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"I'd like at least women to know I didn't have a hard time," says Mary Feik as she reflects on the early days of her career. "I was a rarity. You just didn't see too many women mechanics during World War II."
Though this seems contrary to reports of other women pioneers, Ms. Feik is adamant: "The men were terrific."
And she should know she has worked with many over the past 55 years as a mechanic, engineer and flight trainer.
The veteran mechanic began her career in 1942 and tinkered her way from mechanic to engineer. She began teaching aircraft maintenance to crew chiefs and mechanics for the U.S. Army Air Force and continued to build her skills from there.
During World War II, she mastered the workings of several fighter airplanes. As she tells it, ``You name it, I've worked on it, at least until the coming of jet engines." With the arrival of this impressive technology, Feik stepped up to help introduce pilots to the new power. She developed a pilot transition training program and designed flight trainers from ``fire-breathing airplanes." These trainers were created to simulate every kind of in-flight emergency. "The ticker is," she says, "after the training was done, they wanted the plane put back into flying condition."
As word spread of her mechanical wizardry and knack for engineering, she was called to duty as a consultant to aircraft producers. ``Every time we put a plane in production," Feik recalls of her work with airplane manufacturers, "we brought in young people to learn about the maintenance. We taught them electrical, welding and all about the fabric."
Her expertise and dedication eventually gained notice of military power brokers. Feik became the first woman engineer assigned to the Air Technical Service Command's Engineering Division at Wright Field.
Her dedication led to meeting Bob, her husband, while they were assigned to the same R&D facility. Once married, Feik followed her husband from base to base. Every place the couple moved, Feik became involved in teaching, especially young people. "No matter where we were, I was involved in teaching."
Feik continues teaching today, conducting about 10 workshops across the country each year
"And its all CAP," notes this veteran Civil Air Patrol member. Her love of teaching about aircraft restoration is one thing that has kept her coming back to National Congress on Aviation and Space Education (NCASE) for the past 15 years. Another incentive is the cadets. "Working with young people is my pay. CAP is the only organization that deals with young people, teaching them leadership and love of aviation
Today, Feik specializes in the restoration of antique airplanes. She has restored hundreds of WWI and WWII aircraft.
Her resume includes service as a civilian in the Army Air Force, research and development at Wright Field, and the Smithsonian Institute.
From Civil Air Patrol's 1997 National Congress On Aviation And Space Education (NCASE) Daily Newletter.
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Updated: 12 March, 2004