Updated: Mar 25
Member Spotlight: Keith David Wentzel
feature written by Keith Wentzel, member
On my first flight, I was young when mom dragged me along on a trip from Charlotte to Midwest City, OK to see my aunt and uncle. My uncle worked at Tinker AFB on jet engines, and he would take me along to the base on some days. I remember the flights, a Super Constellation (Eastern) out of Charlotte to Dallas (Love Field) and then Brannif to Oklahoma City.
I had already been interested in airplanes. Dad used to take me out to the airport to watch them come in and take off so naturally I figured I wanted to work on airplanes someday. After I graduated from High School, with Vietnam heating up, I enlisted in the Air Force.
After tech school at Lowry AFB, (camera school) my first assignment was at a small recon base in Cambridge England called RAF Alconbury.
As a camera tech I worked on RB-66s when I first got there and then RF-4Cs for the rest of my time there. The trip to Alconbury was interesting.
I was going to fly across the pond! A quick stop in Charlotte, then an Eastern Electra to Newark and a shuttle bus to McGuire AFB.
Some how I expected to see a 707 on the tarmac, I was disappointed.
I don’t remember if it was a C-54 or a C-118, doesn’t matter. I was not thrilled. I was less thrilled when we took off enroute to Gander or Goose Bay, somewhere up there in the frozen tundra and lost an engine about halfway. I spent two days up there while they changed an engine. But nevertheless, we were off to the next stop in Prestwick, Scotland with yet another engine leaving a trail of blue smoke. I remember I was about to doze off when the pilot came on the intercom and announced, “Airmen, just to let you know we just passed the point of no return!” (Now seriously, is this something I really needed to know?) Funny how you remember stuff like that. Well from Prestwick to Mildenhall and a bus to Alconbury.
We had a C-47 (0-76609) at Alconbury, I saw it a couple of times out on the flight line.
Didn’t think I would ever get to fly on it. Well, what did I know.
I think it was ‘66 maybe, my Sgt called me as I was getting ready to hit the sack. He said you want to go to France tomorrow, pick up some camera equip. Well, OK. Good! Be on this hardstand tomorrow morn at 0600. I had a friend drive me out to the hardstand and there sits the C-47.
Pilot said, “you guys get in, we got to get out of here!” We took off just as the sun peeked above the horizon. Flew low over the Channel and headed to NE France. I think this was after De Gaulle kicked us out, don’t really remember. So, we landed at this base and there was a phantom sitting on a hardstand, we taxied right up beside it. The pilot said, “OK guys. I’ll give you 20 minutes to get everything off that aircraft.” I pulled all the cameras and equipment from the plane, another guy pulled the radar and the other guy pulled stuff out of the cockpit, and we were off! Headed to Wiesbaden, Germany. I really don’t remember if we spent the night in Wiesbaden but then we were off to our next stop at a base in the Netherlands which I can't pronounce or spell.
From the Netherlands, we were finally back to Alconbury. As we crossed the Channel I glanced out of the window and saw the White Cliffs. Couldn’t help to think that was the same sight so many WWII airman saw on there way back from missions over Europe. Anyway, back at Alconbury, my back thanked me, and my stomach thanked me!
After the Air Force, I went to work for General Electric, GE, Honeywell, Wand Labs etc. I spent 40 years as a tech in the computer business with much travel. After I retired, not being one to sit around, I started volunteering at the Carolinas Aviation Museum Research Library here in Charlotte. The Museum, which started in 1992, collected several aircraft. Among them an old C-47 which I think they got from Canada. The museum did a great job on that bird, painted up in Piedmont Airlines livery and branding it N44V the Commonwealth Pacemaker. They flew that bird to many airshows; I think they took it up to Oshkosh two or three times. However, the day came that the museum board said it was too costly to fly anymore.
It needed a new engine, brakes, and other stuff so it became a static display.
Never thought I would get to fly on that bird either, well what do I know.
There were three of us working in the library one day, (the library was in a different building from the museum). I remember the phone rang, I answered it and the museum president said, “we are taking the DC-3 on one last flight today, anyone want to go along?” He didn’t have to ask me twice! We headed over to the museum and the DC-3 was on the ramp getting fueled. It was just a short trip around Charlotte with stops at some local airports like Concord and Monroe. At Concord I was out on the ramp taking some photos of our plane when a G4 came in and parked next to us.
The crew got out, I thought they looked young. One of them came over and asked me if I came in on the DC-3, I said “yep.” They asked me if they could go inside and look, I helped them enter. I took them in and up to the cockpit and I remember the first thing one of them said was, “look at all those round gauges!” Funny how you remember this stuff.
That was my last flight on a DC-3/C-47, maybe you never know.