By Col. Avery Willis, for Flight Line (CAF SoCal Wing monthly newsletter)
In 1930, Norm Swagler was born in Endicott, New York, on a small family farm. Endicott is located in upstate New York. Norm’s father worked in a shoe factory, which brought in some much-needed income during the Great Depression.With dad working in the factory, the rest of the family had to do the farm work. That life raised strong boys with a good work ethic and mechanical skills needed to keep the farm equipment running. Farm work also got Norm dreaming of Navy ships and airplanes. Norm graduated from high school in 1948, and attended Syracuse University for two years. Then, in 1950, Norm joined the Naval Reserve to go into Naval aviation. In 1950 that was called “the black-shoe Navy.”
Norm served four years in the Navy, doing the required monthly training. His Navy cruise was on a destroyer escort that sailed out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard for a two-week trip to Florida, and back again. On any Navy training cruises, besides standing all the required ship’s watches, sailors practice going to General Quarters, sometimes called “Battle Stations.” Norm’s battle station was in the very stern of the ship, down near the rudder. If the bridge was knocked out of action, it was Norm’s job to manually steer the ship from his position in the stern.
Norm’s time in the Navy earned him the G.I. bill benefits that helped pay for more college. So…Norm went to school in both Rochester and Buffalo, N.Y., to study Naval aviation. In 1957, Norm married Patience, and moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where Norm attended Indiana Technical College, majoring in electronics.After graduation, Norm worked for General Dynamics Electronics in Rochester, building hi-fi amplifiers and tuners. During his four years with General Dynamics, the Swagler family grew to four – with the addition of two sons. After leaving General Dynamics, Norm worked for Long Island Servo Corporation for two years – as a design engineer. Norm’s passion was airplanes. So…in 1961, he joined Grumman Aerospace in Bethpage, Long Island, New York, working on the E-2A program to design AEW radar carrier aircraft – destined to be the eyes and ears of the Navy.
In 1962, Grumman promoted Norm to California to be a hardware engineer working on the F-14 “Tomcat” Navy fighter program. The family bought a home in Camarillo and Norm stayed with Grumman until he retired in 1999. Norm thought that Grumman was THE best company for which to work. In 2000, a friend introduced Norm to the Southern California Wing of the Commemorative Air Force – and Norm joined up.His first project at CAF-SoCalWing was helping Joe Peppito to restore a North American SNJ-4 (AT-6) training aircraft – over a period of seven years, from many hundreds of parts. The SNJ-4 Texan “Bluebird” is now an important aircraft in our Vintage Warbird Ride Program.
After the SNJ-4 restoration, Norm became part of the crew assembled to restore a Fairchild F-24 “Forwarder” aircraft. The F-24 came to us from Argentina, by way of Northern California. The restoration team is restoring the high-wing, four-seat airplane to its original condition – and will paint it in the colors of a Civil Air Patrol spotter aircraft – much like the ones that operated in WWII to spot German submarines off our eastern coasts.The CAP colors will be in honor of Steve and Gary Barber’s father, who flew Civil Air Patrol airplanes during WWII.
Another major project that Norm initiated and completed was to rebuild and paint our engine stands and make them safe and dependable.Norm also stepped up when we needed leadership. He has served on our Wing Staff as Safety Officer and Wing Adjutant, and also served for many years as our Personnel Officer.
You can find Norm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays in the Maintenance Hangar, working with other members and cadets on our airplanes.I’m sure that you can guess what Norm’s favorite airplane is – now that you know he’s a Navy man. You’re right … It’s our Grumman F8F “Bearcat (if only we had a Grumman F-14 “Tomcat!). Norm’s two sons caught the airplane bug, too. One son is a corporate pilot, and the other son works in aircraft maintenance at LAX.