Monday, November 30, 2009

Reader Pics Wanted!!

I Know a lot of you out ther take pictures while you are at work. If it's cool with you I would be proud to share them with everyone. BE AWARE THAT YOUR PICTURES MAY BE COPIED BY OTHER PEOPLE!! Email me your pics to

Reader Pic!! Compliments of SpininB

Winglet pics are all the rage right now and here is one from SpininB.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


When I got my first aircraft maintenance job I was fresh out of school. I was working heavy checks at Delta Airlines. One of the senior guys took me to the tool truck in the morning and told me "you need this, this, this, etc." One of the things he pointed out was a three D cell Mag-Light.

My Light was just like any typical Mag-Lite, black, heavy, and worked great. Like most aircraft mechanics I have owned several different Mag-Lites over the years and they are all pretty much the same. After a while the light is not as bright as before and the focus is not quite as sharp, but it always will work.

Fast forward a few years and I get this job. My first week here one of the senior guys who transferred in from another station tells me to look at him, as I turn he shines a really bright light into my eyes and blinds me. Haha! He says I need to get one of these new lights called Streamlight. I checked it out and his light was really, really bright-a lot brighter than my Mag-Lite. His light was really, really, light-a lot lighter than my Mag-Lite. His light was even rechargeable, no more changing batteries! So I bought one.

I liked my Streamlight when I first bought it. Bright, light weight and just generally a lot sexier than my Mag-Lite. Needless to say my Mag-Lite was relegated to the bottom of the tool box.

So I'm working and I drop my Streamlight. Thinking nothing of it I click it on and it no longer focused correctly. No big deal really. A little while later I'm working and I'm holding something that I need to whack to get it loose. I could have, stopped what I was doing went downstairs got my hammer and come back, but who is going to do that! Instead I do what I normally do I reach for my flashlight and whack it. Of course now the beam is even more fuzzy and not as bright as before.

I gave the Streamlight two or three good years then I decided to retire it. I was on my second battery pack and in need of another when I decided I had had enough. I missed my old bulky Mag-Lite. With a Mag-Lite I have pried seats loose, beat easy-outs into drilled out screws, pushed, beat and abused it. I have dropped it on the tarmac from my pocket, from the top of a main tire, from the wheel well, I have even dropped it from the aft galley door and it still worked.

My Mag-Lite is not pretty or flashy but it does a lot more than flash-a-light. Recently I went out and bought a new three cell LED Mag-Lite which is just as bright as those sleeker Streamlights or Stingers. I even dropped it and it still works. I think I will be a Mag-Lite guy from now on. Tough, reliable, and practically indestructible. Oh and by the way that Mag-Lite that I put in the bottom of the tool box, I took it out and hit the switch, it worked! Two years in the box old crappy batteries and it came on. With new batteries it lasted two more years until I retired it for the LED Mag-Lite.

I know a guy who has had the same Mag-Lite since the mid-80s (G2). Most of the paint is gone and it has some dents, etc. Bottom line is when he hits the switch it turns on and he does his thing. As a matter of fact I know two guys who has such 20 year old lights and I would trust their walk-arounds a lot more than some guys who have the $60-120 Streamlights and Stingers.

Another from the 666 collection

"The Barrel"

On the line we have a term called "the barrel" or more often we say "it's my turn in the barrel". Being in the barrel is our term for having to work on a grounded plane or a plane that is broken. There are days that the barrel is a very bad place to be. There are days when the barrel is a good place to be. The difference depends largely on you. Just as any body else would an aircraft mechanic has days when he or she just does not feel into doing that extra work and then there are days when you look forward to going the extra mile.

I enjoy working on grounded planes. I get a rush I guess out of figuring out whats wrong and fixing it. I enjoy the challenge. There have been days that I just am not into it. This is a natural thing and one of the things I enjoy about working line maintenance at SWA is if I am not feeling the groove the majority of the guys I work with are go to guys and can pick up the slack.

I think if you try to jump into that barrel every day you will get burned out pretty fast. SWA, or actually, the mechanics I work with allow me that flexibility.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Oh Don't Think I Forgot About Management

One of you guys commented on my last blog and brought up a really good point. Management that bends over backwards and spoils a few mechanics do ruin it for the rest. When I hear things like "I don't work fuel problems on my Friday" and the management obliges it sets us all back.

In a sense it seems that by being too accommodating the management has created a work environment that is out of control. The "Prison is being run by the inmates". I hear a lot of "I'm not going to do that" and "that's not my job" type of stuff and by allowing guys to basically do whatever they want the management does foster that type of anarchy. We create further laziness by not correcting this situation when it starts. If you are asked to do a job-do it. Often times the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and unfortunately that seems to apply on the job as well.

I know that I have been assigned jobs only to be reassigned when some jerk went into the office to complain that his job was harder than mine and "Goats on OT after all". I'm not sure if they really think that OT guys should get the crap jobs or if they truly believe that any thing we do out here is really that hard.

Maybe they see guys getting into trouble after working harder jobs and they are afraid it will happen to them. I would have to say that at least the guys who get into trouble are actually working! I would rather work with a guy who gets a talking to for taking a delay and actually fixing a plane than a guy who is so scared to actually work he will not be there for you when you need a hand.

My first Lead Mechanic at this job once said "If you are really working these planes then there is no way to not mess things up now and then".

But back to the original point: management that does not manage is pointless.

Oh and another thing: unless you are taking care of business or a personal matter, stay out of the managers office. It looks bad.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

One Of The Problems With The Industry

I say one of the problems because there are many, many problems that we face in the airline industry. For me to even try to list all of them would be way more than I would wish to do. For me in my role as an A&P mechanic to even understand all these issues is asking a lot of me. I have noticed a few of the issues that we face as A&P mechanics working in the airlines and one of the main problems is a lack of professionalism or lack of pride of work.

Used to be that when presented with a squawk a mechanic would work the issue until it was done, and done well. Now a days it seems like we all (we are all guilty) try to get our jobs done as quickly as possible just to be able to say we are done-damn how we got there or how it looks. The days of being proud of your work are gone in the airline industry. Most airline employees are beaten down by job loss, pay cuts, benefit cuts, etc. Its a rough industry to survive in!

These things, however, do not excuse not being professional about your work. Guys these days don't care about airplanes or fixing airplanes they are interested in their paychecks-period. Nothing affects them, chastise them, scold them, it doesn't matter. They do not care if the thing they fixed the night before breaks as soon as the plane pushes off the gate. Call me crazy but are we not paid to fix planes permanently? back in the day I would come home after a day of work and feel the pride of having just worked hard knowing that we did good work and did it well. I sometimes wonder how some people sleep after basically doing only the minimum amount of out put. Just enough to get by, don't do any more than is necessary. Why bother?

How some one can work at a job for five or six years and still not bother to learn how to run engines or how to trouble shoot properly is way beyond me. If only they knew that the companies ability to make revenue is directly connected to everyone in the company doing the best they can. There are days when I don't feel like busting ass all night, or days when I'm feeling sick, tired, or depressed for whatever reason. It's ok to have days like that, everyone does. But if 80% of the work group only does the minimum it leaves the rest of us to take up the slack.

For those of you out there thinking of entering this career do not become one of those guys who allow everyone else to carry them through their career. Always remember to go the extra mile with your work, you will be a better mechanic for it. I have had the pleasure to work with individuals that were very professional and had enough pride in their own work that when they said they fixed something you knew it was fixed. The problem is for every one of those guys in the airline there are about 10 who don't. Those are some pretty lousy odds.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Trouble Shoot, Trouble Shoot, Repeat.....

I was at work the other day and we had a plane with a fuel leak on the #1 engine. The crew actually called us out there for an "oil leak". The oil turned out to be fuel. The mechanic (mechanic #1) called for a hand and went upstairs after opening up the engine cowl. His "helper" stayed down at the engine to check where the fuel was coming from while mechanic #1 ran the engine.

The "helper" (mechanic #2) says the fuel leak is coming from the Fuel Pump Pad Drain. The plane is now grounded as there is no drip limit for the Fuel Pump Pad Drain. Mechanic #1 moves the plane from the terminal to the remote parking area and starts taking apart the fuel pump and HMU package. This is not a small job. About four hours later and the new pump and HMU are on now. The first thing to do is a leak check to make sure that you fixed the problem as well as check all the lines and hoses that had to be removed in order to change the fuel pump/HMU.

While doing the leak check fuel leaks from the Fuel Heater Servo, which is directly on top of the fuel pump/HMU package. Long story short-the Fuel Heater servo was what was leaking in the first place. It leaked fuel down on top of the HMU down the side of the HMU and then down the outside of the Fuel Pump Pad Drain line.

The point of this story is troubleshooting. When working on any system troubleshooting is an integral part of your job. If mechanic #1 in the story above had done some further troubleshooting once he got to the remote parking area he may have seen the leaking Fuel Heater Servo.

After being a mechanic for a while you tend to work with the same guys and typically one or two guys who you work with and work well with. When this happens you get comfortable and tend to trust these fellow mechanics. Trusting your fellow mechanic is fine, but putting in four hours of smelly, hard work because you did not double check another guys troubleshooting is a big waste of time and money. In the story above mechanic #2 was not even out there helping mechanic #1 change the pump/HMU so there was nothing to loose in double checking his troubleshooting.

You will also learn that there are guys who simply can not troubleshoot. I can't tell if it is laziness or incompetence but some mechanics can not do it. I have run into this at all levels of aircraft maintenance. Troubleshooting is like any skill in that you have to do it a lot in order to get better at it. Practice makes perfect. Once you start to learn some of the techniques it will come easier to you. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Troubleshoot, troubleshoot, repeat...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Good Bye To An Old Warrior

At the beginning of the year my manager called us in and we had a meeting. During the meeting he gave us the list of AC that we were retiring this year. Later that morning when I went out to my remote (moving AC from remote parking back to the terminal) I saw that AC 301 was out there (was one of the soon to be retired AC) so I snapped a couple of pics for the collection.

Fast forward 11 months and my buddy Jim sends me this pic that he found of the same AC. My poor old friend has seen better days. It's sad really. I don't know how most mechanics work out here but I tend to think of these planes as friends or even family. Seeing one like this is not a cool thing for me so-Good bye old friend, I know we had our battles but all is forgiven. Clear skies and fair weather-RIP.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

To Ground Or Not To Ground?

Every day we make decisions while working the Line that effect others. Perhaps the biggest decision and sometimes the most difficult is the decision to ground a fully loaded and fueled airplane. It's not an easy call to make and when you are working with other mechanics you often get the old -"you make the call"- thing. Of course nobody likes to ground planes but its a decision that has to be made from time to time.

When a plane comes in and I am working it I like to be the one who makes the call as far as grounded or not. I do not look to others for the decision as I believe being the first mechanic on the AC that call is up to me. There are times when it is obvious like major engine issues or flight control problems etc. But there are far more instances when grounding a plane is a subjective thing.

Part of the problem with deciding to ground airplanes is that often times the mechanic realizes that the sqwak is a grounding item but others do not. Pilots, Ops people, Customer Service, and even sometimes Dispatch will all try to influence you when it comes down to a go or no go situation. These are the times that not being sure and having doubt can get you into trouble.

Bottom line is if you as a mechanic believe that the airplane is not airworthy you should ground the plane. This is not an industry where you can flip a coin or hope that everything will turn out fine. In my experience, at an airline level, most mechanics know when planes need to be taken out of service and are not easily swayed on the issue of safety. These days with the FAA increasing the pressure on mechanic you have to protect yourself as well as the company, passengers, and flight crews.

When it's "grounded pal" it's grounded.

First Run After Engine Change

Friday, November 13, 2009

Goat, Tuna, Moose, Trees, Bug-a-Lug, Cricket, Luke...

Being an aircraft mechanic requires a lot of skills. One skill that is often overlooked is the ability to take some good natured ribbing from your co-workers. Often times this ribbing turns into something permanent in the form of a nickname. I have worked with plenty of guys and gals over the years who have had a lot of different nick names. My nickname is Goathead which over the years has been shortened to just Goat.

When I first got this glorious job we had a Lead Mechanic from Louisiana here. When we got to work you would check the board (where the work was written, a white dry erase board), put your name next to the a/c you wanted to work and go to it. Well we also carry radios and use them for most of our communications. As the nigh progressed the Cajun Lead would call me on the radio:

"Wayne, Copy!"

To which I would reply:

"Yeah, Go-ahead!"

After I was done with my work I came back into the office and my name was changed on the board from Wayne to "Goathead". I asked the lead what was up and he said "Everytime I call you on the radio, you call me a Goathead so I changed your name to Goathead."

I guess being from New York I have a slight accent and when I responded with "Go-ahead" it sounds like "Goathead." I have been Goathead ever since.

We also have here at OAK a Tuna-can or Tuna, Moose, Trees (loves nature), Bug or Bug-a-Lug, Cricket (dude makes cricket noises while he works), Tator Tot, Wu-Tang, No-Do or (7-11) or Joe Patronie, Dizzel, Tito, Chicken Neck, McGallon, Wabo, Howdy, G2, Larry-Love, Smitty, Big D, Zeus, Bago, Kit, B2, Ho-ta-Ho-ta, Scuba, J-Bird, Dark Cloud, Wee-wee, Nerf, and Napoleon. Of course those are the nice nicknames, we won't mention the bad ones here.

I have also worked with: Luke-Skywalker or Skywalker, The Devil, Duke, Preacher, Tator, Bubba, Hayseed, Skippy, MT, Angry or SGT, Psy-cole, Trooper, and those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

Long and short of it is if you are privileged enough to receive one of these cherished nicknames it may start off as a slight or ribbing but it is an industry standard. When your fellow mechanics bestow one upon you you should be honored that you are carrying on a long tradition in our industry. I wonder what Charley Taylor's nickname was, Lefty, Righty, Greasy, Flip, Chuck...?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Look What I Found

Like most tool junkies when I have time to kill (not often) I like to go to the tool area of the nearest big box store and browse around. I learned from hanging out with my pal and fellow airline vet, Jim, that you find some of the coolest things if you take the time to look.

In my previous post I mentioned my "Made in China" large flat blade screwdriver with the shank that goes all the way through the handle and how much I have used it in the past. Well as luck would have it I found myself in the tool section at Loew's the other day and found a set of "Demolition Screwdrivers" made by Stanley Tools. As you can see in the picture above they have shanks that go right through the handle and ends that can be beat with hammers. They are marketed as part of Stanley's Fat Max line and seem like really good drivers. The handles have rubber on them for a good grip and they are pretty stout. The only difference is that the shaft of these screwdrivers is round where as mine has a square shaft. The set has one flat blade and one large phillips tip screwdrivers.
They are "Made in The USA" for all you patriots out there and you can bet that I will be picking up the pair as soon as I can.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Snap-On vs. Cheap-O

I have a few really good tools. I also have a few Snap-On tools. Not all my really good tools are Snap-On and not all my Snap-On tools are really good tools. I tend to lean more toward trying to decide which tools will work for me and buying them.

We all would love to have a complete set of Snap-On tools. But I get the feeling that not all of us have the money to buy them. I love Snap-On tools. They work, feel good, tend not to rust out, and do not break (usually). Most of the Snap-On tools I have I purchased at swap meets or used tool shops. I like to search these places for Snap-On stuff and hopefully get a little discount on them.

The majority of my tools are Craftsman tools. In the last few years Craftsman has really upgraded their line of tools. The Professional Series of hand tools are really good quality tools. The best thing about Craftsman as most of you know is the return policy. Basically if the tool breaks, you bring it in, and get a new one.

I also have (as do most A&P mechanics) a few select Cheap-O tools. The old Made in Taiwan or China stuff. These come in handy for doing jobs that may require a tool that can be modified, bent, ground down etc. On the rare occasion you find one of these tools that is actually better that the Snap-On or Craftsman variety. One such tool that I carry is a large flat blade screw driver. It has a square shank, and the shank goes all the way through the handle and ends outside the handle in a large mushroom shaped end. I have owned this thing since 1988. I have overhauled engines, broken frozen galley sections loose out of L-1011s, hammered, scraped,and chiseled many airplane pieces and parts and I carry it every day. It is simply one of the best tools I have and it is Made in China.

I was wondering, what kind of Cheap-O tools do you have that are indispensable to you?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Where The Jobs Are!

This past week I went to Daytona Beach FL to attend the homecoming at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. One of the main events was the Career Expo. Companies interested in ERAU grads. were there and could talk to the up and coming young prospects about their companies and such.

Now, I was not too keen on attending this thing. Being a 18 year airline vet my opinion of most of the industry is pretty jaded. I was expecting to hear a lot of excuses as to why these companies were not hiring, which I did hear a fair amount of. The big surprise for me was that there are companies out there hiring mechanics. My wife a (furloughed) pilot was gathering info for another friend of ours who is also out of work. The conversation would go something like this:

"Hello are you guys doing any (pilot) hiring now or any time soon?"

To which a bunch of the companies replied:

"No, we are not hiring pilots right now, we are looking for mechanics."

So, after they picked me up off the floor and used smelling salts to revive me, I recovered enough to ask some questions and here's what I found out:

The companies hiring right now are not the ones I would call first tier jobs. These are smaller companies. Not quite main stream ones-second tier companies.

I'm talking about places like:

Air Wisconsin-looking for A&P mechs and ONE inspector for St. Louis and I believe Philly. Top out is $29/hr.

Gulfstream-looking for A&P mechs for their manufacturing facilities in GA. Starting pay $12.50-13.75.

Textron-helicopter engine assembly and overhaul. Starting pay $12/hr.

A couple of "Air Service" companies (think contract maintenance). Paying $15-18/hr.

So people are hiring mechanics but if you are expecting to get any where close to airline pay-forget about it. Oh and be prepared to move to St. Louis.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Where it all began (almost). Well I'm back in FL this week for Homecoming at Embry-Riddle Aerobautical University. I'll be blogging about it when I get back. Especially about the Career Expo I went to! I found out some interesting things! Check back in a couple of days for an update.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Essentials

Often times when I'm lugging my tool bag up the jet way stairs I start to think about what would be the least amount of tools I could carry on a daily basis would be. I also have always said that I could fix anything on this plane (737) with a hammer, a vise grip, and a screw driver.

If I really had to choose however I think I would choose the following:

Ratcheting screw driver and bits
Adjustable wrench
Vise grips
Mag Lite

I think that in a pinch I could do almost everything that I need to do on a daily basis with just those tools. Add a roll of Cargo Pit Tape and Safety Wire and you could get away with most of the daily jobs (reading lights, landing lights, coffee makers, etc.).

The problem we as Line Mechanics have is that most days are not normal. There is no telling when you will have to whip out that 1/2 inch open end wrench that you shaved down so that it is really thin and which you put a torch to and bent just so it would fit in the ridiculously small space it needed to. As a result we have a hodge podge of common tools and custom tools that we have available if we need them. Also as a result its hard to work out of someone elses tool bag or box. You know exactly where your specialty wrench is or which pair of Hogs (slip-joint pliers) to use as a hammer and when. You go beating up someone else's Hogs and they may not appreciate it.

I've seen lots of mechanics and they all have their own collection of tools and all seem to get the job done. It's funny because if you ask just about any other person what they need to do their job, and then ask another person in that same field the same question you will get the same answer. In aviation, as far as mechanics are concerned, it is a very personal choice. The bent up wrench, the high dollar ratcheting screw driver, the broken screw driver that is only good for taking little tiny screws off of PTT switches, they all have their place in our high tech industry.

A lot of the older guys are even reluctant to divulge their secret arsenal of tools to the younger guys. They also tend to carry less than the younger Mechanics. Experience is priceless. I know a guy that when asked how he fixed different things he would always tell me "brute force and ignorance". Needless to say he carried very few tools, but always got the job done!

Sunrise at the airport

One of the best parts of my job as a Line Mechanic and working dayshift is being able to watch the sunrise while I'm remoting airplanes in the morning. Being in California and having the sun rise over the mountains is an awesome sight.

The Old 20-80 Rule

I have always said that at my job, and especially on midnight shift, 5% of the people do 80% of the work. I did not realize that there is a 20-80 rule that has been around for ever. 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Its hard for the 20% people to relate to the 80% people and its hard for the 80% people to relate to the 20% people. Its like that old saying "the smart people can't figure out why the stupid people are stupid and the stupid people can't figure out why the smart people are smart".

The guys and gals who typically do the majority of the work can't figure out why those who do not seem to be un-willing to do so. I like to think that I am one of those mechanics who work and not the group of mechanics who complain or avoid work. The problem is that at times I do not go out of my way to help other mechanics or even passengers who need help. Over the last however many years being one of the do-ers at work has worn me down. I'm tired of working my planes just to finish up and have to work other peoples issues. Now this is not something that has permanently affected me or will make me life member of the 80% club. Allowing the 20-80% thing to be the norm simply makes the20% of the mechanics carrying the other 80% tired or sometimes resentful. "They never have to work more than one plane so why should I"?

I like being in the 20% that are considered "good workers". I do have times when I waiver and get tired of doing what I perceive as other peoples jobs. I think that I, unlike the 80%, see the bottom line. I know that the company is the important thing not my perceptions of being over worked. I grew up knowing that hard work pays off and watching my mom and dad go to work everyday and as I posted earlier I got a majority of my work ethic by having the benefit of working around old school guys. It seems like there is a lot of skating going on in our maintenance shop and it really is ashamed.

My 5% - 80% statement may be an over exaggeration of the issue but to a guy who has to run engines or certify systems for another mechanic because that mechanic is simply too lazy to learn how to do it himself it feels unfair. We all have to remember the reason we were hired-to fix planes-and an environment where you as a mechanic can depend on your fellow mechanics to work as hard as you do makes an already difficult job just a little bit easier.

Lets hope that it does not take a layoff of something drastic to make us realize that we have something good here at work. Fix the planes. Its simple really.

Late Night Wing Repair