Tag Aeronautics employee recalls six decades in aviation

 - September 29, 2010, 10:45 AM
Les Pingel, 89, has “a job for life” according to Tag CEO Mansour Ojjeh. Pingel has worked in the maintenance field for 64 years and has no intention of retiring.

In the U.S. the FAA bestows its Charles Taylor “Master Mechanic” award on people who have spent more than 50 years in the aircraft maintenance profession. Canada doesn’t seem to offer the same level of recognition for such achievements, but if it did, the name of Leslie Pingel would be high on the list. Pingel, 89, has spent 64 years in aircraft maintenance positions and is still working for Tag Aeronautics as director of technical support. “He’s tireless, and he will stay on any project or projects and work them to completion seven days a week,” said Jeff Weber, president of Tag Aviation Services, the remaining piece of Tag North America. “A man of his energy I don’t see often at any age, much less his.”

Pingel began his career during World War II as an apprentice tool maker with Canadian Car and Foundry, which was then producing military aircraft under license. He lasted there for one year before joining the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he eventually became an aeronautical engineering officer and was awarded the British Empire Medal for meritorious military service after he set up an aircraft maintenance training program.

During the late 1950s Pingel served as the program manager for the CF-104 Starfighter, which was to be license-built by Canadair (today part of Bombardier). Lockheed, which was to supply the two-seat F-104 trainers, was experiencing delivery delays, so Pingel was sent to Palmdale, Calif., for several weeks to help expedite the program. There he caught the attention of Lockheed president Archie Folden, who offered him a job with the company. “He said to me, ‘Would you quit and come to work for us right now?’” recalled Pingel. “I said no, I want six years so I can retire; it would be silly to give all of that up.” Folden told Pingel that he could have a job immediately after he left the service. Six years later, Pingel took him up on the offer and was quickly sent to Seattle, where his first position with Lockheed was in its shipbuilding division.

“[The company] was trying to use aircraft people to change the method of building ships, so it wanted only aircraft people in there,” he said. “It was interesting.”
After two years as a program manager dealing with the “rustbuckets,” Pingel requested a transfer and once again found himself working on aircraft, this time the L-1011 TriStar jetliner, on which he served as division manager, supervising final assembly and check out. He later spent some time helping to diagnose and solve teething problems–such as how to keep hydraulic fluid from boiling at 1,800 mph–on the SR-71 Blackbird, one of the fastest aircraft ever to fly.

By 1973 Pingel had returned to Canada, joining Litton Systems, where he served as technical program manager, in charge of the company’s repair and overhaul facilities for commercial avionics. There he met Canadair’s chief pilot, who was visiting the company for a familiarization course on the LTN-72 inertial navigation system that was to be included in the airframer’s new Challenger 600.

“As we went around the place, he said, ‘Why don’t you come back with me; we need a director of maintenance,’ and that’s how I got down to Montreal,” Pingel told AIN.  “It was an odd arrangement in that although I was the director of preflight, I also held all the responsibility for the machine shop and the experimental shop and various other research programs.”

The Move to Tag Aviation
At Canadair, Pingel was responsible for the pre-flight testing of the Challenger 600 among other tasks. One of the earliest customers was Tag Aviation, which placed an initial order for 21 of the large-cabin business jets. While showing one of company founder Akram Ojjeh’s sons around the aircraft at the Canadair plant, Pingel found himself once again offered another job. While he initially turned down the Tag invitation, he accepted when it was repeated six months later. Twenty-eight years later he is still with the company.

Today, Montreal-based Pingel acts as Tag Aeronautics’ customer representative on the Challenger, Global Express and Global XRS, supervising completions for the company’s clients. Over the summer he finished delivery of a Challenger 605 for the Crown Prince of Bahrain. “He recently generated a checklist that we use now for completion management of green aircraft up at Bombardier, and it’s just a work of art,” said Weber. “It’s got everything you can imagine. It’s 25 pages, and it’s all his work over the years put together in a great document.”

Pingel spends an average of two days a week at the Tag office located at Bombardier’s Montreal facility, but he is on the phone every day dealing with customers, solving engine problems or ordering parts. His past relationship with Canadair serves him well. “Fortunately, I’m at a real advantage in that a lot of the people who have moved up to good positions in Bombardier I hired back in the early days.” When he’s not dealing with customers or monitoring progress on their aircraft, Pingel keeps himself up to date by attending courses and seminars on Bombardier aircraft and systems. In one of his recent projects, he supervised the installation of a high-speed Internet system on a Global Express XRS. The system was encountering problems that Pingel attributed to spotty satellite coverage, ironic considering the 1957 launch of Sputnik–the first man-made satellite–was still more than a decade in the future when he began his career.

Since his start in the aviation industry “a hell of a long while ago,” Pingel has seen many changes. “If you go through the production lines and compare how we used to do it and how we do it today, the difference is fantastic. Especially now, with carbon and graphite and things like that, it becomes a whole new technology.”
Despite the changes he has continually adapted, and although he has worked  without a contract for close to 30 years, Pingel has no worries about his job security. “I mentioned to [Tag CEO Mansour Ojjeh] a couple of weeks ago when he was in Montreal, ‘I may be getting too old, do you want me to get out of the way?’ Ojjeh replied, ‘No way, you’ve got a job for life,’” said Pingel. “I just enjoy it. People die if they don’t do work.”