Flight Engineer, Woodworker, Cabinet Maker
by Tony Coppi
Mark Dallas, 51, has logged over 15,000 hours in flight time as a flight engineer with the Air Force and American Trans Air (ATA).
Between flights he balances his occupation with his hobbies: woodworking and cabinet making.
Mark and his wife, Christina, “landed” in Brown County in 1993. “It was mostly because of my job. I wanted to be within an hour of the airport (Indianapolis International Airport) but not in a subdivision. I like the woods and enjoy the tranquility…. I gave a Realtor a list of things we wanted—to be on a lake, to have a garage, to put a workshop in, and we always thought we would like to have an A-frame home. When we saw this place, we thought, ‘this is it,’” Mark recalled.
His aviation career began in 1968 when he enlisted in the Air Force as a mechanic in Nashville, Tennessee. “I always tinkered around with cars and other machinery. I was there about two years to learn the basics. Then I was sent to Germany and was there for three years at Rein Main. I also spent some time in Athens, Greece,” he said. His enlistment time ended while he was in Europe.
He was out of the service for a short period of time then re-enlisted and was stationed at Eglin Air Base in Florida. While there he decided to get out of the maintenance field and start flying. He applied for flight engineer school and was accepted. The next six month period was all classroom, learning the basics of the trade. After graduation he was permanently based at McChord Air Force Base for 10 years flying Lockheed C141 transport aircrafts.
“I retired in 1989 and during that time I got my commercial flight engineering rating and commercial airplane and power plant license giving me authorization to work on civilian airplanes.”
He and Christina took a year off for some relaxation and traveled around the states in a motor home. Following the extended vacation, Dallas put in an application at ATA in 1990 and was hired in 1991 on the Boeing 727 plane with a seating capacity of 173 passengers.
A flight engineer is a crewmember who is in charge of the mechanical operations before, during, and after flights.
“One hour and fifteen minutes prior to take off I pre-flight the plane to make sure it is mechanically safe—that all the systems are working properly. Then the pilots come out to program all the navigation aids. After we take off I monitor the engines, the air conditioning systems, the hydraulic systems, and all the mechanical parts of the aircraft. On landing, we do a ‘thru flight’ to make sure we don’t have any leaks. Write ups are made if anything goes wrong on flights, which are then handed over to maintenance men.
Presently he is on flights aboard Lockheed L1011 aircrafts that fly to many major cities in the United States. Recently he traveled around the world on a seven-day flight beginning in Indianapolis, on to Chicago, Japan, Singapore, Bahrain, England, and then back to Indianapolis.
His interest in woodworking began when he was stationed in Washington. “I made friends with a master woodworker who had a giant workshop…. He taught me a lot,” said Mark.
The workshop next to their home is fully-equipped with a drill press, radial arm saw, table saw, jointer, router, and plane. Most of his work is in cabinet making. He has recently remodeled the kitchen in their home with new cabinets.
“My second hobby is saltwater fishing. I enjoy that. In recent months I’ve been down to Loretto, Mexico for dolphin fish (not the mammals) where we caught some 20 and 30 pounders. And I just got back from Alaska where I did some halibut fishing down in Homer, about a five-hour drive from Anchorage.
Mark looks forward to dedicating his time to woodworking when he retires from the airline. “I may design a specialty type computer station and start building them as a sideline hobby,” he said.