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Ken And The Art Of Jet Engine Maintenance: How A Father-Daughter Team Learned To Fix Planes On The Kansas Prairie

Kenny Glasgow has never set foot in an executive suite, but that didn’t stop him from taking a private plane to the office. In the 1960s, Glasgow — who spent his career fixing jet engines at GE Aviation’s Strother Field plant in Kansas — saved up his wages to buy a Cessna 150 two-seater. “One fall, the Arkansas River flooded and the road to Strother was closed for several days,” Glasgow says. “I had about a quarter of a mile of alfalfa just east of the house. You could land down there when it wasn’t too tall. So I just flew to work.”

Glasgow, a military veteran, gets things done. He worked almost four decades at GE, getting in on the ground level as a “heavy helper” in the maintenance department and soaring to a leadership job on GE’s classified work for the B-2 stealth bomber. “The company raised my family,” he says. “It turned out to be heaven-sent.”

Now 82, Glasgow grew up on a farm six miles from Strother that his grandfather settled in 1871. “Wrench turning was not all that unfamiliar,” he says. “On the farm, you kept most of your things running yourself.”

He joined the Navy from high school, and after active duty as a radioman on the Warning Star surveillance planes, he found work on an oil rig. When the rig shut down, “my brother and I were looking in the paper for something to do to get groceries,” Glasgow says.

GE’s Strother engine repair and assembly plant was a decade old when the Glasgow brothers started, earning $1.78 ½ per hour. “That was a pretty good wage at the time,” Glasgow says. He started by working the night shift, drilling holes in concrete hangar floors to install machinery. But he soon advanced and started servicing and testing GE’s J73 and J85 jet engines — the latter still powering the supersonic trainer jets bringing up the next generation of Air Force and Navy pilots. Consulting technical manuals as well as other workers, he learned on the job. “The foremen knew because most of them had done the job before,” Glasgow says. “They came through the ranks.”

He also learned from engineers at the plant. “It took me quite a while to be able to listen at the level they were talking, but once I caught on, they were like a walking book of knowledge,” Glasgow says.

Glasgow started by working the night shift, drilling holes in concrete hangar floors to install machinery. But he soon advanced and started servicing and testing GE’s J73 and J85 jet engines — the latter still powering the supersonic trainer jets, like the Northrop T-38  Talon above, bringing up the next generation of Air Force and Navy pilots. Image credit: Tomas Kellner for GE Reports. Top image: Kathryn Glasgow.

In the late 1960s, Glasgow bought the Cessna and took his family on flying expeditions. One of his daughters, Kathryn, was smitten. “I remember spending weekends polishing that thing,” she says. “It was our family time. My father swears that aviation is in our blood.”

Kathryn got introduced to GE and Strother as a girl.“We’d bring dad dinner and get to spend a little more time with him,”. When it was her turn to graduate from high school, she went straight to the plant. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I always knew that I wanted to work here,” Kathryn says.

Like her father, Kathryn started at the bottom and now leads a team that repairs engines for Apache and Black Hawk helicopters. “There weren’t many women here when I was hired,” she says. “My dad was a protector. He was not afraid to say something to somebody.”

Her father taught her how to fix airplanes, shape tools and find new solutions to problems. “He expected a lot. He wanted you to know a lot,” she says. When Kathryn decided to apply for an inspector job, she says, her father challenged her to read a measuring tool, the c-micrometer. “She could not do it, but by golly she learned quickly,” Glasgow laughs.

Kenny Glasgow retired from Strother in 1998, when the B-2 work was over. But with hundreds of employees, the plant is one of the largest employers in Cowley County, Kansas. “This is a small community,” he  says. “It’s like a family operation.”

He’s “still curious about what goes on at the shop,” says Kathryn, “with all of the new engines coming on board, like the Passport. I am still on the military side so I don’t know a lot about the new engines. But he is thrilled our shop and community continue to thrive in aviation.”

Kathryn Glasgow is now finishing her 40th year at GE and says she’s thinking about retiring early in the next few years. “It’s going to be very different not being connected to GE Strother and being in the plant every day,” she muses. “I’ll continue flying, with all of my travel adventures. But I’ll always hear and see our saying on the wall in Building 1: ‘We invent the future of flight, lift people up and bring them home safely.’”

Ken Glasgow taught his daughter how to fix airplanes, shape tools and find new solutions to problems. “He expected a lot. He wanted you to know a lot,” she says. Image credit: Kathryn Glasgow.

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