An unexpected IA

I stopped into the hangar looking for the IA. So it was no great surprise to be directed to a back room, where the wing of a Cub sat on sawhorses. The bright yellow finish indicated that it was in the final stages before being mounted back on the airplane.

I’ve met several Airframe and Powerplant mechanics with Inspection Authorization who specialize in fabric work. In fact, I enjoy fabric work myself. There’s something almost therapeutic about the pace of the process. Being relegated to a back corner of the hangar is just one of the perks, in my view. It allows the covering process to continue with a minimum of contamination and the least chance of interruption. I was in my element. Everything was familiar, comfortable, just as it was expected to be. Then the IA walked in. Elizabeth Amundsen doesn’t look like the prototypical IA. She isn’t male. She isn’t old enough to remember Sunday nights capped off by the Ed Sullivan Show. She isn’t even grumpy or bossy. And, believe it or not, whether it is because of her youth or her high level of enthusiasm for her chosen trade, she can trace her current career back to the exact moment of its birth.

“I was 16,” she says of the occurrence that set her on the path that brought her here, to the back room of the hangar at Tailwheels Etc., a flight school at Gilbert Field (GIF) in Winter Haven, Florida. Jonathan Amundsen, the flight instructor who would become her husband, took her up in a 1946 T craft, and she was hooked. That first flight together, which became something of a first date, began on the turf at Watervliet, Michigan. The 2,600-foot grass strip at 40C turned out to be a good place to start a career, and a life together. “Our second date was Oshkosh,” she relates with a grin.

Aviation wasn’t entirely unfamiliar to Amundsen. “My dad’s a pilot,” she confesses, “but I wasn’t really all that into it.” Still, something about that flight with Jonathan got the wheels turning for Amundsen. After high school she enrolled in college in Southwestern Michigan, attending with the assistance of an academic scholarship, where she earned her A&P certificates.

After relocating to central Florida, Amundsen added her commercial pilot single engine land and sea ratings, a CFI and a CFII to her growing stack of FAA certificates. She picked up her IA, too. Which makes Amundsen, who is still in her 20s, one very accomplished aviation professional. She would not necessarily take that view however. When asked about her collection of certificates and ratings she merely responds, “I don’t have my multi yet.” Then, with a quick flash of good-natured humor she adds, “I’m working on that.”

The Cub wing benefits from Amundsen’s attention while we talk. With a touch up iron in one hand, she smooths fabric down with the other, pulling out almost invisible wrinkles with the heat of the iron. “I really enjoy working on them,” she says of airplanes in general. A long list of accomplishments follows, including general maintenance stories, the occasional humorous anecdote, and the occasional grimace over less than welcome tasks (like working on hydraulic systems) before she adds, “I love doing fabric — that’s my favorite thing in the world.”

One personal project Amundsen has on her hands, and one that has clearly worked its way deep into her heart, stands on its gear in the main hangar. A Stearman reconstruction project is ongoing. The fuselage is well underway, and Amundsen talks about her goal of finishing the airplane and getting checked out for reasons that are perfectly understandable. She wants to take her father for a ride in the big World War II era trainer. Like most of us, he has never had free access to a Stearman, and the idea of introducing her dad to the joys of open cockpit flying, behind a round engine, in an authentic aviation treasure, is clearly a goal that matters to her.

Her personal ambition is completely understandable, under the circumstances. It was her father who introduced her to aviation, and her husband who taught her to love it as a career.

“My whole family is supportive,” admits Amundsen with a clearly discernible sense of gratitude. “They always taught me I can do anything I want to — and I can!”

I left the hangar thinking about my own young daughter who has taken her first few hours of instruction in a C-140 during the past year. Could I be so lucky as to have a girl at home who will grow up to earn more tickets than I have, smile as energetically as Amundsen does while working on the wing of a Cub that is seven decades old, and harbor no greater dream than to take me flying in a Stearman one day? I can only hope. We should all be so lucky.

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  1. Dan Colburn says

    Fantastic story, I too like working on airplanes. I’ve flown for a living for 68 years. No A&P though.

    I was an airline pilot and an engineering test pilot on DC-8,9,10. I’ll miss OSH this year, not sure the old legs will hold out.
    Keep the stories coming.
    Dan Colburn

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