Ken and the Art of Jet Engine Maintenance: How Father-Daughter Team Learned to Fix Jet Engines on the Kansas Prairie

June 18, 2012

Kenny Glasgow has never set foot in an executive suite but that didn’t stop him from flying to work. In the 1960s, Glasgow was fixing jet engines at GE’s Strother Field plant in Kansas, and saved up wages for a small Cessna 150 two-seater plane. “One fall the Arkansas River flooded and the road to Strother was closed for a 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 gets things done. He spent 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.”

Glasgow, now 75, 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 nightshifts, 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. He learned on the job, from technical manuals and from other workers. “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.

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,” she says. 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.”

Glasgow 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.

Glasgow retired from Strother in 1998, when the B-2 work was over. With more than 800 employees, the plant is one of the largest employers on Cowley County, Kansas. “This is a small community,” Glasgow says. “It’s like a family operation.”

imageimageKenny Glasgow with his daughter Kathryn. “My father swears that aviation is in our blood,” Kathryn says.