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Know Your Andersen History: FOD and Andersen

  • Published
  • By Dr. John Treiber
  • 36th Wing historian
Foreign object debris or foreign object damage is one of those terms that only an Air Force member or airline worker would know. For those who do not know what it means, FOD is any small object found on the flightline - pieces of metal, stones, coral, tools and miscellaneous debris - that could be sucked into a jet intake causing damage to the engine. 

Birds sometimes become FOD, and tools left in the aircraft after maintenance are also considered FOD. Not to belabor the obvious, but FOD is a serious and expensive problem without constant vigilance. According to Boeing's web site, FOD costs the aerospace industry an estimated $4 billion a year. 

For those of us not working on the flightline, FOD is not a problem. That is, we simply pick up, vacuum or sweep away all the "FOD" found in our homes and offices. However, flightline maintainers and pilots alike know full well the threat that FOD poses and act accordingly. Hence "FOD walks" and the use of specialized equipment such as FOD bosses. 

Before the jet-age, when airplanes were powered by piston-driven propellers, FOD was not a major concern since there were neither air intakes to suck in debris nor delicate fan blades to damage. This was the case at Andersen during its first 11 years since B-29s, B-50s, C-54s, B-36s, and so forth were, by design, fairly FOD-proof. That changed when the first jets arrived here in 1956, and along with those planes came Andersen's first FOD awareness and prevention campaign. 

This especially creative period started in late 1956 after deployed B-47 jet bombers arrived here as part of the Strategic Air Command's ready alert force. At about the same time, F-86s and T-33s also showed up, increasing the risk of FOD-related jet engine damage further. As a result, the base had to start dealing with FOD in a way that it never had before. In fact, the FOD menace was so new that in the 1950s, the term "FOD" had yet to be coined. Rather, what we today call "FOD" was referred to as simply "foreign objects." 

To raise the awareness of FOD and its consequences, Andersen's base newspaper Tropic Topics ran a series of anti-FOD limerick-based comic strips written by various would-be poets from the base community. One poem penned by OSI Special Agent Philip Taliaferro went as follows:

There was a line-chief who asserted,
We don't want our aircraft inverted;
So keep the line free
Of trash and debris
Or some pilot will surely get hurted . . .

This one by A2C M.F. Wright of the 3960th ABG appeared in the Jan. 4 1957 paper:

There was a mechanic named Art,
Who wasn't too overly smart;
The wrench that he lost,
Got in the exhaust,
And blew the darned aircraft apart . . .

Perhaps not Shakespeare, but the message was clear: Beware of FOD. The poems, good or bad, were always accompanied with a cartoon drawn by resident artist Master Sgt. Tom Heard. 

Sergeant Heard's superb Cold War-era artwork was a noteworthy part of the base paper in 1956-57, and while the limericks themselves are silly, they have an innocent charm, especially when combined with Heard's fine illustrations. The poems sometimes carried thinly veiled threats, and one wonders if that wasn't the most successful method of getting Airmen to be on guard against the new FOD phenomenon. 

Cursory research suggests that this anti-FOD campaign was completely homegrown. 

The Andersen paper, besides encouraging the submission of limericks, reported that SAC was going to syndicate the comic for global distribution to other SAC newspapers. However, the strip ended at Andersen on Feb. 15 1957, so SAC may not have bothered with syndication after all. Sergeant Heard, however, soon departed Andersen and ended up as a cartoonist for SAC. 

The comic strip mixed a bit of fun in with the grave seriousness of asking for perpetual caution against that stray bit of whatever that could damage or destroy the jet engines so vital to protecting the U.S. as the Cold War intensified. So, did Andersen's leadership get it right in one of its early anti-FOD campaigns? You be the judge. And, oh, by the way, watch out for FOD.

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