Iva Metz oral history interview
Iva Metz is interviewed about her life and her secretarial career in the aviation and aerospace industries from the 1940s through the 1980s. She discusses her professional experiences working for the U.S. Navy, the Cessna Aircraft Company, the Boeing Aircraft Company, and North American Aviation. The interview focuses in particular on her time at NASA and her involvement with the space program. Iva also touches on her husband’s (Homer) career in the military and with Boeing on various missile and rocket programs.
Table Of Contents
Introduction and personal background -- Flight training -- Teaching career, ground school, and husband’s Navy service -- Life in Banana River, Florida during World War II -- End of World War II and move to California -- Metzes’ careers at Boeing -- Career at North American -- Memories of Apollo 1 and Apollo 7 -- Memories of Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 -- Experiences with Skylab and other space program memories -- Return to Boeing -- Stories from moving cross country -- Aviation experiences and favorite aircraft -- Advice for young people and outstanding moments in career -- Closing thoughts
Iva L. (Fullerton) Metz worked as a secretary with the U.S. Navy, North American Aviation, and at Cape Canaveral during the Apollo and Skylab programs.
Metz was born on February 12, 1924, on a farm about 10 miles outside of Mankato, Kansas to John and Jeanette Fullerton. Her father was a farmer and her mother stayed at home taking care of their six children, four girls and two boys. Her mother passed away at 37 years old when the children were little. Attending Montrose School, Metz describes her journey to school: “[we] rode horses to school, and – all four girls on one horse. That was our bus.” She attended the same school, elementary through high school, in Montrose, Kansas. By 1942 she was teaching in a one-room schoolhouse east of Mankato with nine students all in different grades.
Metz became interested in flying as a young girl when her father took her to an airshow in Concordia, Kansas, about 30 miles southeast of their farm. Once living on her own and teaching school, Metz began flying lessons. After only five hours of instruction, she soloed an Aeronca Chief, a side-by-side, two-seat, 65-hp light airplane. She was the first female pilot to solo from the local field. Homer L. Metz, who would later become her husband, was also learning to fly at the same airfield. Iva was only able to take a few more lessons before the airplane was needed to train male pilots preparing for World War II. After Homer joined the U.S. Navy at the end of 1942, Iva moved to Wichita, Kansas in 1943 to attend ground school at Wichita University. They were married in 1944.
When Homer was transferred to Banana River Naval Air Station in Florida, Iva went to work for the Navy where she controlled the secret documents used to train the pilots on radar. After the end of the war, the couple remained at Banana River to help deactivate the air station. The couple moved to Glendale, California in 1946 and Iva found a billing clerk job at Andrew Jergens Company. In 1950, after completing school and having their first child, Steve, the family moved to Wichita, Kansas. Homer went to work for the Boeing Company and Iva for Cessna Aircraft Company as a payroll clerk. The family remained in Wichita until Homer was transferred to Seattle, Washington in 1958. The family, now numbering four with the birth of Douglas, put their furniture in storage and moved to Seattle. However, not long after that, Boeing sent them to Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton, Florida. Iva found a job at Boeing as the secretary for the manager of the facilities. She was at Hurlburt when Alan Shepard became the first American into space on May 5, 1961.
In June 1961, the family was transferred back to Seattle where Homer went to school to learn more about electrical system and electronics. After five months of training they were sent to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with Boeing. Iva found a secretarial job at Autonetics, a division of North American Aviation which was designing guidance systems and involved with Minuteman Missile testing. She became one of the first operators of the 1-A Data System that provided direct communications with all North American facilities. The A-1 used telephone lines and a punch tape to send the messages quickly and confidentially.
In 1966 Homer transferred to Cape Canaveral with the Saturn V and Minuteman programs and Iva transferred to a North American operation at the Cape as well. Here she was working with various engineering groups who were working on Apollo and the Saturn second stage. She typed critical design documents, which had to be perfect to ensure the safety of the astronauts. The astronauts were very appreciative, frequently sending gifts as a way to say “…thank you for not killing me.” She became very close to all the astronauts over her time at the Cape.
A vivid and tragic memory was the death of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee in the Apollo 1 fire in January 1967. Iva wore a collar pin every day that s