From an early age, Wayne Patenaude had a dream – he wanted to be around Warbirds. Today, Patenaude is living the dream, maintaining several Warbirds at Tide Aircraft LLC, including a P-51, T-6 and SNJ. D.O.M. magazine sat down with Patenaude this month to learn what it took to realize his dream.
The Dream Begins
Patenaude’s father provided the spark that lit his passion for all things Warbirds. “My dad always liked World War II airplanes,” Patenaude shares. “I listened to my dad talk about the air shows he used to go to. He started taking me and my brother to air shows when I was eight. That first air show I went to, I fell in love. That was it — I didn’t know if I was going to be a mechanic or a pilot, but I knew right then and there that I had to be around Warbirds. My dad’s favorite bomber was the B-17 and his favorite fighter was the P-51 Mustang. Those were the two Warbirds that I could recognize at first.”
Learning About Warbirds
After that first air show, Patenaude took a keen interest to learn as much as he could about Warbirds. “It just took off like crazy,” he tells D.O.M. magazine. “I started buying Air Classics magazines and would buy every book I could get my hands on to learn more. I had books upon books. I was a Warbird kid — I would pull the centerfolds out of the Air Classics magazines and hang them on my wall and say, ‘One day, I’m going to do something like that.’”
U.S. Air Force
Patenaude knew that the Warbird world would be hard to get into. When he graduated from high school, Patenaude didn’t have an A&P, pilot’s certificate or any airplane experience at all. He knew his only choice to work on and be around airplanes would be to join the Air Force. “I crewed F-16s,” says Patenaude. “I did three tours in the Middle East. All the airplanes I crewed were flagships — they were the wing commander’s aircraft. When I got out of the Air Force in 1997, because of the training I had received, I was qualified to take the written tests for my A&P.”
The First Civilian Job
After getting out of the Air Force, Patenaude landed a job with Vintage Props and Jets, a Part 135 operator in New Smyrna Beach, FL, that flew King Airs to the Bahamas. This was opportunity for Patenaude to start building experience working on civilian aircraft. He worked on the King Airs as well as the company’s Piper Navajos and Chieftans and Cessna 152s and 172s. He obtained his A&P certificate while employed there in 2000.
Tom Crevasse was the president and owner of Vintage Props and Jets. It turns out that Crevasse would further pique Patenaude’s interest in Warbirds. “Tom’s business started out restoring old WWII airplanes,” Patenaude tells D.O.M. magazine. “Tom was a Mustang guy. When I worked for Tom, he would share stories about the Mustang he flew at air shows. He had a picture of the Collings Foundation’s Corsair hanging in his office. When I first saw that picture, I told him right then and there, ‘That’s what I want to do — that’s what I want to work on.’”
American Aero Services
American Aero Services, a maintenance facility that specialized in Warbird maintenance and repair, was also located at the airport at New Smyrna Beach. American Aero Services performed all the winter maintenance for the Collings Foundation’s airplanes that traveled each year. Patenaude wanted to get his foot in the door there. “I talked to the president, Gary Norville, trying to get a job working there,” Patenaude says. “Unfortunately, they didn’t have any open positions. But I really wanted to work on the airplanes, so I started going there each night and doing volunteer work. I started working on the B-17. My first annual was on the B-17 that first year. The following year, I talked Gary into hiring me full time.”
Patenaude enjoyed being able to work on Warbirds full time at American Aero Services. He was building up his experience not only on the Collings Foundation aircraft, but other Warbirds as well. “I helped out with the annuals on the Collings Foundation’s B-17 and B-24. While they were out on tour, I helped assemble Jack Roush’s P-51D Gentleman Jim. Art Teeters restored the fuselage and wings, and it came down to us and we put it all together.”
Yearning to Tour
The Collings Foundation toured around the country for 10 ½ months each year. Bill Strawn, one of the mechanics Patenaude worked with at American Aero Services, used to be a mechanic for the Collings Foundation out on tour. Patenaude wanted to get a job working as a mechanic on the tour. “I kept on bugging Bill trying to get a job,” Patenaude shares. “I asked if he would talk to Rob Collings (co-founder of the Collings Foundation and its chief pilot) to see if I could get a job going on the road with them. It just wasn’t happening.”
Then, one day a few summers later, it happened. “Gary came up to me out of the blue and told me, ‘Here is your opportunity. They need a mechanic on the road,’” Patenaude tells D.O.M. magazine. “Less than a week later, I was on the road with the Warbirds as a full-time mechanic.”
Patenaude spent seven years as a mechanic touring with the Collings Foundation maintaining its B-17, B-24, B-25 and P-51. During the 10 ½ months of the tour, he was in a different city every three days. We asked Patenaude what he liked most about those seven years. “Some people work on Warbirds that fly once in a while,” he shares. “The Collings Foundation flies its airplanes every single day. That was the epitome of getting hands-on experience!”
Patenaude got to know more people in the Warbird community as he traveled, and says those contacts are a necessity if you are maintaining Warbirds. It’s not like you can call a local aircraft parts distributor for a Warbird part.
Working for seven years touring with the Collings Foundation eventually took its toll. Patenaude was ready to settle down. Mark Henley, a friend of Patenaude’s, knew that he was looking to get out of the grueling pace of the tour. Henley put Patenaude in touch with Claude Hendrickson, owner of Columbus, MS-based Tide Aircraft LLC. Hendrickson had several Warbirds and needed a good mechanic. During the next winter break, Patenaude traveled to Columbus and met with Hendrickson. He was hired as the director of maintenance and has been working there ever since.
Patenaude has been working at Tide Aircraft for 3 ½ years. He has two non-certified mechanics, O’Neal Pierce and Darryl Shrock, working under his supervision at Tide Aircraft. The team maintains 13 airplanes including a P-51, T-6, SMJ and a Convair. “My boss would fly our Warbirds like a flight school would fly 152s,” Patenaude shares. “He just bought a King Air a few months ago, so the Warbirds don’t fly as much. But before that, the Warbirds were flying on business trips all the time. We would average 300 hours a year on the Mustang!”
Patenaude says he enjoys the job. He says the pace is not as hectic as when he was on tour, and there is another great benefit — he gets to fly! “I enjoy flying,” he says. “When I was working at Vintage Props and Jets, we were extremely busy during the summer when we were flying to the Bahamas. I had the money to take pilot lessons, but didn’t have the time. But in the winter, things slowed down a little and I began taking flying lessons in the winter of 2000, but never got my rating. The first two years with the Collings Foundation, I got some right seat time on the B-17. That was my first tail wheel experience. The winter of 2003, when we were on break, I got my private pilot’s certificate. The next break, I got my instrument rating. I then talked to Collings, sharing that I wanted to get my multi-engine rating. Thanks to his generosity, I started flying the foundation’s B-25. I got my multi-engine, multi-engine instrument and commercial on the B-25. Mark Henley took me under his wing, and I did my single-engine commercial check out in his T-6.”
When the Collings Foundation acquired a P-51 Mustang, Patenaude was the first mechanic to work on it. It was a dual-control “C” model, and Patenaude built up around 20 hours flying back seat. He also flew it once from the front. He never really flew a Mustang after that until he went to work at Tide Aircraft for Hendrickson. Patenaude had just finished up an annual on the P-51, and it was ready for a test flight. “I told Claude that it was ready for a test flight, and he said, ‘You go fly it,’” Patenaude says. “I told him it had been a while since I had flown a Mustang, and that under the circumstances, I thought he should probably fly it. He ended up taking three flights in the Mustang. Each time he landed, he said, ‘Go take it up!’ I would reply, ‘No, that’s OK — maybe another time.’ The final time he came in, he told me, ‘Look — this is how it’s going to work. You are going to get in and fly the Mustang or I’m going to fire you!’ So I got in and flew it. I now have over 160 hours in that Mustang!”
Along the way, Patenaude also obtained his FAST card through the North American Trainer Association, which allows him to fly formations at air shows, thanks to the help of Mark Henley, Steve Gustafson and Jimmy Fordham.
Patenaude feels that being both an A&P/IA and a pilot is an advantage. “Not to bad mouth pilots, but as a mechanic who does not fly, when a pilot tells you what he thinks is going wrong with the airplane, it is not necessarily the right thing. As a mechanic, when I’m flying the airplane, I can get a better feel for what the problem actually is. Personally, I think all pilots should be A&Ps before becoming pilots. And A&Ps are also more knowledgeable if they have their pilot’s certificate.”
We asked Patenaude what the favorite part of his job is. “To me, it’s not a job,” he says. “This is something I worked hard for — to be able to be around Warbirds. I can’t wait to get up in the morning and be around these airplanes. When I was a kid, I was buying Air Classics magazines and taking out the centerfolds and hanging on my wall. Five years ago, I was flying the Collings Foundation’s B-25 for a photo shoot and ended up on the cover and centerfold! I’m living the dream. Dreams can come true!
“Hard work aside, I didn’t do this on my own,” Patenaude adds. “There were many great people who have helped me out along the way, and I am grateful to them for their help!”