Back in 1977, we had the first ACEE contracts to build a composite upper aft rudder structure for flight demonstrations on DC-10. The two other major airframers, Lockheed and Boeing had similar contracts, Lockheed building an inboard aileron for L-1011 and Boeing building spoilers for 727. As these were NASA contracts and NASA Program offices were in Langley, VA, they decided to place a resident engineer at each contractor to report back to Langley on daily activities. The NASA guy would get on the phone each day and give reports of anything that went wrong which were interpreted back at NASA as contractors not doing their jobs correctly and our Program manager would spend hours defending internal operations instead of doing his normal job of leading the program. To make themselves look good, the NASA spy would comment on any minor issue and magnify it into a major problem. We disliked them very much.
The “Free Fiber Problem” had been proposed by Air Force and NASA researchers about the potential for a crashed plane with composites to liberate carbon fibers into the air and short circuit all the electrical power in the country. While they were debating this issue, all NASA and Air Force composite programs were on hold, so our staff of engineers and shop technicians were just standing around unproductively.
One day the NASA spy came down to our shop and insisted we do some modifications to tooling as he had determined we didn’t know what we were doing and he had the answers. I was fed up with all the standing around and had no tolerance for baloney, so I opened my mouth and told him to “get out of the shop and don’t come back without permission”, for which I had absolutely no authority to do so. He left in a storm and I knew my days at Douglas were severely numbered. Within a few minutes, the NASA spy had called Langley complaining about me and they called our Program office and I was called into the Director’s office. The room was full of managers and big shots and I was immediately raked over the coals and told that I was completely out of control and should be fired and how stupid I was to confront the NASA guy and how we would lose millions in contracts, etc. I knew my time might be now limited to a couple of minutes of having a job. All I could think of was where I might find another job and whether we needed to sell the house and move the kids to a new school and….
Meanwhile, in the back of the room was a Douglas Contracts friend who was quickly turning pages while I was getting fired and just before they cut my head off, he pipes up and says “I just reviewed the whole NASA contract and there is nothing that says NASA has the right to go into shops telling people what to do, and as far as I’m concerned, Bob was in his right to throw the man out”.
Suddenly, the whole room changed complexion. The Director says “you mean we don’t have to let him in shops?” Program Manager says “ and can we confine him to a desk?”
Next thing I know, everyone is telling me what a good job I did and to throw the Spy out and do it again if he ever shows up, and as we left the room, they were patting me on the back. Within an hour, the other contractors heard about this episode and also restricted their NASA spies to desks and work continued without interruptions.
I was now a hero and within a month, got promoted to a Manager. It sure was a great business!
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