Proud UMAE alum for my entire career!

Edward Kudzia, BSAE 1975, Airline Captain, American Eagle Airlines

Edward Kudzia

Edward Kudzia, his youngest daughter Michelle, her friend Chyna, and his oldest daughter Nikki, taken by his wife, Noemi, Virginia Beach, July 2013. This was the annual Autonomy Competition for watercraft. Nikki is a senior in Naval Architecture/Marine Engineering at U of M and has participated in the competition for the last two years.

The year was 1975. I would graduate at the end of the fall term that year. At some point during the’74-’75 school year, Professor Harm Buning put forth the idea of a student outing to view the launch of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) that summer. The ASTP involved the launch of an American flight crew into low Earth orbit to rendezvous and dock with a Soyuz craft launched by the Soviet Union. The combined crews would then spend a week working together in orbit conducting experiments before returning to their home countries. This would mark the beginning of an era of US-Soviet cooperation in space exploration that would outlast the cold war to the present day. The idea was greeted with a lot of enthusiasm; I especially thought it would be a great way to cap off my senior year at Michigan. I was very lucky in that I’ve seen the launches of Apollos 11, 15(with an all U of M crew), 16, 17, and the first two Skylabs prior to this. My group arrived days before the launch allowing us to enjoy the beach and other local attractions.

The day of the launch, July 15, 1975, we arrived by bus several hours early at the VIP viewing area near the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), with passes arranged for us by Professor Buning. Later, Professor Buning, who kindly introduced myself and another UM student to Col. Dave Scott, U of M alumnus and commander of Apollo 15, the “all U of M crew” lunar landing and one of my boyhood heroes. Professor Buning then left to talk to someone else leaving the two of us to talk to Col. Scott. My friend leaned in and asked him “Was he (Professor Buning) that mean to you too?” (Professor Buning’s classes were known to be somewhat challenging.) Col Scott laughed and said “Oh Yes! But you’ll appreciate it later!”

After that I entered the VAB. I had visited the VAB before during KSC bus tours and Apollo and Skylab launches. Visitors were routed through an entrance to a viewing area in the transfer aisle. The viewing area was walled off in plexiglass to about a forty-foot square area to prevent visitors from wandering off into working areas. Today, however, was different! The plexiglass barriers were now gone, and visitors were free to walk throughout the transfer aisle and explore the building! The building was now empty of launch vehicles and spacecraft, there were no more American manned space flights to prepare for the time being, as the space shuttle was still in development.

So I proceeded to do some exploring of my own. Before long I ran into some of the ground crew who apparently didn’t have anything to do, and they were happy to show me around. One of them called out to his friend, “Show him the LUT.” LUT stands for Launch Umbilical Tower. Two were built for the Apollo program. My tour guides took me to the base of the LUT and took me up in the same elevator used by the astronauts on the lunar missions, as well as countless other engineers and technicians. The elevator ride alone was pretty spectacular as the cab walls were plexiglass allowing for a constant view of the fast 40-floor ride! When we got to the very top platform we were able to look down and see the boarding area for the spacecraft.

When it came time for the launch we proceeded to the viewing stands outside the VAB. The three-mile distance was the closest anyone was allowed to view the launch. This distance, also the distance from the VAB to pads 39A and 39B, was set back in the early days of the program when someone calculated that that was the farthest distance that a 100-pound chunk of burning metal would fly if a fully-fueled Saturn V were to blow up on the pad. While not as big as the Saturn V, the elevated launch pad gave us a spectacular view of the flame plume as the first stage main engines lit. Due to the three-mile distance, the rocket appeared to lift off in silence as it took the sound of the engines roar 15 seconds to reach us. Two days later the two spacecraft docked allowing the two crews to meet and begin a series of joint experiments. By then most of us on the trip were back home and watching it on television, witnesses to history and grateful to Professor Buning for providing this opportunity for us.

Fast forward to a few years later, and I find myself back at the Cape as a systems engineer for USBI (United Space Boosters Inc.), the division of United Technologies Corp. that handled the contract for the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB), working along with many others to get the first Space Shuttle off the ground. I primarily worked in the Parachute Facility in the Industrial Area of KSC, or Hanger S at the Cape Canaveral side (which had been where the Mercury spacecraft were prepared for flight in the early ’60s), but my duties frequently brought me to the VAB. As part of the safety training given to all new hires, I once again found myself at the top of the LUT, now modified to support the Space Shuttle. (Later on during a lunch break at the VAB another engineer showed me the way to get up on the roof! I recommend the experience if you ever find yourself there as the view is spectacular!)

Among the unusual working conditions we dealt with at KSC was the presence of alligators. The NASA Headquarters building in the industrial area had a large pond in front with some overgrown brush. The area was fenced off due to the large alligators that had made it their home. The parking area in the back of the Parachute Facility where I worked adjoined a pond, which interconnected with the waterways running throughout Merritt Island. One day we saw a half-dozen baby alligators in the pond. We found them entertaining, as they would swim around looking for food. One day one of my coworkers, Rick, came in looking pale and said “Don’t go out there! The Mama just came out!” The mother gator was about 6 feet long, so we gave the pond a wide berth until she left.

Nowadays I look back on my year at the Cape as one of the most fun and rewarding of my life. My ambition led me to take a job at Martin Marietta and move to Denver before STS-1 was launched, which turned out not to be such a good fit for me as the job at the Cape so I left shortly afterward to join the Navy for pilot training, and I’m now a Captain for American Eagle Airlines with over 16,000 hours of incident-free flying. However, I did get back to the Cape to see the launch of STS-1 with my parents; that was the last launch I’ve seen like that for over 30 years. While in Denver I did see Professor Buning as he was getting a tour of Martin Marietta by some other U of M alumni.

I would wind up spending 20 years living in Mountain View, California. I was stationed at Naval Air Station Moffett Field in the south San Francisco Bay area flying P-3 Orion aircraft during the Cold War. Upon leaving the Navy I stayed in the area doing flight instruction and fight test work for California Microwave, Inc. to develop payloads and aircraft for Unmanned Air Vehicles before going to work for the airline. During the 1990s while flying for American Eagle I did engineering part-time for NASA, working on damage-adaptive flight controllers, Power Control Augmentation, and later participating in studies in the Future Flight Central air traffic control tower simulator for expanding operations at LAX and DFW airports.

As I’m now back living in Michigan I enjoy getting back to Ann Arbor for homecomings and other events such as the upcoming Centennial. I look forward to meeting more of you and hearing your stories. I feel truly blessed to have been in the Aero Department at U of M when I was as I got to meet and learn from some of the best minds in the world. Most of the professors from those days are gone now, when I see any of those that are still around I try to thank them for their skill, dedication, and (at least in my case) near saint-like patience! I’m very grateful for my time as a Wolverine and the knowledge and experiences I’ve gained from my teachers and friends at U of M.


This post was written by
Comments are closed.