Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Veteran Tool Spot Light-Ford Wrench (by request)

The lowly Ford Wrench. What can I say? It's heavy, awkward, loud, and often rusty. It sits on the bottom of your Line Bag or Toolbox waiting for that one time that it is needed a year. It's not the sexiest looking tool around and won't win any beauty contests. But that one time, oh that one time, when nothing else will work that Ford Wrench will be your savior. Let's start with a little background.
The Ford Wrench as we know it was the original Monkey Wrench. Where the term Monkey Wrench came from I do not know but the wrench is a Ford Motor Company original. This wrench was supplied in the 1929(?) Ford Model A tool kit. Of course people soon figured out that it could be used for any number of jobs on the car or anywhere for that matter. Fast forward 80 years and the wrench we all know is still known as a Ford Wrench.
As far as Line Maintenance the Ford Wrench is a must have. I have seen them long, short, even tiny but they all had one thing in common: they are built to last. My Ford Wrench is a little shy of 10" long with a maximum jaw opening of 2 1/2". My wrench looks like its about 50 years old and I have no idea how old it is. I think I got it from a guy at Delta Airlines but I can't remember. My wrench has no company insignia on it, in fact it has no markings at all on it except a tiny M in a circle. I have no idea who makes it or where it came from. Here is what I do know:
My Ford Wrench has helped me out of quite a few tight spots. When you need a large wrench 1 plus inch, there are times when a typical open end wrench won't fit. The nut or more typically hydraulic, fuel, oil, pneumatic, fitting is in a spot that the open end or even angle wrench can not get a good bite on it. We out on the Line call this the "angle of the dangle". There are just some times when the angle of the dangle is such that the Ford Wrench seems to be the only tool that will work. The Ford Wrench has no fancy angles associated with it, 90 degrees and that's it.
When you first start out you may not have all the wrenches that you may need. Now a days who has the money to go out and buy every open end wrench and angle wrench and stubby wrench on the market. A Ford Wrench will work on everything from 0"-2 1/2" (in my case) and I have seen some that open way wider than that.
Remember the MagLite post? It seems that we all need to beat something at some time and no one carries a hammer. Line guys do not carry hammers in their bags. They may have one in their toolbox in the shop or carry one one their golf carts like I do but they do not carry hammers in their Line bags. As I mentioned earlier these Ford Wrenches are heavy metal and often stand in for that missing hammer. I would bet that guys use them more for hitting tools than as a wrench.
Working the Line is all about thinking on your feet. The truly good Line Mechanics do not run back and forth from the airplane to their toolbox in the shop. They use what they have and some common sense to fix the problem. The Ford Wrench is one of those tools that allow you to do just that. Sure it's not the first tool people think of as a must have and often times it won't cross our minds at all until that one moment when you look at a job and the thought goes through your mind, "I bet I can get my Ford Wrench on that".

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Veteran Tool Spotlight! Speed Handle

The other day at work we got to talking about tools and speed handles came up. It's funny how many guys do not carry a speed handle with them. When you are away from the shop, using a cordless drill, and the battery dies that speed handle comes in handy. If you do not have one you will have to get back on your golf cart, tug, or truck and drive all the way back to the shop to pick up a battery for your drill. Me, I prefer to carry a speed handle that way I can take out those few screws (because as you know the drill always dies when you only have one or two screws to go).

The other thing that a speed handle is very good for is removing stripped screws. The handle gives you the ability to apply pressure while maintaining control over how much torque you put on the head of the screw. In short you have much more control over a speed handle than you do over a drill motor. Often times when working with someone who only uses drills I will be turning my screws with my speed handle and will hear that tell tale sound of a apex bit in a drill tearing up a screw head.

Before you run out and purchase a speed handle at Sears or Loews you need to know some ugly truths about the current generation of speed handles. The current speed handles basically suck. The newer speed handles have straight handles which are impossible to "lean" on in order to apply a good amount of pressure onto a screw. All the old speed handles have round handles that you can place your shoulder against and really lean into the work at hand. Why they changed the handles I'm not sure, but it seems that all the manufacturers have gone with the straight handles. One guy told me that people were getting injured leaning on the tools so the companies changed the way they make them to stop this practice. If that is the case it just goes to show you that even something that is designed perfectly can be corrupted by people complaining about getting hurt when it was likely something they did incorrectly to get themselves hurt. So to get your hands on an older speed handle you will have to cruise the swap meets or used tool stores.

Out on the line a 1/4" speed handle is the way to go. Most of the guys carry a full 1/4" socket set so it will allow you to work with your sockets. A bit holder is needed to use your apex bits but those are usually supplied by the company. I use a 3/8" speed handle. I like the extra size and it allows me to put even more pressure on screws, etc. When I first started at SWA we had mostly 300 series aircraft and a 3/8" speed handle allows you to put the Thrust Reverser lock out pins in quickly. As any of you who have locked out a 300 Thrust Reverser out know it takes some time and the speed handle makes it go a little quicker and allows you to put a lean on those pins when they don't quite line up. My 3/8" speed handle also fits into the manual start hole in the engine cowl and allows me to open the start valve manually. I know the 700 series has TR lock out pins that are made for 1/4" ratchets but they also line up a lot better than the old 300 ones do.

I have an old Craftsman model that I was lucky enough to find at a Flea Market. If I remember correctly it cost me $3.00! Since I bought it about 15 years ago I have removed countless screws, hundreds of panels, and saved numerous screw heads and therefore a bunch of time by going the "slow" route and using my speed handle instead of a drill. Remember this is a game of time, if I can get screws out with out having to drill and east out them I save myself time and frustration. I'm not saying to fore sake your drill but first break out your speed handle and give each screw a turn or two to break them loose before you go back and remove them the rest of the way with your drill. Another way you can practice Zen Maintenance! Don't rush! Patience!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Show Me The Money

For those of you who are thinking about getting into this business, wondering about if there is any money to be made. The answer is mostly no. Companies are cutting back and farming out the labor to contract companies such as Tramco in Seattle. Pay is down and benefits are being whittled away. There is, however, one way to make some money working on airplanes at an airline. In order to make decent money you have to be willing to work weekends and holidays.

Working the weekends is like a fact of life in the airline industry. Until your seniority is built up, which is going to take a while, you will most likely have weekdays off. Even those guys who have weekends off will have to work some weekends if they really want to be in a money making position. It always seems like things are breaking on the weekends, we on the line attribute this to low seniority flight crews. The work is lousy and often times sucks real bad but it is what it is-an opportunity to make some cash.

Another idiosyncrasy about the airline biz is working on holidays. Most guys want off on holidays and have put vacation days in the book. While this may seem unfair it is also an opportunity for those of us who want to work a little extra to make some extra pay. Holidays like Christmas are a great for situations such as this. Mechanics call in sick and those on vacation leave a vacuum for those willing to work.

So if someone asks if there is any money in this industry let them know: Sure but you will have to be willing to work when most people don't want to.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another Cool Tool

I was at work the other day (big surprise) and we got a call for a plane that was already fully loaded and ready to push. The forward cargo door had a small issue, when the rampers closed the door it could be pushed OPEN with just a good bump. Well of course it turned out that the door was not closing all the way and the door rollers were not turning when the handle was moved in the closed direction.

So another mechanic and I got inside to open the back of the door up. This guy is kind of our door specialist and knows how to rig and work on the doors, etc. Well he broke out his drill and started to take the panels off. Make a long story short after we were done and the plane was fixed (it made it's flight by the way) he showed me his set of DeWalt bits that he used to fix the plane. They are black almost like impact bits and are not really bits but sockets that can be chucked into the drill. He got them in a set from 1/4" up to 9/16" (I think). The unique thing about these sockets is that they had a collar on the shank that you could pull up and the thing turned into a wobble type set-up. Pushing the collar back down locked the bit and it could be used as normal. The walls of the bits were not too fat like those you see on some cheap-o tools and they had magnets in them to hold nuts or bolts, etc.

I will try to get a picture up of them soon and I will be looking out for them at the store.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Old Metal

Not really old but still a cool plane: the BAE-146. PSA used to fly these little guys into Concord Airport. Thanks again Picard.

It seems like when you search for classic jet liners you always end up with a picture of a Pan Am jet. I think Pan Am must be the most photographed airline. Thanks Picard for the pic!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I can get to the blog from the work computers again! There must have been something on one of the ads that SWA filters did not like. Hopefully you guys will keep on checking it out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Found A Cool Website

I was searching around for some more info to put up on the blog for my Throw Back Month (December) when I ran across this web site. The site is called "The Boeing 737 Technical Site" and is now listed in my link section. I like it because it has some good info on all the 737 dash types and has some really good pics. Also on the site is a virtual walk around for all you new mechanics and even a quiz on systems that you can torture yourself with. All in all a pretty cool site.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Remember the 200s?

I consider myself lucky because when I first got hired on at SWA we still had 737-200s. They were old and cantankerous but most everyone loved them. The flight crews loved them because they were fast. "It's a real jet" as they told me, and apparently they flew pretty fast. We had a cadre of older flight crews who only flew the 200s, I guess that was their favorite.
On the maintenance side it was a pretty simple plane. No E&E bay jammed with computers oh no, the E&E bay had something like 8 or 10 boxes and a simple auto pilot system. I remember the Roll Computer and there must have been a Yaw Computer or something like that. They were made of METAL (remember that stuff?). You could beat that plane with a hammer and it would be ok, you could walk on almost any surface and it would be ok. There were mechanics who loved working the JT-8s. I never had a chance to do much on them but add oil and do simple service checks and A checks. The senior guys really liked the old birds and seemed to know every nut and bolt, all the tricks to get them humming. One of the coolest moments was when I first got my taxi ticket and got to taxi the 200s around (they were fast). As with all things time brings about change and in 1997-8(?) SWA decided to stop using 737-200s all together. For those of us who had the privilege to work on those graceful jets the memories will last a life time. A pure jet. A money maker. A legend.

Travel Pic From CT

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Old Maintenance Pictures

I like to surf and download pictures of mechanics working on planes back in the day. This picture is of one of Pan Am's hangars some where. Its pretty cool how much stuff has changed and at the same time how much stuff is the same. Anybody out there got any old maintenance snap shots that I can share with all?

Can You Speak Flight Crew?

A big part of being a Line Mechanic is talking to the flight crews and trying to decipher what they are telling you into something that we normal folks can understand. This may sound easy but let me tell you it can be very hard. When I first started working the line I had a hard time with listening to the flight crews and breaking down what they said into an action that I could take to fix the problem.

In essence the flight crews and the mechanics speak different languages. I wish I could say what their language is and give you a distinct break down of "this means that" but its not that easy. For the most part a flight deck is an auto-cratic work place, usually what ever the captain says goes (with-in reason of course). The flight crews are also trained to think quickly to solve or sometimes just to react to the situations that arise.

We as mechanics are much different. When we are working we are usually very accepting of other peoples advice. I know that I am aware that there is no way I could remember every trick or every system on the plane so I almost always ask for advice when I think I need it. We mechanics also have the luxury of time, time to think about a problem and just that problem until we come up with a solution.

There are times when you have to "gently" remind the captain or first officer that you are there because they called you. The flight crews often stay in that "this is my airplane" mode even after they are on the ground and seeking our help. This happens enough that I'm sure most of you have had an experience with the captain who says "you will do this" or "fix this or I'm not taking this plane" etc. While there is no set reaction to an attitude like this there are a few that I have used or seen used by other mechanics that seem to work. I have told crews that since the plane was on the ground and they called me it was in fact "my" plane until such time as I say they can have it back. This seems to work real good for the "macho" crews who are trying to keep you in your place. One time when I called for help over the radio a first officer asked me "how many mechanics does it take to change a light bulb?". I told him to watch what he says because "they trained a monkey to fly a spaceship". I have also told the flight crews that I would leave and they can call me back when they want to start listening to me. There have been captains that I have walked out on and let them rant on their own. I have seen other mechanics pull captains out onto the jetway steps and really lay into them.

For the most part the relationship between the crews and mechanics is very healthy, but as mechanics it is something we have to work on when we first start to work on the line. My main advice I give to new hires is to go to all the morning gate calls they can even if someone else is assigned the call. Doing this serves two purposes, first they can get used to the flight crews and start to understand the way they talk, second it shows them how more senior mechanics react to and intermingle with the flight crews.

If, as I have seen in the past, the mechanics do not work on this skill they lose a lot in the translation of what the flight crews are trying to say. If you are not clear as to what they want, then there is no way to address the problem. There is no reason to fear the flight crews and much of what they say is exactly what we do, but it is laid out in a different way. Remember the most important thing is to get that plane back in the sky safely and both work groups want that.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A New Milestone Has Been Reached By This Blog

I came to work the other day and went to check the blog on the company computer as I have always done. When I typed in the address I discovered that my blog is now blocked by Southwest Airlines for "streaming media". I do not know what that means and I do not have any streaming anything on my site but what the hey. Stay posted I'll keep it up.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Road Trips

Often times when you work as a Line Mechanic you are asked to go on the road to fix a plane. We say "road trip" although most of the time we fly to an out station that a plane is broken at. We in Oakland travel to San Jose, San Francisco, Sacramento, Reno, San Diego, Burbank, Orange County, Seattle, Portland, Spokane, Boisie and I'm sure there are some I'm forgetting.

Working on the road is everything being a Line Mechanic is about. Freedom, independence, pressure, pride of work, it all comes into play. The only difference is that the company is relying even more on you to get the job done and you have even fewer resources with which to do it. Often you only have what you brought. Parts, tools and equipment have to be thought out ahead of time based on the job at hand (this is where a good stores clerk comes in handy). We pack boxes with our tools and parts that we think will most likely fix the plane.

The obvious problem with this system is that there are times when the things we bring do not fix the plane. When this happens we have to communicate with the AOG desk and they can get us the parts or equipment we need most often by flying us more stuff.

I like going on road trips. I like the challenge. They are especially fun when you get to go with a mechanic that shares your working style. I have gone on probably a hundred road trips since I have been at SWA and a couple stand out for completely different reasons.

One day I flew down to San Diego for a hydraulic leak on the left wing. I went down there with one of the guys senior to me. We packed the usual stuff for a hydraulic leak, rags, the temp line kit, a good selection of wrenches, and lots of rags. We also packed one drill motor and a few (like 5 drill bits). So we get down to San Diego and go to the plane, turn it on, I clear him for hydraulics and a leak the size of Niagra Falls erupts from the left outboard flap area. In order to investigate further we drive the flaps down electrically and one of the larger hydraulic lines up in there is sawed almost in half by the aileron cable. One of the pulleys that the cable rides on broke allowing the cable to rest on the tube eventually cutting it. Well this line was like eight feet long. The line actually went from that area into the left pylon. Needless to say we had no pulleys and no line. The company got a pulley on the way to us and we got to work putting three or four temp lines together to create a line long enough for what we needed.

To get to the union inside the pylon we had to take off three panels on the pylon. As a lot of you know those screws don't just come out, most of them are painted over or stripped out. Remember we had one drill and 5 drill bits and ended with something like twenty screws to drill out! On top of that we had two easy outs that the other guy happened to find in the bottom of his tool bag. Around 3am we were down to our last drill bit and the drill was dying but we managed to drill out all the screws. We took turns resting while we fit the temp line and clamped it into place. At around 8am out pulley came in and once again we lucked out by having pulley blocks in our stuff. We finished around 1 or 2 pm and flew back completely filthy.

The other road trip that was memorable was a "simple" strut service in Sacramento. Me and my buddy drove up there expecting to pump up the strut and be all good. Once we got there we realized we had a bigger problem. All the fluid came out of the strut. Luckily there was some strut oil in the supply shed in Sacramento but we had no pump to put it into the strut. So we pumped the strut way high with nitrogen, cleaned to strut and lubriplated it (it was still legal to do that way back then) in hopes that we could clean and condition the seals enough that they would seal up again. We lowered the strut all the way down, and repeated this two or three times. The last time we lowered it and went to work trying to figure out how to get the fluid into the strut. So my buddy "finds" some hose that we can use and we jury rig a pump made out of an empty hand cleaner pump bottle. This thing only held like two or three ounces of fluid at at time but that s all we had. We took the service nipple off the strut, fed the hose in and began pumping. This process took quite a while but it worked. We put it all back together and pumped it full of nitrogen and it held.

Road trips can be challenging because of what you are going to fix and they can be challenging due to lack of parts and supplies. In either case it helps if you and the person you are with are on the same page when it comes to getting the job done. Remember the beauty is in the struggle!!

Hangar Life-thanks L for the pic!

The Meaning Of Christmas (Not A Religeous Post)

We mechanics love Christmas time. Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Ramadan, etc all mean the same thing to us-TOOLS!. It is so easy for our significant others to shop for us: Let's see what would he like? Can't think of anything...guess I'll buy some tools. I'm not complaining because I love tools. If my wife wants to buy me tools for my birthday, our anniversary, Christmas, whatever I'm all for it! In the next couple of weeks I would like to share some gift ideas (basically stuff we see in the tool section of the local hardware store). If you see anything interesting let me know and we can share it with everyone.

Friday, December 4, 2009

TSA Planning To Inspect Shops That Repair Jets

USA TODAY reporter Thomas Frank writes:
Thousands of airplane maintenance shops in the U.S. and abroad would get increased scrutiny to make sure they are not easy prey for terrorists looking to sabotage U.S. jets during routine repairs, a government proposal says. Some experts and lawmakers have warned for years about potential terrorist saboteurs infiltrating airplane repair shops, and have urged security oversight.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says the greatest danger is posed by repair shops that are on or next to airports because a terrorist could take control of an airplane. A TSA regulation proposed Monday would for the first time enable the agency to inspect airplane repair shops. If the TSA found a problematic repair shop, the agency would tell the Federal Aviation Administration to suspend the shop's operating license.
TSA Assistant Administrator Lee Kair said the new requirement "guards against the potential threat of an aircraft being destroyed or used as a weapon." The agency is soliciting public comments on the proposal and could finalize it later this year. Airplanes ranging from small recreational planes to wide-body jets are repaired at more than 4,200 shops across the U.S. as well as at 700 shops abroad, in countries such as France, Germany, Singapore, Egypt and Jordan.
The shops include small operations that fix seat cushions and massive complexes that overhaul engines. Some industry officials say lawmakers have overstated the potential threat posed by repair shops, noting that shops must be inspected and licensed by the FAA to work on U.S.-based planes.

Stores or Inventory Control

Its something that I never really thought of until I got my first job at an airline. When we work on airplanes we use a lot of parts. Keeping up with how many parts are used, how many parts are needed for the next nights work or even just the daily operation at a Line or Hangar Station is a very important job. Over the years I have known a lot of Stores Clerks and can not underestimate the importance of this job.

When I worked at a repair station overhauling engines I was responsibile for figuring out the parts I needed and ordering them. If I forgot to order something or it was not in stock it was a big deal for my engine so I took care to do a good job and it made me realise the importance of inventory control.

At Delta we had a tremendous stores system with robots and vacuum tubes etc. If you needed a part you went to the stores shack, ordered what you needed and most times in about an hour you had what you needed. When you work at a hangar you have the advantage of having most parts available to you.

Once I got to Ameriflight I was able to witness how stores operates in a Line type of station. Although we worked in a hangar we still ordered parts from our main base in Burbank allowing us to only keep the most used parts in our stores. The guys and gals in stores there were really good at keeping the place stocked with everything we needed and I do not remember many times when we had to wait on parts.

Here at Southwest we have no Hangar. The closest major base, as far as stores is concerned, is Pheonix. The art of keeping our base stocked is trickier here than at any other job I've been at. We use a tremendous amount of parts on a daily basis and our stores clerks have to be on top of their game to keep up with it. From lightbulbs, oil, window wash, slat actuators, ADI, MCPs, etc. It's a daily battle to stay ahead of it. When we do not have a part we order it from Dallas, or Houston, or Pheonix but that means the ac is down. At Southwest when we have a grounded plane we lose money. Southwest does not have a lot of spare aircraft like other airlines and generally uses all of the planes we have which puts even more responsibility on the stores clerks shoulders.

In my time I have known some really good stock clerks and some not so good ones. The way we operate it also helps when a stock clerk is willing to run parts to us at gate calls, look up effectivity, help us out when we have a road trip etc. Don't take the stock clerks for granted. They have a very important job and when you have a good stock clerk you definetley know it, when you do not have a good one it makes for a really bad shift.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Beauty Of The Job!!

There are people who find no glamour in being an aircraft mechanic. There are people who really dislike being aircraft mechanics. As a matter of fact those people most likely outnumber the ones that do. Every now and then you find a guy who enjoys what he does and can also see beauty in an otherwise drab dingy job. When 666 emailed me this pic I said to myself "here is a guy with talent". This pic is beautiful! I already can tell he enjoys his job just by working with him but he can also find beauty in a not so easy task such as changing an engine. Takes talent!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reader Pic! Thanks L.

This is a view of the HUD (Heads Up Display) we have on our 737s.

I Hate To Criticize...

Occasionally while working the Line we are confronted with cold winter conditions that may lead to the need for Deicing. As one of the mechanics pointed out last week to me-we have worked here in Oakland for 13 years and only recently have we encountered this pressing need to deice the wings on our a/c. I'm not sure what changed globally or if the hole in the Ozone Layer has created this change in the Bay Area weather patterns but we have icing issues now that we did not have only a few short years ago.

So when we have a captain who decides he has too much ice on the wings we have a need for deicing. This was accomplished by the ramp (at SWA) who would come by with their trailer/stand combo cart thing and spray hot water onto the wings to melt the ice. Recently California has decided that we cannot deice at our airport and so the planes have to wait until the ice melts on its own! This takes a very long time and even longer if it is the end of the day. Anyway that is not what I wanted to talk about right now I just feel it is ridiculous that we cannot even spray hot water onto the wings.

The 737-700 ac seems to have the most incidences with frost in Oakland. I have seen planes come in with the landing gear struts completely covered in two or three inches of ice and ice packed around the wing to body fairing (wing root). That said the most typical icing we get is around the fuel bays on the top and bottom of the wings. This type of icing is called Hoar Ice or Hoar Frost and has to do with having the fuel real cold at altitude then descending and the skin cooling or warming or something and so a very thin layer of ice or frost forms often times right over the fuel bays.

The main thing we need to worry about is that there are captains out there who want you as the mechanic to make a decision as to if his wings are iced or frosted. It is very important to remember that the decision is up to the captain. Do not give any opinion as to frost or ice. With the FAA coming down on everything we do these days it is even more important to let the captain do his job and make his own decisions. We can bring a set of stairs over so the captain can check the wing surface himself but that is it! AND PLEASE MAKE SURE THE CAPTAIN DOES NOT TRY TO GET UP ON THE WING. HE CAN PUT HIS HAND ON THE WING TO FEEL THE FROST BUT NEVER ALLOW HIM TO CLIMB ON THE WING. BECAUSE...

I was called to provide a stair for a captain to inspect his wing for ice. I bring over a window wash stand and place it where he wanted it and stepped back. The captain looks at me as if he is waiting for me to go up. I said to him "you want me to check?" he says yes and I told him that I cannot make that decision for him. So away he goes up the stand. Instead of stopping at the top he steps out onto the wing. Now forgetting that there are places on top of the wing that should not be tread upon remember the reason he called me over? That's right ICE!! So the captain takes one step off the stand and starts slipping. Backward, forward, to the side then he is on his hands and knees! Remember which way the wing is sloped? That's right he is sliding toward the trailing edge. All the stuff falls out of his pocket and he is moving toward the edge and the great abyss after that which end with him hitting the concrete. About half way to the trailing edge he manages to stop himself. By this time I got to the top of the stand and said to him "how about you get down from there?".

Imagine the paperwork involved if this nut had fallen off the wing. I would be filling out incident reports, answering emails, irregularity reports, phone calls from Dallas etc. To top it all off who do you think would get into trouble over this? Not the captain, not the Port of Oakland or California.

My wife is a pilot at Alaska Airlines (furloughed). When she was in school they said that she should get out onto the wing to check and see if ice is present. She told them that there was no way she was going to try and walk on an icy wing and she is right. The crew members have pilot shoes, pilots pants, and no gloves typically and are going to try to walk on a wet wing! Crazy!

Just make sure the captains do not get onto the wings and do not let them pressure you into making a decision for them when it comes to icing.