– Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – William H. “Bill” Mensing, the owner of an aircraft sheet-metal business whose improved water-drop tanks made for Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopters in the early 1970s became widely used, has died. He was 88.

Mensing died July 26 at his home in Santa Paula, Calif., after a brief illness, said his family.

A World War II veteran, Mensing opened a precision sheet-metal business called Sheetcraft in Los Angeles in the early 1960s and became known for his skill in making new parts for damaged helicopters and airplanes.

In 1970, he was offered a different kind of job by the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which in 1957 had pioneered the use of water-drop tanks on the bellies of helicopters for firefighting.

Aircraft Rebuilders, the company that had been making the tanks for the fire department, was no longer in business and the department wanted Mensing to replicate the company’s most recent tank.

Working with Doug Mathews, the fire department’s chief of helicopter maintenance, Mensing made a number of innovative changes to the 360-gallon tanks he began manufacturing for the department.

“When Mensing got it, we kept improving it,” the now-retired Mathews recalled on Thursday. “He came up with a lot of ideas, plus we came up with some ideas.”

Mensing not only made the tank lighter by making internal changes, but he changed it from a single-drop tank to a split-drop tank: Instead of the pilot having to drop the entire load of water, he could dump half a load at a time.

“It’s commonly known as the Sheetcraft tank or the L.A. tank,” said Mathews, adding that the U.S. Forest Service, the state of California, the Los Angeles City Fire Department and the Ventura County (Calif.) Fire Department are among those that later began using Mensing’s tanks.

“He was a pioneer in helicopter water-drop tank manufacturing and did an extremely good job improving it,” Mathews said.

Over the next 30 years, the product came to dominate Mensing’s Sheetcraft business, with his tanks being used in such far-flung locales as Sardinia, Italy; China and South Korea.

Mensing, who moved his operation from Whiteman Airport in the Pacoima section of Los Angeles to Santa Paula Airport in 1975, retired a few years ago.

He was born April 25, 1924, in Calexico, Calif., and later moved with his family to North Hollywood.

After graduating from high school in 1942, he joined the Navy.

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