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MAN RECALLS CAREER TESTING LIMITS OF MAN-MADE SPEED.

Byline: Bettie Rencoret Senior Columnist

Charles Engram of Lancaster has fond memories of his 10 years as foreman of the maintenance crew in charge of the liquid rocket engine test operation at Edwards Air Force Base's rocket sled track.

Only a few track segments overgrown with sagebrush are left as reminders of the tests conducted there in the 1950s.

In late 1952 North American Aircraft built a sled to test the first types of ribbon parachutes.

``A supersonic, high-speed sled was needed to prove out the chutes, and that needed an experienced crew,'' Engram said. ``We worked the 20,000-foot crane rail south track, which became diversified over the ensuing years.''

That's how he met Kay Saltsman.

She worked for the company testing the parachutes, and one day she visited the south track to watch one of the tests. She and Engram found they had a lot in common and started dating. Six months later they were married.

Longtime residents remember the highly publicized sled tests well. Whenever a test was open to the public, crowds would line up a safe distance away to watch.

One sled was pushed by a 50,000-pound-thrust liquid-rocket engine and could reach a speed faster than sound on the 20,000-foot-long track.

``That rocket could really go,'' he said.

In addition to the liquid fuel testing, the sleds were used to test the safety of aircraft escape systems.

Life-sized dummies were strapped into the sleds and various types of ejection mechanisms were used to shoot them up and out of the vehicle, a critical maneuver in any jet aircraft bailout.

After 10 years, the high-speed track closed, and the program was moved to Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, N.M.

Engram's test sled job ended on a Friday, and the following Monday he was back at work at Edwards' rocket laboratory.

This time his employment was with the contract management division of the Air Force as a quality assurance specialist on the first-stage engine for the 1963 Apollo moon launch.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Apollo program lasted 10 more years, until 1973, and when it ended he transferred to the Santa Susana Rocketdyne Field Test Laboratory.

After 1-1/2 years, he transferred back to Edwards to the McDonnell-Douglas facility, still in the contract management division, to work on the F-15 and related programs.

A career advancement opportunity as facility management officer in the Air Force office at Palmdale Plant 42 opened up for him and he stayed in that position until he retired in 1980, after 33 years of civil service.

Engram's love for aviation mechanics and rocketry began in childhood in Sikeston, Mo., where a school for fliers was located.

Primary pilots were trained there, and that's where, as a teen-ager, he received his first aircraft and engine mechanics license to work on military aircraft.

He served three years on active duty with the United States Army Air Corps in Europe during World War II.

Before going overseas, he was stationed in Fort Worth, Texas. Since he had his aircraft and engine mechanics license, he was assigned as a mechanic to the headquarters squadron of the Army Air Corps Training Command.

Famous pilot Jacqueline Cochran used to come there to fly some of the planes, arriving in her own Beechcraft staggered-wing biplane.

``I got to fly with her on several occasions,'' Engram said. ``Once, when she landed a B-25 that I knew was in good shape on one engine, I asked her what the problem was and she answered, `Nothing. I'm just practicing.' ''

After the war, he went home and attended the University of Missouri for a year on the G.I. Bill. But he wanted to get back into aviation, so he enrolled in the Embry-Riddle School of Aviation, also on the G.I. Bill, and got a second license for work on any kinds of engines.

He moved to Glendale and enrolled in the Cal-Aero Technical Institute and completed his studies in aviation mechanics, jet engines and rocketry.

A scout from Edwards came out to talk to his graduating class, and he was one of four picked for hire as civilians by the Department of Defense.

That was just after two rocket test stands - concrete and steel structures into which rocket engines are fixed to be test-fired - had been installed. He helped get one ready for the first engine to be tested at the site.

His civic service didn't end with his retirement.

Ever since he came here, as a single man, in 1952 to live in the old Kerosene Flats housing area at the base, he has been involved in community betterment and humanitarian activities.

After he and Kay were married, they moved to Lancaster, and their two daughters, Robin Daughtry, now of San Antonio, Texas, and Jan Stiles of Pueblo, Colo., were born and raised here.

In 1960, they joined the Lancaster United Methodist Church, and he served for a time on the finance committee. He is involved with the church soup and sandwich kitchen on Mondays.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays he volunteers at the Grace Resource Center.

He noted that 60,000 people a year, at least 5,000 per month, are fed at Grace Resource Center.

Engram works at various tasks. He interviews clients as they come in and drives his truck to pick up food. Last year he drove more than 2,500 collection miles.

He has long been an active member and supporter of the YMCA and the Kiwanis Club.

When he has time in his active lifestyle, he likes to do wrought iron work, sculpt, fish and garden. He's also a sports fan. He roots for the JetHawks and the San Francisco 49ers.

He thinks seniors need to stay busy.

``That's what I'm going to continue doing,'' he said. ``I'll volunteer, watch my games and play a little. Kay and I will probably travel some and do whatever else interests us at the time.''

LANCASTER Hearing tests will be available Sept. 11 and Oct. 9 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. in the multipurpose room at the Antelope Valley Senior Center, 777 W. Jackman St.

LANCASTER - Meetings of Lancaster Chapter 549 of the American Association of Retired Persons will resume after the summer hiatus.

The first meeting will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Antelope Valley Senior Center multipurpose room, 777 W. Jackman St.

LANCASTER - Menus for the week at the senior life nutrition sites in Lancaster, Palmdale and Pearblossom have been announced. All meals include bread, margarine and coffee, tea or milk.

Monday: Hot turkey sandwich, mashed potatoes, parslied carrots, tossed salad and pineapple chunks.

Tuesday: Lemon herbed fish, rice pilaf, stewed tomatoes, three-bean salad and apple brown Betty.

Wednesday: Sloppy Joes, macaroni salad, carrots and peas, tossed salad, and fruit salad.

Thursday: Juice, beans and ham, Harvard beets, lettuce-tomato salad, and pudding.

Friday: Baked chicken, au gratin potatoes, squash, fiesta coleslaw and apple.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO Charles Engram followed his interest for aviation to a career at Edwards Air Force Base.

Bettie Rencoret/Special to the Daily News
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 7, 1997
Words:1185
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