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A Brand New Car? Maybe a New House; Plane Makers Cheer Announcement

November 4, 1995

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) _ The Pentagon spoke, and thousands cheered on the other side of the continent.

About 8,500 aerospace employees got job tenure of a sort Friday with the announcement that the Defense Department would buy 80 more giant C-17 cargo airlifters from McDonnell Douglas Corp.

The orders will continue production into the next century and keep a total of 17,000 Californians working, company spokesman Jim Ramsey said.

Outside Building 59, a metal cavern of yellow-coated fuselages, tail assemblies and wings, at least 3,000 workers yelled and clapped each other on the back when the news flashed over a giant television screen.

``I know everybody’s happy,″ said Jeff McQueen, whose job as a major assembler includes fitting the big plane parts together. ``These people can go out and buy homes now, ’cause they got jobs.″ He slapped a low five on a colleague.

``This man, now, he can go out and get him a brand new car,″ McQueen said.

Major purchases like those have been on hold for many Southern Californians, particularly people in defense industries _ if they have incomes at all.

California was the hardest-hit state in this year’s military base closures, losing an estimated 20,000 jobs. The Long Beach Naval Shipyard was among the installations receiving bad news, costing the area about 4,000 positions.

Josh Piepenhagen, whose seven years of seniority were not enough to guarantee his job security without the order, sweated out the announcement with a fellow structural mechanic.

He went to work at McDonnell Douglas fresh out of the Air Force, has three children, and bought a new house last year.

``I’ve never been without a job, so it really scares me,″ he said before the announcement. Later, he joined Leona Harris in the cheers.

``It takes me to retirement,″ said Harris, 42. ``This is exciting. We’ve been hoping and praying for this.″