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There is a good reason they call these ceremonies "commencement exercises." Graduation is not the end; it’s the beginning.
– Orrin Hatch  
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  Volume No. 11 Issue No. 6 June 2014  

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Feature Stories
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  Live tough; live long
  In her 90s, engineer shares stories and challenges cadets
  By Lara Freeman

   The Banning Lewis Ranch Cadet Squadron CO-190 of the Civil Air Patrol hosted a special speaker May 15. Col. Mary Feik, a nonagenarian who engineered and built training airplanes during World War II, spoke at the cadets' award ceremony.
   Feik’s first engineering accomplishment took place when she was just 12 years old. She overhauled her father’s automobile engine.
   
   In 1942, at the age of 18, she contracted as a civilian with the U.S. Army Air Corps to teach aircraft maintenance to crew chiefs and mechanics. “At the time, there were no other women mechanics, or crew for that matter, working with the Air Corps,” said Lt. Col. Michael Cramer, as he introduced Feik.
   
   At age 19, Feik worked with the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang. “It was a fire-breathing dragon. I had to turn it into a trainer,” she said. The trainer was a non-flying plane, and Feik's training system that she built was called Captivair. A week later, she had to convert the trainer back into a functioning aircraft. “We did not waste an airplane,” she said.
   
   Feik saw plenty of the P-51 during her career. An American-built plane, with an engine from Britain, she said it had a “Rolls-Royce engine.”
   News traveled about a girl who was turning the plane into a trainer.
   
   “Word got to Britain that a girl at Wright Field would do unspeakable things to their engine,” Feik said. She had designed a cooling mechanism for the engine; and, after specifying how she wanted the materials cut, she welded the mechanism together herself. When Feik showed it to a representative sent to examine her work, she said he reported back: “Not to worry, she knows what she is doing.”
   
   Feik wrote construction manuals on how to turn any plane into a Captivair training plane. Her manuals were distributed throughout the military so any facility could have access to planes for training pilots on the ground.
   
   As a test pilot for several planes, she had plenty of stories. Feik said one time she and an officer were deciding on a good time to fly the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star; they thought morning would be best because there would be few people around. The P-80 was the first jet fighter used by the armed forces.
   
   When Feik arrived for the flight, she found a large crowd. “There was a girl who was going to fire up a P-80, and either go flying or blow it up,” Feik said. “Two-hundred people got word of this and turned out early in the morning.” The P-80 eventually was nicknamed “Mary's Little Lamb.”
   
   After the war, Feik worked at the National Air and Space Museum restoring aircraft. She showed photographs of her first restoration project, with “before” and “after” shots. The “before” shot was not even recognizable as an airplane.
   
   Feik retired in 1971, and immediately joined the Civil Air Patrol.
   Besides delighting her audience with fun stories, Feik challenged the cadets to think about their career choices. “If you don't get a first chance in a career, think of a backup,” she said. “It might be what you want most.”
   
   At the end of her speech, Feik presented awards to the cadets. “Looking at you who will inherit this country from us – you can ask us questions,” she said. “I'm hoping you can do it the way you want it to be done. Think about what you're doing and go for it, because we need you to do that.” On the certificates for the Col. Mary Feik Award are the words, “Aim high and follow your dreams” – words her father spoke when she left home at age 18.
   
   The cadets honored Feik by presenting her with a thank-you poster, designed by Gillian Conley, cadet technical sergeant.
   
   The Colorado Springs City Council also honored Feik by presenting her with a certificate declaring May 15 as Mary Feik Day.


 
  

Col. Mary Feik presents the Billy Mitchell award to second lieutenants Mackenzie Stammler and Lucia Stark. They are the first two in Civil Air Patrol's Banning Lewis Ranch Cadet Squadron CO-190 to become cadet officers. Capt. David P Stark, Jr. observes the presentation. Photo by Lara Freeman.
 

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