My friend Steve passed this week (August 2018). He was just shy of 80.
Who was Steve Huemoeller? Well, let me tell you.
Steve started out in aviation working for United in Chicago, then Minneapolis, His first job was as a baggage handler - you could say a real "entry position!" While at MSP, he became
a ticket agent, and, after a two year layoff, moved to United in San
Francisco also as an agent. In 1976 he got his A&P mechanic's
license and began working the Overhaul Line at UAL's Main Base in
SFO. Eventually he transferred to Seattle working the Line at
There's a line in a Frank Sinatra song - about "being in the Autumn of my years...."
Well, that's where I am, and as I look back, I can see how blessed I
have been - in so many ways. And one way, in particular, is to
have been blessed by some really great people who I could call Friends. Not just "ordinary friends", - an over-used word - but REAL friends - people who would give of themselves - tirelessly, without complaint, over and over. Steve was one of those.
It seems, in my many aviation projects since retirement - that I continually "bit off more than I could chew" -
another Sinatra song line - and then got saved by folks the Good
Lord miraculously sent my way. These are not in any conceivable
way just helpers, but instead people who would, and did, put
forth herculean efforts to join me in my dedication to some common
shared goal or ideal. They were Do-ers. They were
the difference between success and failure. I could never begin
to repay such folks. I could never have done what I did without
them. I am always amazed at how they show up - just when I need them.
Obviously, Steve falls in that category, in spades - or I
wouldn't be writing this now. Maybe I need to tell my real
friends more about how much I love them NOW - instead of writing
something after they pass. If you're reading this, you know who
you are, and you know how I feel. I LOVE you guys!
The 727 Prototype
Number One 727 Arrival at Paine Field
Back in 1984, as an active Museum of Flight volunteer (since 1965), I
approached United Air Lines management and asked for donation of
N7001U, the very first Boeing 727, to the Museum of Flight (on
retirement, of course.) They agreed, and in January 1991 it
arrived and was parked at Paine Field in Everett - "as an interim" - because the MOF - not having the space and real estate it does now, was unable to display the airplane. The complete 727 story can be found here.
Someone in the Museum hierarchy must not have thought much of this
acquisition, despite the speeches, because they gave UAL permission to
come in and completely cannibalize the airplane for parts, including
engines, APU, and virtually all system hardware. Assuming the MOF
eventually did acquire the real estate to display this, and other large
airplanes, it seems clear that stripping it clean like that would
prevent any future movement of the airplane - via flight, anyway - to
the main campus on Boeing Field. With no long term future display
options at Paine, this was - bluntly - the Kiss of Death for the
airplane. Sorry - but not for me....
United sent in a crew, and over several weeks, removed all the
hardware, sending the pieces and parts down to their Stores warehouse
in Burlingame, California. One of the removal team was a night-shift
mechanic from Sea-Tac named Steve Huemoeller.
The Removal Crew
Fast forward a few years, and in July 1995, I retired from
Boeing. I quickly showed up at the Museum's Paine Field location
to begin semi-full time volunteer work on several of my Museum
acquisitions - including the 727 and B-52. The 727 had flown in
on a revenue flight, and, except for missing parts, was quite
airworthy. My task seemed simple - to recover the missing
hardware and fly the airplane back down to Boeing Field - if and when
the Museum finally had the room, that is. There was a lot of
missing hardware - it had taken a crew of mechanics about 3 weeks to
remove them all - and so I was gonna need a significant crew of
volunteers - with skills, dedication, and especially, it turns out,
patience. This wasn't going to be quick - or easy.
The first thing I did was create an internet web page asking for
volunteers. The internet was very new, and this was my first
foray into the environment. I boldly titled the page Adopt a Boeing 727
and uploaded it onto my new site, describing the airplane and the task,
boldly asserting our intention to Fly - and waiting for
responders. Amazingly, I did get some - and one of the very first
was Steve Huemoeller.
I think it was quite some years before he fessed up to having been part
of the parts raiding team, maybe feeling a little guilty - but, in any
event, we met up and looked at the airplane. Our task was simple
- Repair and Fly! Steve was enthusiastic about the project, and
talked it up with his fellow UAL workers. The Seattle station had
a newsletter, and he had an article inserted. Eventually, the
project got a much wider exposure across UAL.
Meanwhile, I tapped some of my fellow Boeing pals, some retired,
some still working, and set up a kick-off meeting. It went well -
kick-off meetings always do - and we began cranking the P.R. mill to
solicit parts and help. I produced frequent internet
updates and we had monthly Saturday morning meetings. We actually
began to work on the airplane, if only to clean and preserve it, and we
actually were successful in getting electrical power on the airplane
from a ground power unit. But, mostly, we spun our wheels.
She slept... and waited
The meeting attendance got thinner and thinner as my Ra-Ra efforts were
not supported by hardware to play with, and eventually we were down to
very few people and even fewer hopes. The airplane? She
wasn't looking too good.... But, through it all - Steve hung
on. And we never gave up the dream of flying. To the Museum
management and the outside world, we put on a very brave face. Of
course, we were going to fly her!!! I think they humored us, and
smiled and shook their heads - vertically when they were talking to us;
horizontally, when they walked away.
What we really needed was a big
transfusion and Steve arranged for a day's meetings at the UAL Overhaul
Base in San Francisco, including positive space passes for the both of
us and discussions with the top brass. We also met with all the
various shop foremen. In a visit to the Spares warehouse in
Burlingame, we found all our parts - neatly tagged and on racks, just
where they had been placed after arriving down there. UAL had
removed them to support their in-service fleet, but in the end, few, if
any, were actually used. One of our goals was to liberate them
from the warehouse and repatriate them back to Seattle. It was
quite an impressive whirlwind of activity at the Main Base, coming from
a guy who was, after all, just a Line Mech working night shift at SEA.
Maybe she really never would fly again....
Steve liked being up on a stab - see 737 later
Eventually, a small parts stream began flowing north, along with some
technical support and documentation. We got all the records from
her last Overhaul (D Check.) We began stocking a parts rack in
Everett and installing hardware. And conducting periodic "wash
parties." But, our efforts were still pretty feeble and mostly,
we became a "Gang of Two" - me and Steve. For almost 10
years. He hung in there, and even arranged for me to meet a
succession of UAL CEO's! They were changing with
regularity. They all promised great things - with emphasis on
In 2001, after 9/11, UAL retired all their 727s to Victorville,
California. I began working a deal to fly one of them to SEA,
where we could do a side-by-side parts swap. But, just when that
looked like it was going to happen, in December 2002, UAL declared
bankruptcy (which later devastated Steve's retirement), and that deal
The next few years were spent trying to find a donor airframe to get
our parts, while the 727 project simmered - or barely simmered - on the
The 737 Prototype
Meanwhile, my Museum activities were kept going full bore working on
other airplanes, including the Concorde, when, in 1997, we received the
Number One 737 from NASA. This is an airplane I had worked on
extensively during my Boeing years, and so I became Crew Chief and
custodian for it as well. You can see the full story here.
Like the 727, there was no place for it at Boeing Field, so it had to
be flown to Moses Lake. This presented an even bigger challenge,
due to distance (an 8 hour round-trip drive). Like the 727, it
arrived airworthy, and I was determined not to allow it to deteriorate
like the 727 - and to do that, meant at least monthly visits, frequent
operation, and intensive maintenance. Ultimately, this meant
about 160 trips to Moses Lake over a six year period. You can see a YouTube video here.
At some point, I let on to Steve that I had this "other airplane"
- a 737 over in Moses Lake. Maybe he'd like to come along and see
it some time. Actually, with 737 line experience, Steve was just
what the doctor ordered. He agreed. Recall that during much
of this time - Steve was working. He'd spend all night working
United jets over-nighting at SeaTac, and then drive with me over to
Moses Lake to work on my jet. This was not easy!
Working on the 737 was a lot more satisfying. She was a real
airplane. That we could run. And run her, we did, including
many high speed runs down the MWH main runway. But, due to
commuting distance, she was also a lot more of a challenge. I
didn't count, but I think Steve must have made about 100 trips with me
over there. On some, he drove his truck. With his
gas. We even spent - one time - a week together living out of a
motel room, while we were working some big job.
Back up on that stab!
Of course, there was no reimbursement for any of this. Gas,
meals, lodging - for me, they were just part of my commitment to
supporting the Museum. But Steve wasn't even a Volunteer (and I'm
only a "sort-of" Volunteer - my pal Peter Morton once wrote up a
piece on my activities - calling me a "Stealth Volunteer.")
Here he is "bird hunting" in Eastern Washington - without a license.
Showing off his trophy with his neighbor - a Northwest 757 pilot - who tagged along for a day's excitement in Moses Lake.
Oh Boy - chicken for dinner!
In my dotage, it's time to come clean to Carol Thomson - head of
Volunteers at the MOF - besides my own surreptitious activities, Carol,
I have this small army of even stealthier volunteers - sort of like Arnie's Army - no badges ("We don't need no stinkin' badges"),
no records, no nuthin'. Pilots, mechanics, engineers - you name
it. But without them, believe me - none of those great airplanes
would be sitting there in the Pavilion at Boeing Field. Not an
exaggeration. Call us the Rebels.
Working with Steve, we did great things. Alaska Airlines loaned
me 3 truckloads full of 737 parts - stuff like engine fire bottles,
brake metering valves, a long list. Alaska and Japan Air Lines
overhauled our wheels, installed new tires, tested our brakes.
Jeff Akridge, owner of the MWH FBO Columbia Pacific Aviation (another
one of my super pals on steroids) provided stands, nitrogen bottles,
push-outs, start carts, shop facilities.)
Steve did the heavy lifting. I was his go-fer. He got UAL to quietly "donate" tools and shop supplies out of SEA.
Finally, after six years of work, Steve, as a qualified A&P, signed
off the airplane's logbook for her Final Flight to Boeing Field in
September 2003. No sign-off, no flight. Simple. How
can you thank a guy like that?
Steve Huemoeller photo
Last landing at Boeing Field
Finally - not so stealthy any more - receiving recognition at a dinner at the Museum of Flight after the 737's Final Flight.
(On the left, Ray Walsh, an Alaska Airlines Moses Lake mechanic who volunteered much help.)
Jim Johnson - MOF Chairman (L) and Steve, Ray,and Jeff Akridge of Moses Lake (R).
With Boeing Patriarchs Dick Taylor (foreground in left photo) and Clayton Scott (right.)
Meanwhile - back on the 727....
With the 737 safely home at Boeing Field, attention turned back to the 727 at Paine Field. Now - to bring her home too.
In March 2004, FedEx donated a 727-100 for our use as a parts queen,
and our 727 efforts took off in earnest at last. T.C. Howard came
on board and we were able to assemble a volunteer work crew (see here), and finally make some real progress.
Steve with Crew Chief T.C. Howard
Steve helped in numerous ways, including the two-day marathon when we
swapped 12 wheels and tires between the UAL and FedEx airplanes.
Steve meanwhile, retired from United, and like his co-workers, got
badly screwed when his retirement was tossed over to the PBGC
government agency during their bankruptcy. His loss of income
forced him to sell his nice home in Mukilteo, and he and Virginia moved
to Nixa, Missouri, where the prices were much more affordable. I
went to visit and stayed with them in September 2009. Steve was
now far removed from aviation and our activities at Paine Field and
badly missed helping out. His pain was palpable.
Eventually, in 2015, they moved back to the Puget Sound area, and his
face happily re-appeared in our midst as the 727 was being prepared for
her last flight.
Before 727 Final Flight - Feb 2016
Thankfully, after his frustrating sojourn in Missouri, he was able to
return here to work with us on this airplane during its final push for
flight. It meant a lot to him - and to us.
My wife Dot, Steve, and me next to 727 N7001U - Feb 2016.
January 1991 seemed so long ago, and far away.
Installing a new wiper blade a day or two before her last flight
Not many thought this day would ever come.... but, we knew....
Steve and I spent over 100 8-hour drives to Moses Lake
together, and the same number of 8+ hour days working on the 737 each
time, and countless hours and days working on the 727 as well. Meals. Motels. Add
that all up, and you get thousands of hours of face-to-face time with
somebody who you get to know pretty well. We got along well and
genuinely loved each other.
I'll miss you, Steve. I miss you already. The
good Lord threw you one helluva lot of curve balls, and you took them
all like a good trooper. Better than I would have, or could
have. I know - we know - the Museum should know - and hopefully now everyone will know - that two great airplanes are in the Pavilion today - and would not be there without your efforts.
After arrival at Boeing Field - Mutt & Jeff -- Luv ya, Man.....
So, I asked at the outset if you knew Steve Huemoeller - and now you know Steve Huemoeller. He was quite a guy, and the Museum and aviation fans owe him a lot. And I owe him most of all.
Thanks seems like too pale a word.... but Thanks, just the
same. Thanks to you Steve - for helping for so many years - and
for being my friend. Like I said at the beginning of this piece -
I've been Blessed. Blessed with great friends. May the Man
Upstairs Bless you too, my friend, in that great big broad land way up