Marion man travels the world for airline ?Dream? job

One Marion man is living his dream, traveling across the U.S. and overseas to care for the world?s largest cargo plane, Boeing?s 787 Dreamlifter.

?I was just in the right place at the right time,? said Brent Thurston, who works for Atlas Airlines, a cargo airline based in New York.

The Dreamlifter is a highly modified Boeing 787 used to transport aircraft parts from production in Charleston, S.C., Nagoya, Japan, and southern Italy to Everett, Wash., for final assembly.

?The whole 787 concept is a plug-and-play airplane,? Thur?ston said. ?In the cockpit section, everything from the smoke goggles to the fire gloves, the microphones, the captain?s chairs?everything is there and has been functionally checked.?

The wings and some body sections are built in Nagoya, other sections are built in Charleston and Italy and the cockpit is built in Wichita.

?They say when they get it to production, three days from when they get the parts and everything it?s ready to go,? he said. ?It?s pretty amazing.?

Getting his start

Thurston, who has been with the project since its inception about four years ago, got his start in the aircraft industry by following his step-father?s footsteps into the Air Force right out of high school.

?I was a crew chief on B-52s,? he said, referring to the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bombers, which are designed to carry up to 70,000 pounds of munitions.

?You have your own airplane and you take care of it. When it goes on alert, you go on alert. When it?s flying, you launch it out, and when it comes back in, you do all the maintenance.?

Thurston?s experiences in the Air Force allowed him to get his Airframe and Powerplant license, a Federal Aviation Administration requirement for all aircraft mechanics.

Japan and Italy

Thurston said he has been to all the pick-up points?sometimes filling in for mechanics who were sick or on vacation?including a half-dozen trips to Japan.

?Nagoya station was just awesome,? he said. ?Being an average height for an American, you go down there and you kind of stick out.?

On the other hand, Thurston said he?s not interested in returning to Italy, despite its beautiful countryside.

?You go to Japan, and everybody?s busy, everybody?s got their thing to do,? he said. ?In Italy, you try to find a restaurant, and it?s like, ?Oh, if we want to be open today, we will, and if we don?t, we don?t.?

?You can?t count on anything,? he said. ?Living in a small town like Marion, you get to learn your way around. But in a town like that, if you didn?t know where everything is, you?d never find it.

?It was beautiful, but I wouldn?t care to go there again.?

Historical Charleston

On home soil, Thurston said he enjoyed the deep historical significance of Charleston, a city that actually has ties to his hometown.

?There?s so much history there,? he said. ?I went and saw a submarine from the Civil War.?

The Charleston region of South Carolina is where Captain Francis Marion, for whom the town and county of Marion are named, used guerilla warfare to fight the British in the Revolu?tion?ary War. It earned him the nickname, ?The Swamp Fox.?

Thurston found time to take in other sights in the city, too.

?There?s this huge suspension bridge,? he said. ?It?s architecturally built with all kinds of guide wires, and when you drive over that thing at night, it?s all lit up. It?s beautiful.?

Cultural contrasts

Traveling to different locations in the U.S. and around the world has its perks, but Thurs?ton said doing business on a global scale also has challenges.

?I think the biggest contrast was in Italy,? he said. ?The whole attitude was different. Deadlines don?t mean anything.

?Boeing has had a lot of trouble with the manufacturing, because it?s like, ?We?ll get to it when we get it.? And Boeing is like, ?We have to have this on this day, at this time.? ?Yeah, yeah, we?ll have it, we?ll get it.??

He also said almost the whole country takes a month off work during summer.

?It?s crazy,? Thurston said. ?If you want to get something done, you almost have to bribe someone to do it.?

In Japan, though, the situation is opposite.

?In Japan you have all these little worker bees, ready to do whatever,? he said. ?The problem with Japan, though, is that they?re so eager that they just go and do it, and sometimes it doesn?t get done right. A lot of stuff over there has to be done over and over until it?s done right.

?The contrast between Italy and Japan is just amazing.?

Work ethic varies

Differing work ethics and cultures were not the only difficulties he ran into while traveling, though. The cuisine could also be a challenge.

?The food in Japan was… interesting,? Thurston said, citing as an example the time when one of the Japanese companies took him and his coworkers out to dinner.

?They had all this different type of food brought in, and a lot of it I had no idea what it was,? he said.

Italy was not much better.

?Most of the things cooked down in southern Italy used a lot of olive oil,? Thurston said. ?They take greens and just boil them in oil and serve them to you like that.

?I had a steak at one place. I don?t think it was boiled. It wasn?t grilled. It was maybe fried. I?m not sure.?

Thurston said he flew through Rome on his way out of the country, and noticed that their cuisine varied greatly from the food in southern Italy.

?The people in northern Italy look down on the people in southern Italy,? he said. ?They call it the Africa.?

One aspect of travel that did not trouble him, however, was the language barrier.

?Most of the people who work there are bilingual,? Thurston said.

?In aviation, English is the legal language. When you talk to a tower, it?s all in English. So anywhere you go in the world, it?s supposed to be in English.?

Challenges and perks aside, Thurston said the best part of the job for him is working with his plane, keeping it running smoothly from one end of the world to the other.

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