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Sun, Jan 30, 2005

Marine Propeller Tech Retires To Adventure

George Morgan Retires After 26 Years Of Service And Self-Imposed Challenges

A long time ago, when George F. Morgan was a young Marine crew chief, he borrowed a parachute from his pilot and hurled himself from the open tail of a flying R4Q2 “Boxcar.” It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. Granted, the aircraft’s pilot didn’t think Morgan was really going to do it when he asked. And certainly, the jumpmaster who was readying the squad of infantry jumpers on static lines wasn’t expecting it. The grunts themselves must have been quite surprised when this young “winger” raced past them and dove into the open blue sky.

Holy Geronimo.

But anyone who has known Morgan for the last couple of decades probably wouldn’t be surprised at all. The man has always kept an eye open for the next adventure to come along. In January, Morgan retired from Naval Air Depot Cherry Point (NC) after 26 years of service. That was just the newest challenge in a string of adventures that date back to the summer of 1956, when, barely out of high school in Clifton Heights (PA), he jumped right into a career with the Marines. “Everyone else in town was joining, so I did too,” says Morgan, who was the last person to think he would end up working in aviation. “The Marine Corps was John Wayne digging a foxhole,” he says. “I didn’t even know the Marines had aviation.” But by the time Morgan finished his first aviation mechanics school, he was hooked.

Today, Morgan is probably one of the most knowledgeable propeller guys around. His most recent duty here was as the assistant program manager for propeller logistics. Look past the fancy title and what you really see is a prop man to the bone. Morgan first put his hands on a propeller nearly 50 years ago as a young Marine working on aircraft here at Cherry Point. During his first assignments, he served as a flight mechanic and in the squadron Propeller Shop. This included crew and propeller work on the R4Q2 and, later, the KC-130 “Hercules.”

Over the years, between repeated stints here at Cherry Point, Morgan served on inspector and instructor duty – teaching reservists the fine art of aircraft maintenance; recruiting duty – convincing other young men and women that he wasn’t the only one who could have fun in the Corps; and completing tours of duty overseas – working in and eventually running prop shops, as well as serving two tours as a C-130 aircrew member in Vietnam.

After 20 years climbing the green side, he strapped on his chute and bailed out for the next adventure. By then, aviation wasn’t just a job for him, it was in his blood. So he spent the next two years getting his associate’s degree in Aviation Maintenance Technology, with a side of Accounting. He knew the deal – advance your education, get a better job. Right? Which was why he couldn’t understand why he was turned down for his first application to work at the depot. “Overqualified” he was told. So what if he had applied to work in sheet metal – it wasn’t about what job he did – it was about where he wanted to work, near those big things with wings and propellers. After a telephone call to someone who could “officially” point out it was dumb not to hire him, he clocked in here for the first time in 1978.

Just over a year later, he was sent where his talents could be used best – working as an engineering technician on OV-10 propellers and power management systems. Over time, this work evolved to include J59 engines, H-53 helicopters and the propellers that push Navy hovercraft across the surface. During a previous round of base closures, Morgan drafted the transition plan to bring prop work from Alameda (CA) to Cherry Point.

So, what exactly did he do? “Just about anything that deals with props,” he’ll answer. That included ordering them, scheduling repairs, finding them, arranging for transportation and shipping, getting parts and technical data – the list goes on. A key component of his job was that he directly supported the fleet customer. His role was not in production, but more like the job done by the customer liaison team here, except specifically for props.

Spending so much time in an office can be tough on an adventurer. So Morgan made up for it over the years by finding his adventures wherever he could outside of the job. Following a very brief and one-way conversation with the air station commanding general after that early unqualified jump from the R4Q2, Morgan took up sky diving the legal way and accumulated more than 300 jumps.

But when he is in an airplane these days, he doesn’t jump out of them, because he is at the controls. A private pilot for 30 years, he has owned at various times five different airplanes, including small taildraggers with room for one- or two-person operation. “I prefer flying low and slow,” says Morgan, who finds it much more interesting flying at relatively low altitudes where he can get a truer bird’s eye view of the terrain beneath him. The tail-wheeled aircraft that he prefers are designed specifically for this type of work, and for landing in small, out of the way places.

“I don’t think anything frightens him,” says Carolyn Morgan, who has endured the duties of adventurer’s wife for the past four decades. Although he has sheltered his wife from most of the scarier events, she has occasionally been a somewhat reluctant participant. “I’m in awe of him and what he can do,” she says. “He’s a very together person,” she says, explaining that he is very meticulous when it comes to flight preparation and safety. Carolyn won’t forget one particular flight with him many years ago when they were forced to land at an airport in Norfolk (VA) due to rough weather. “I was afraid, but he calmly put it down just as smooth as could be. You would have thought (Charles) Lindbergh had just landed, the way they all came out and applauded.”

Perhaps his wife’s words say it all when she adds, “He’s always done more or less what he wanted to do.” That has included rebuilding old cars and, as a certified airframes and power plants mechanic, old airplanes – just for the fun of it. Anyone who has tried this sort of thing will say you really have to love it or it’ll drive you crazy. Airplane sales magazines are littered with unfinished kit planes and restoration projects. For Morgan, it just seems to be the thing to do at the time. Late last month, he traded his latest project, a restored 1980 Corvette, for his sixth airplane, a Cessna 150.

Now, with his recent retirement, the adventure continues. Like that first jump, he’s not sure where it will land him or what he will do next, but, sometimes, that’s one of the best parts of living in an adventure. Geronimo!

(Our thanks to Mike Barton, Public Affairs Specialist, for both the story and photo of Mr. Morgan. ANN's Associate Editor Juan Jimenez served at MCAS Cherry Point's Station Operations and Engineering Squadron as a line avionics technician on SAR CH-46A's about the time Morgan began his second career there, and has fond memories of cold winter North Carolina nights on the flight line... Brrr!)



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