“Sweet Home Arizona”

Music is capable of instantly and vividly bringing us back into a memory. About two decades ago, Dutch National Aviation Museum ‘Aviodome’ personnel conducted a restoration to airworthy status of Lockheed L-749 (VC-121) Constellation N749NL at Marana Northwest Regional Airport, outside of Tucson, Arizona, closely cooperating with American technicians who specialized in these types of aircraft, like their own famous MATS Connie.

In the Tucson area, us Dutch guys first bunked in an apartment at Orange Grove Road, later on in the Days Inn & Suites at Cortaro Farms Road. A typical working day consisted of getting up at around 0430 hrs, having some breakfast and a call to the homefront, getting in the GMC van at around 0500–0530 hrs and driving to the airfield and ‘our’ Connie. At about 0600 hrs work commenced until 1100 hrs, with a coffee break somewhere in between.

During Summer, temperatures were around 35 Degrees Celsius by that time. Getting in the Skyrider restaurant on base meant going from 35 to 19 Degrees. After lunch, going outside again meant a smash in the face, going from 19 to about 45 (!) Degrees. To our Connie, me climbing up the bare metal wing to do my paint stripping or decorating. That wing reached temperatures of about 80 degrees, a heat that only my military boots could withstand.

That second part of the working day lasted to about 1430 hrs, again with a small coffee break in between. It all happened on the tarmac, in the open air. Each day one of us started the GMC van prematurely on purpose, letting the airco do its work and cool down the interior, while all of us were cleaning up the place behind us. At around 1500 hrs we would drive home, making a stopover at the Home Depot or Fry’s to get supplies or groceries.

There was a community swimming pool at both bunking locations. A necessity to us. Some leasure time or a siesta, with a Black Sheep Dark Ale within reach, before dinner time. Many times we went in town, eating out in The Wagon Wheel, The Outback, Applebees, the Chinese or our favorite, Hooters. ‘Delightfully tacky, yet unrefined’. Painting the town of Tucson meant going to the Chicago Bar. Especially during weekends which were time off.

And here’s the memory trigger: At some point it became a tradition to play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ in the packed GMC van on our way to the airfield in those wee morning hours, every working day. That song has become the ‘signature song’ of us Dutch Connie Crews who had worked their ass off in that hot and dry Sonora desert. Should have been ‘Sweet Home Arizona’. How much more American do you want it all to be..?

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Peter van Stigt

Peter van Stigt

Dutch, military aviation artist, civilian, not a pilot but a city bus driver, independent thinker, but most of all: human being.