of the canes. The agency announced the final rule on July 24, 1981.

On Dec 31, 1981 The Federal Labor Relations Authority certified the Professional Airway Systems Specialists (PASS) as the exclusive representative of FAA's electronics technicians.

Boeing 757 is the first airliner with foreign made engines
A truck driver from Long Beach, California took to the skies in a lawn chair tied to balloons

The Boeing 757 first flew on February 19, 1982. The narrow-body jet was capable of carrying up to 219 passengers in short/medium range flights and was designed to replace the Boeing 727. Powered by two Rolls-Royce 535C engines, the 757 was the first Boeing airliner launched with foreign-made engines.

Larry Walters, a truck driver from Long Beach, California took to the skies on July 2, 1982 – in a lawn chair tied to balloons. His 45-minute flight ended by crashing into a power line, fortunately he was unharmed. The FAA fined Walters $1,500 for the escapade.

Later that same month, the FAA certificated the first transport category helicopter (Bell 222B) for single-pilot instrument flight rules (IFR) operation without stabilization equipment.

Grooves on runway surfaces improve safety

Later, on July 13, 1983, the FAA improved aircraft braking and direction control on wet runways by grooving the runway surface, resulting in upgrading of nearly 500 runways at 360 airports.

On September 30, 1983, the FAA awarded a contract for a new generation of solid-state Airport Surveillance Radars, designated as ASR-9’s, to replace vacuum-tube radars in use at U.S. airports.

Airport Surveillance Radar, ASR-9

In July of 1984, the FAA conducted an agency-wide Employee Attitude Survey as a part of a drive for improvements in employee/management relations. Some 26,000 persons responded to the questionnaire, which a Civil Aeromedical Institute research team prepared and analyzed. Results indicated that most employees were generally challenged by their work, satisfied with their pay and job security, but were less than positive about FAA’s human relations skills. Four questions addressed to air traffic control personnel helped to identify groups who were more prone to "burnout." As a result, Employee Involvement Groups intended to give employees a greater voice in developing policy and procedures.

A "hotline" was also established to link employees with the Administrator’s staff, beginning in August of 1984. Stress management counseling was also made available, to allow more air traffic controllers to achieve full performance level, thus sharing difficult tasks more widely among the workforce.

On October 26, 1984, the FAA published two rules to increase the survival chances of airline passengers encountering fire and smoke. Both were based on findings of the Special Aviation Fire and Explosion Reduction (SAFER) Advisory Committee. One rule called for the installation of seat cushions possessing an outer layer of highly fire-resistant material. Research showed that the cushions would provide as much as 40 additional seconds before "flashover," the deadly ignition of accumulated vapors. The second rule required emergency escape path markings at or near floor level which would provide evacuation guidance even when all sources of illumination more than four feet above the cabin aisle floor were totally obscured by smoke.

Employee Attitude Survey improves communication between management and employees

Finally, on December 1, 1984, the FAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration conducted a Controlled Impact Demonstration (CID) in which a Boeing 720 was remotely piloted to a prepared crash site at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

The aircraft carried instrumented test dummies, high-speed cameras, and more than 350 sensors for transmitting data to ground recorders. The project involved numerous experiments on the crash behavior of the aircraft's structure and of internal features such as seats, seat belts and harnesses, storage compartments, and galleys. Among the other items tested were fire-blocking seat cushion layers, fire-resistant windows, cockpit voice recorders, and flight data recorders. Most importantly, the aircraft's tanks carried anti-misting kerosene (AMK), an experimental fuel designed to prevent or minimize the fireball that may result when spillage from a ruptured tank forms a volatile mist and ignites. Devices known as degraders converted the AMK back to normal kerosene before it entered the engines.

Preparations at the impact site included eight steel wing cutters installed to ensure that fuel would spill from the tanks. Touching down 300 feet short of the cutters with its left wing low, the aircraft slid forward at an angle so that the first cutter slashed into the right inboard engine before ripping the wing tank open.

Consequently, the spill began with non-AMK fuel from the engine, which ignited instantly and touched off the AMK fuel gushing from the tank. A spectacular fireball resulted. The use of AMK reduced the heat of the fire, and an estimated 20 percent of the passengers would probably have escaped if the aircraft contained real occupants.

The AMK test was disappointing, and in September of 1985 the FAA announced that it had dropped plans to require airline’s use of the special fuel. Despite this, other experiments conducted as part of the CID produced a wealth of useful information.

Controlled Impact Demonstration (CID) in which a Boeing 720 was remotely piloted to a prepared crash site

In celebration of the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center’s 75th Anniversary, we have prepared some trivia questions that will be featured monthly in each newsletter. Click here to participate in the next session.

Mentimeter QR Code
MMAC 75<sup>th</sup> Anniversary logo
Federal Aviation Aministration (FAA) seal