American Airlines Mechanic, 87, Still Working After 70 Years On The Job

American Airlines mechanic

By Karen Matthews

NEW YORK -- American Airlines is celebrating the seven-decade service of a New York mechanic who turns 87 next month and has no plans to retire.

Azriel "Al" Blackman was 16 when he started as an apprentice mechanic in July of 1942, long before bag fees, airport security or even the introduction of the jet engine. He was paid 50 cents an hour. Seventy years later, he still reports to work every day at American's aircraft maintenance hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

"I don't consider it work, really," Blackman said Wednesday. "If you like what you do, it's not work."

The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline invited Blackman to ride on a vintage DC-3 to mark his anniversary with the company.

The aircraft, the Flagship Detroit, is owned by a nonprofit foundation that has restored it to a historically accurate approximation of what it looked like when it was in passenger service for American from 1937 to 1947.

Its 21 seats are smaller than 21st-century airline seats, and there are no overhead bins.

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Blackman sat in the cockpit as the plane swung around to lower Manhattan, up the Hudson River to the George Washington Bridge and back.

Back on the ground, he said modern jet engines are more reliable than vintage engines like the DC-3's.

"These leak oil all over the place," Blackman said. "When they're not leaking oil, it's not good. They're not running well."

Mustachioed and dapper in his lime-green reflective vest with "crew chief" on the back, Blackman said the industry has changed over the years.

"Today it's all money, banking, CPAs, computers," he said. "But I've yet to see a computer go out and fix anything that we broke."

He shook his head when asked what advice he'd give to someone starting out in his line of work now.

"Most of the big carriers have folded because they couldn't compete," Blackman said. "And those that are still in business outsource a good part of their work. It's tough to make a living in the business today."

Blackman started working for American Export Airlines, which later merged into American. He was drafted into the Army and served two years in Korea, then returned to his mechanic's job in New York.

He and his wife, Delores, had two children; she died last year.

"My dear wife, when she was alive, she used to tell me, 'Go to work, bum. Go play with your friends.' "

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God bless the mechanic.. I know what he means when he says "if you like what you do, it's not work" I too like to build machines, rebuild engines of all types.. it's fun, especially if you make it better than stock with inovative changes... But what "you guys" missed and it is a big miss.. is a picture of him today with what he works on today. that would complete the living cycle.. Come one,, re-submit the story WITH A PICTURE OF HIM WITH PRESENT AIR PLANES.. Thank you.. Herbert A Schober

March 06 2014 at 9:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
no new name

I agree with would have been great to see him now, with a current plane etc. also...did the article mention what he makes for salary now? it would have been fun to compare 50 cents to what ever his wage is today.

March 06 2014 at 5:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was an aviation mechanic in WW 2. With all the young pilots flying the bombers with little over an hour flying time, it is a wonder how mant camme back. A side not. If the pilot tried to start the engine in in a wrong mode, I had to change all 56 spark plugs. Yes you read it right. 28 cylinders and 2 spark plugs per cylinder. No fun, but we got the job done.

March 05 2014 at 11:50 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

very good story about 87 year old mechanic, but can you tell me why we cant see him as he looks today,i think everyone was a little upset that there was no picture for 2014. disapointed

March 05 2014 at 10:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

He has seen the Airline Industry grow from infancy to what it is today imagine all the changes he has seen that we take for granted......God Bless Him

January 29 2013 at 11:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What a guy. Retirement is not for everyone.

January 29 2013 at 10:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to aruba5561's comment

This photo is probably of him when he was stationed in Korea. The plane he's standing next to was probably a forward observation plane. With the name Big Chief Fulaholes is was more than likely shot at alot during reconnaissance missions.
My uncle flew reconnaissance during World War Two in the Pacific. He said every time he came off a mission there were bullet holes in the plane somewhere and it was guys like Al who kept them in the air.

March 06 2014 at 9:32 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wecell4u2's comment
Mr. Waters

The a/c he's standing next to was Built by Cessna. The army referred to them as a L-19 bird dog, a 6 cylinder apposed engine. Also used to direct artillery fire from the air. Observer sat behind pilot. 110 M.p.h. cruise speed, With 60 degree flaps it would slow down and hang in the air, short field capable. Eng. burned 115/145 octane aviation fuel. It was still in service when I left the Army in 1964. I was a crew chief on one. Army 122098 was the tail number. I wish Mr. "Al" Blackman good luck.

March 06 2014 at 12:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

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