WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – His father was a patriot in World War I. Don Mace grew up on a farm in Mullinville and said he started milking cows when he was just 5 years old.
Years later, Mace was the first of a group of friends to sign up to serve his country.
“I went with Air Force because I always like aircraft,” Mace said.
He never became a pilot like he hoped to, but he sure kept many aircraft in the air over the years.
“I’m proud of our country,” Mace said.
He swells with pride when talking about his true passion, jet engines.
“I loved hear it roaring,” Mace said.
He said working on jet engines always came easy to him.
“I loved that work,” Mace said.
He remembers well when the Korean War started.
“The Korean War had broken out, and I couldn’t wait to go,” Mace said.
Mace ended up in France.
“That engine would not fit in this room,” Mace said.
He said they worked on all kinds of aircraft and engines.
“We’d tear them all apart and put them back together,” Mace said.
Mace was instrumental in developing the very first engine test cell.
“We had all the instrument panel that the aircraft would have inside this test shack,” Mace said.
They built a special stand that they would mount the engine on.
“You’d start it up and run it up, just like you were in the aircraft,” Mace said. “The one I remember the most is the one that blew up, on the stand.”
He said he trained his crew so they would know what to do.
“I just hit the deck right in front of us,” Mace said.
He said the explosion actually chipped up the concrete just a few feet from him.
“I had little ole match burns on my back,” Mace said.
He still has two pieces of the compressor blades, that are not very large, and he said those were the largest pieces of what was left, after the massive explosion.
“These things (pieces of compressor blades) like this were flying out,” Mace said. “Every time, I look at these I think of that day, and how close, it could have been a lot worse.”
He said the incident happened because one guy failed to do his job.
“I am glad that I was the one who was out there because it could have been a lot worse,” Mace said.
He said he used the incident as a teaching moment for his crew.
He said had the man admitted his mistake, the explosion never would have happened.
“That’s why we don’t cover things up,” Mace said.
After his time in the Air Force, Mace went on to use his military aviation training to really take flight for several companies.
“This was the only building that Lear had,” Mace said while pointing at an aerial photo.
Mace also showed photos of the team he worked with.
“This is that first fueselage being constructed,” Mace said.
Mace and his team built Plane Number One.
“It was all handmade,” Mace said.
He said they built the small plane to fly big shots.
“This was just before the first flight,” Mace said
He said the whole company got to see that inagural flight.
“We was standing right along the runway when he took off,” Mace said.
He also has a photo of plane number one in flight.
“This is number two, number three, number four,” Mace continued.
That was the start of Lear Jet, and then the company’s history kept rolling down the assembly line.
“Some of the training that I received while I was in the service got me into this position,” Mace said.
He’s talking about his flight engineer stint with Beechcraft.
“This is the missile target that we developed,” Mace said.
They were working with the Navy.
“I built that door,” Mace said.
He said a lot of their work was classified.
“Here we are getting him set to take off,” Mace said.
On the very first launch, Mace and the others gathered in the control tower to see their work in flight.
“It was exciting work,” Mace said.
Mace said that as he looks back on many of his unique jobs throughout the years, he realizes it all started thanks to his decision to serve Old Glory.
“I cannot go to a parade without getting tears, when the flag comes by,” Mace said.
Mace has also volunteered with American Legion Post 295 for many years.
He’s been the Chaplain for nearly 20 years.