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A large-scale job

Walter Hudson has flown planes, built planes and fixed planes for nearly six decades. Now he weighs them.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 15, 2002


OAKFORD PARK -- Walter Hudson has to think twice when asked what he weighs.

[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
Walter Hudson hooks a plane up to a tow tractor, which will pull it onto his scales at the Peter O. Knight Airport in Davis Islands recently.
He guesses about 200, but he doesn't know for sure. Aside from routine doctor visits, the 74-year-old seldom steps on a scale. No need, he says. No interest.

But when asked how a plane measures up, he can answer with precision. Weighing planes is his job -- and a favorite pastime.

Hudson became the scale man in 1987 after retiring from Tampa Electric Co. A longtime pilot, he figured it was a fun and profitable way to keep his head in the clouds without leaving the ground.

"People kind of look at me strange when I say I weigh planes," he said. "It's been interesting."

A certified aircraft and engine mechanic, Hudson is one of the few independent plane weighers in the Tampa Bay area. He measures everything from small planes to executive jets. He also weighs helicopters for the Tampa Police Department and Tampa General Hospital.

Hudson's work takes him to airports across the region, from Brooksville to St. Petersburg. His resume includes 416 aircraft since 1999. He lives in Oakford Park, within earshot of Tampa International Airport.

Federal aviation rules keep Hudson in business: Any two-engine plane that carries passengers must be weighed every three years to ensure proper balance. New seats or electronic equipment often throw it off.

[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
This box is hooked to the scales and reads the weight of the airplane Walter Hudson in weighing.
Hudson can weigh just about any plane with his two sets of scales, which fit in the trunk of his car and work like their digital bathroom counterparts. Using a tractor and muscle power, he rolls the planes onto the scales, levels out the aircraft with a string and plumb bob and takes a measurement from each wheel.

To get the net weight, he subtracts the fuel and oil.

Weights varies from about 2,500 pounds for a four- to six-seater to about 17,000 pounds for a twin-engine jet for 10 to 12 passengers. Commercial jets, which the airlines weigh, check in at about 275,000 pounds.

Hudson charges $100 to $500, depending on the size of the plane.

His passion for planes goes back as far as he can remember. As a young boy, he rode a tricycle fashioned like a plane. As a teen, he packed oranges to make money for flying lessons.

Hudson soloed his first flight at age 16 out of the Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands. To get there, he hitchhiked from Plant City, where he grew up.

Almost six decades later, Hudson still can't get enough of planes. He built two from scratch and transformed his garage into a workshop for fixer-uppers. He and his wife, Kathleen, go flying a few times a month in his Cessna Cardinal.

photo
[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
This logo is embroidered on Walter Hudson's shirt.
Hudson served in the U.S. Navy from 1945-46 and attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for aircraft maintenance. He worked as a mechanic and instructor at Airco Aviation on Davis Islands for a while, then joined the Air Force in 1951, inspecting planes at MacDill Air Force Base.

He started with TECO in 1954, promoting the use of air conditioning.

Throughout his career, Hudson stayed active in aviation. He chartered planes for a private company and flew TECO executives to project sites in Tennessee and Texas. Among some of his memorable landing spots: a golf course in Boca Grande and a horse ranch in Ocala.

A pilot for 58 years, Hudson feels as comfortable in the cockpit as he does in a car. He loves being in control of a machine that defies gravity.

A picture in his hallway says, "Flying is the second greatest experience known to man. Landing is the first."

Hudson looks forward to several more years of flying and weighing planes. His doctor gave him a clean bill of health in September. He weighed in at 200, with fuel.

- Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3394 or thurston@sptimes.com.

Walter Hudson

  • Age: 74
  • Occupation: airplane weigher
  • First flying lesson: April 16, 1944.
  • First solo flight: Sept. 2, 1944.
  • Weight of the Beech A36 shown in the photo: 2391.5 pounds
  • Weight of a Tampa General Hospital helicopter: 5034.86 pounds
  • Weight of a loaded Boeing 737: about 275,000 pounds
  • His pride and joy: His 35-year-old daughter, Julie Hudson, an A-10 pilot for the Air Guard and a commercial pilot for Northwest Airlines.

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