I was enjoying my umpteenth cup of coffee and smoking a camel when I heard what sounded like a 55 gallon drum full of scrap metal being rolled down the taxiway. I looked out the line shack door and saw one of my A-4's about 1/2 mile away and headed for the line. As I was the A-4 line P.O. I figured I better put out my smoke, find my Mickey Mouse ears and get my butt out there. I got to the far end of the line where the source of the noise had parked, just in time to see the Plane Captain disappear down the port intake, and greeted the pilot who was standing at the bottom of the ladder observing that the "engine seemed noisier than usual". I'm thinking that's an understatement and that this is headed south in a hurry, and sure enough the P/C wiggled his butt back out of the intake and handed the pilot a 3/8" drive ratchet with a 6" extension and a socket still attached to each other; and said something like "bleep - you're lucky you ain't dead.... Sir." Well the same thought had already occurred to the wide-eyed pilot who began to hotfoot it in the direction of the Maintenance Officer with his newfound tool set in hand. Didn't take "Carnac" to predict that we had better get this figured out in a hurry as the Line Chief was going to materialize any second.
I initiated the "fact finding" by asking the P/C if he had pre-flighted the plane, he said "Of course." Did he look down the intakes, said he did. When did he pre-flight the plane, several hours before it took off. Was the plane parked in the same spot all of that time, said it was. Did he see anyone by the plane during that time, said he didn't, but wasn't in the vicinity the whole time.
About that time the Line Chief materialized and commenced asking the same questions even before he skidded to a halt. He got the same answers and finished with "just how in the bleep, bleep, bleep did all those tools get in the intake?" Told him it beat the "bleep" out of me, but looking down the intakes also was part of the pilots pre-flight and I was guessing that he didn't see any tools or he wouldn't have climbed in and took off. Well the Chief looked as if he had just gotten a 'get out of jail free' card and beat feet for the Maintenance Office where the 'bleep" had already hit the proverbial fan.
By the time he arrived the "whos who" in Maintenance were milling smartly about the Maintenance Office and the place was in pandemonium. Amongst all of the pontificating, peeing and moaning it became clear that the tools weren't ours, and in fact were from 3 different tool boxes that belonged to the Power Plant and Twidget shops. The Line Chief rolled his eyes heavenward as gravity immediately took over and the "bleep" began rolling downhill at a high rate of speed headed for the guilty and non-guilty shops alike. Chiefs and PO1's were yelled at, tool-boxes were inventoried and; as you would expect if you were at China Lake, none of them were missing any tools and none of them had any tools that didn't belong in them either. This all further confounded the Maintenance Officer and the Chief.
Epilogue: The "bleep" eventually rolled to a stop.
The shop guys all went to remedial tool management school.
The pilots gave the intakes more than a cursory look on pre-flight.
The Scooter got a new J-65 as there wasn't one salvageable compressor blade in the one that ate the socket set.
Where did the tools come from? I never found out, which was very unusual as the Bluejacket level usually had the scuttlebutt on things like that. But in this case, none of the Bluejackets knew, or talked.
Gary Verver (2002)