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MANAGEMENT IN AVIATION HISTORY BENCH MARKS


LEFT: Aviation pioneer, Mary S. Feik [1924-2016]. RIGHT: Mary Feik with the flight simulator she designed while working at Wright-Patterson AF Base in Dayton, Ohio. All images are courtesy of the International Women’s Air & Space Museum, Ohio.


THE LADY WAS A MECHANIC MARY FEIK (1924-2016) BY GIACINTA BRADLEY KOONTZ


PERHAPS YOU KNOW OR HAVE MET A PRIVATE PILOT, A PROFESSIONAL VINTAGE AIRCRAFT RESTORER, AN OFFICER IN THE CIVILIAN AIR PATROL (CAP), OR A PERSON WHO HAS EARNED AN HONORARY CHARLES TAYLOR MASTER MECHANIC AWARD. EACH ACHIEVEMENT IS WORTHY OF OUR ADMIRATION WHICH MAKES THE LATE MARY FEIK SO UNIQUE. FEIK HELD ALL OF THESE TITLES WHILE ALSO BEING THE FIRST WOMAN ENGINEER AT THE WRIGHT- PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE IN OHIO AT THE ONSET OF WWII. IN ADDITION TO HER LIFE-LONG DEDICATION AND PASSION FOR AVIATION, FEIK WAS A WIFE, A MOTHER, AND ULTIMATELY A GREAT-GRANDMOTHER.


Although she did not seek


notoriety, it was unavoidable. She stood out among others for her skill and willingness to share her love of aviation, especially with young CAP cadets.


THE TOOL MANAGER Although born in Ohio, Feik soon moved to New York with her family. Her father ran an automobile repair shop behind their house during the Great Depression. Before Feik was in grammar school she watched her father work on engines and learned enough to help him sort his tools. He made her a child-size “creeper” so she could roll beneath the cars and eventually learn how to do repairs. Young Feik was a fast learner when it came to anything mechanical. She learned how to weld, rivet and overhaul an engine when she was just 13 years old.


14 DOMmagazine.com | july 2017 Barnstormers gave many Americans


their fi rst airplane ride during these years, charging one to fi ve dollars for a few minutes in the air or in exchange for fuel. At the fi rst opportunity, Feik’s father bought her a ride in a post WWI JN4 “Jenny.” The experience changed the course of her life. From that point on she knew she would one day be a pilot or at least work on airplane engines. It turns out she did both — and more. After high school Feik learned that the Army Air Corps needed instructors for courses in aircraft engine maintenance. War seemed imminent. She seized the chance to be one of the fi rst women who would soon be needed in jobs left vacant by men. In 1941, at age 18, she secured a job teaching a four- month course in engine repair at a military base in North Carolina. Years later, Feik was asked why she


felt confi dent that she could work on aircraft engines without any previous experience. “In many instances,” Feik answered, “an aircraft engine is simpler. It has all the same basic operating principals.” Often the youngest person in the class room, she was always the only female. It was the fi rst of many jobs during her career wherein she was the only female in a male-dominated profession.


In 1942 she was accepted as the


fi rst (and only) female engineer in the Air Technical Service Command Engineering Division at Wright- Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Feik began her career in military


aviation when women were not yet allowed to join the armed services. During an interview in 1998, a reporter remarked that “throughout the years many have been surprised by Feik’s testimony that she


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