Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Way Of The Whine

I know that I have already blogged about this before. I hate that our industry has come to this. I feel like an old man when I bring it up. Maybe it has always been like this and I was too green to have noticed it back in the day. I'm talking about whining. In the last five or so years it seems to me that the whining in our maintenance shop has gotten out of control. Some of the guys who work there do not seem to do any thing but whine. I can recall one night when everything seemed to be going well, one of the chief whiners walked by me, on the heels of his co-whiner, no mention of how good the night was, no mention of how clean their aircraft was, no mention of how well they were getting paid. This guy was actually complaining about how the paperwork package was different from the last time he did whatever job it was he did. I have heard the same set of guys complain about everything from shift start time to actually having to work or terminate the plane they are supposed to work on to how the work is assigned to how the roller chairs in the break room suck. I have even heard complaining during down time.

I'm not saying that some of the complaints are not legit. I'm not saying that there are not things that need to be fixed (even at SWA). What happens as far as I am concerned is that because I hear all complaining all the time from some of these guys, when they have a legit complaint, I lump it in with all the rest of the whining and chalk it up as a problem with the mechanic.

Having been around for a while I also understand that there is a far bit of whining that is coming from management on down to the work force. My main beef is the whining about delays. Sure I realize the importance of understanding what happened to cause a delay. To hammer a mechanic for taking a delay is kind of crazy in my book. I am paid to fix planes, to provide an airworthy plane for the flight crew as well as for the flying public. If I take a delay fixing a plane then I am okay with that. When you get back in the office and a delay report comes in they come running up to you with "why did we take a hit on ac XXX", or "how did you get a (whatever) minute delay for fixing a coffee maker?" It goes on and on... When the flight crew calls, and they call often not when they get on the ground but when they remember a problem or even when they are fully boarded, we go. Doing this often creates a delay. Additionally if the plane is already 20 minutes late and I go out to fix a reading light at push time that for whatever reason takes me 5 minutes to change, do the book, etc. I get a 25 minute delay. Crazy!

There are flight crews that whine, Operations Agents that whine, Ramp Crew that whine. All this whining reminds me of the Little Boy Who Cries Wolf. I hear so much of it that I no longer hear any of it.

It seems more and more that the whiners get their way while the workers are ignored. That said I will continue to work as I always have and as I was taught. Happy to have a job in these hard times and happy to start work when I'm told and get paid.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Aircraft Damage

My guest blogger suggested that a post on aircraft damage may be good. Being a line mechanic we see our fair share of damaged aircraft, additionally, being a line mechanic we also cause our fair share of damage to airplanes.
The picture on the left was caused by a provisioning truck (they bring sodas and snacks up to the airplanes) running into the wingtip of one of our planes. It may look like my golf cart hit the wing to some of you but that was just poor photography by me.
As a line mechanic we are usually on the front line and act as first responders for incidents involving damage to aircraft. The picture I put up is more the exception than the rule. Most damage incidents involve dents or small punctures that can be patched up quickly and sent on the way. Antennas seem to be magnets for belt loaders. I have seen 4 or 5 antennas broken off aircraft by careless rampers driving belt loaders. Engine inlet cowls have this same fate especially the number 2 engine cowl being on the side of the plane that the rampers are working on.
Damage inflicted by mechanics seems to run the gambit from breaking an end bay off a row of seats to destroying a thrust reverser half by jacking a plane and lowering it back down with a main tire resting against the TR half. My own personal experience involved a TR half also. I was rushing, not paying attention, when the TR half's were open and I lowered the flaps which put a hole in the TR half. We were able to simply speed tape it and Mx Note it for a repair a few cycles down the road.
Sometimes aircraft design puts certain components in danger. For example on the MD-80 the number 2 engine cowl rests right against the APU exhaust when it is open. I watched an Alaska airline mechanic leave the cowl open on his MD-80 and turn on the APU which burned a hole in the cowl.
Since the winglets have been installed several have been hit by provo trucks or by being pushed back into other planes.
The point is that damage happens. Unfortunately most companies treat aircraft damage like you have committed man slaughter. A few years ago Southwest adapted a zero tolerance for aircraft damage and threatened to fire those responsible. Planes are expensive and the economy being as it is you might understand why they do this. This and policies like this are problems for mechanics because it makes you think that the company does not have your back if a situation occurs involving you. it also is a problem because there is a reluctance by other employees to tell mechanics about how a plane was damaged. For example, if a pilot spills a coke and ruins a radio head it is considered aircraft damage. Prior to the new policy we would get a call for a radio head and the pilot would say "hey look I messed up and spilled my coffee on the thing". No big deal in my book, I R&R the radio head and go about my day. Now we go up to the flight deck and the crew says "I don't know, the radio head just stopped working". At times like this I have to trouble shoot the whole system which wastes my time when I could be done already.
We at SWA have over 500 aircraft. What the bean counters at headquarters do not seem to understand is that with 500 aircraft you are bound to have some damage incidents. It is statistically impossible to have that many airplanes flying hundreds of flights a day and not have any damage incidents. I think it would be better to have a set standard of what to do when a plane is damaged then to say there is a zero tolerance for damage, but, I'm just a wrench turner.
I do know this: the zero tolerance rule does not effect how I work in any way. You can not do this job if you are worrying about damaging an airplane. I'm not a big time Union guy but I figure that's what they are for. If I am doing my job and something goes wrong, an airplane gets damaged, I know that I am secure in the knowledge that I do not intentionally damage planes. If the company wants to go after me for doing my job, so be it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Guest Blog!! Thanks Franco A.

Oh Captain, My Captain......

I am just a guest blogger here and it's only because I've known Goat since he was just a kid. I'm no authority on aviation, but I thought I'd recount an incident that happened to me not long ago in a far off 737.

Here's the preliminary;

Southwest is good with watching over the usage of parts and how to tweak things to make it more cost effective for the company when it comes to repairs.

Somebody, I don't know who exactly, looks at the time it takes to change certain problematic parts and decides whether it would be more time conscience to change some other part while the mechanic is in that area. Let's take for instance the -700 Flight Attendant Handset.

A mechanic gets a call for an inoperative forward handset. They change out only the handset and it works ok. Two legs later its inop again. If the mechanic looks and sees the handset was just changed, he'll go for changing the cord. More than likely this fixes the problem and everybody is happy happy joy joy.

Well, the powers that be decided that a mechanic should now change out the handset and cord as one unit. It doesn't cost that much more to send the cord in along with the handset for repair. It does take a bit longer to change out the cord along with the handset, but it is still easier than a second gate call down the line.

So, Southwest's policy calls for changing both handset and cord at the same time and this is where the title comes in to play: Oh Captain, My Captain...MYOB!

The Story:

A few weeks ago I got a call for a handset being intermittent. Not the PA, but the handset itself. I go up to the gate and the Captain informs me that the forward handset is inop and he has put it into the book as such. Right away my hands are tied. If the entire handset is inop then I have to change it out.

I had brought one out with me along with the cord and proceeded to inform Operations to hold off on boarding as I would be in the way of the passengers. I informed the Captain it would be about 15 to 20 minutes for me to complete the job.

As this was a "through" flight, there were still passengers on board waiting to continue to their final destination. There were 3 sitting in the first row who could not only see me working, but were within earshot. This is when the Captain came up to me and asked, in front of these passengers, why was I taking apart the Flight Attendant seat, I explained that it was necessary to gain access to the end of the cord for change-out.

He asked why change the cord if the handset was bad? Good question...if I had time! I told him it was company policy to do so. Did he stop there? No. He then asked me, in front of the passengers, "Hey, who's gonna know what part you changed?"

My mouth simply said again that it was company policy. He gave me a funny look and said let me help you and started to try and hold the seat belts for me. I let him know I was just fine and needed no help. My brain wanted me to "escort" him to the empty jetway by the scruff of the neck and tell him how stupid he had just been and add a nuggie in for good measure.

How could he have made such a statement? Especially in front of passengers! Who is going to know what parts I change? Well, I would. So would he. And so would those passengers who heard him. Would he want me to make that statement to a fellow mechanic as we did an engine change? "You know Harv. forget taking those engine mounts off and putting on new ones. Who is gonna know?"

Oh Captain, My Captain, please do your job and let me do mine. I appreciate you wanting to have an on-time departure, so would not it be best if you do your pre-flight, sort your charts, or whatever you guys do up there before flying the machine that you entrust to me to make airworthy?

You do your job, I'll do mine. Thank you very much.


Franco A.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


"Can you hear it?"

"Yeah it's still clicking!"

"OK what should we try now?"

Last night I worked graveyard shift. My airplane was making a clicking noise in the aft cargo bin. I met the plane and talked to the Captain. The Captain tells me that the noise is coming from the area of the Flight Data Recorder in the Aft Bin.

At this point I bite my tongue and inform him that the box in the aft bin is the Voice Recorder and not the Flight Data Recorder. Of course he doesn't believe me and starts to ask me all kind of nomenclature questions which I expertly redirect back to the matter at hand. Something back there is clicking, that's the bottom line.

Once I get the plane out to Tango (remote parking area) I quickly finish up the MV-1 check, fix the few things I found broken, and get into the aft cargo bin. Sure enough you can hear a clicking noise, as a matter of fact you can hear it by just standing with your head in the door opening. "Click, click, click, click.....".

My first thought is the CVR is messed up so I open the access door and give it a tap, no help. I tap the APU temp. box next to the CVR, no help. On the side of the CVR enclosure is the J-11 Junction box and I can see a few relays in there through the holes cut in the side of the box. Pop that sucker open and sure enough it looks like the R353(?) relay is clicking. I call on the radio for someone to look up the relay part number and they tell me that Maintenance Control has already ordered it and it is on the way-be here at 10pm.

Now I'm thinking: If MX Control called and wanted to know which relay was making the noise (they were the ones who called about the plane originally), how could they have already ordered the relay that was busted? Even better why not let me know so I would not go beating up two other boxes, and possibly saving me some time. Whatever.

By the way all this time the worse storm of the year is roaring outside. Rain, wind, flooding at the airport, it's crazy outside. So I get my part and go back to the plane, put the new relay in, go up stairs to turn on power, go back down to the aft pit and CLICK, CLICK, CLICK...

Strike one.

I had doubts as to if that relay was the one clicking so with the power on I decided to disconnect the cannon plugs that go to the relay rack. The plugs are labeled 1 and 2, and the only other relay that could have been making that noise was labeled 2 while the relay I just changed was labeled 1. Sure as heck the noise stops when I pull of plug 2!

"Hey someone check to see if we have an R625 relay" I call on the radio.
A few moments later they tell me "We do not stock that relay". Before I can say for sure that the relay is the trouble I wanted to rob one from another plane and "slave" it in.

Now the wind is blowing at about 25mph, but the rain has stopped.

I get my "volunteer" relay and put it in, reconnect the cannon plug and CLICK, CLICK, CLICK...
The problem is not the relay.

Strike 2.

I drive my golf cart back to the shop which takes a while since it is old and the wind is blowing right at me. My normally slow cart is having to push through the wind and it going about 5 mph. At the shop I discuss the problem with the foreman and check out the wiring diagram. The relay gets a signal from two switches both of which are in the flap drum. For those of you who know the 737 the flap drum switches are one of the most loathed jobs in all of Line Maintenance. All the work is over head on the wheel well ceiling and the wires to the switches cannot be spliced they must be unclamped from the switch all the way up to the cannon plug, a run of about five feet or so with about 7-8 clamps to deal with.

I decide to see if I can adjust or clean the switches. While I am doing this I notice that one of the switches is loose in the drum and that the wires leading to the switch are spliced. I lower the flaps and check, no clicking. I raise the flaps up one setting, no clicking. I raise it one more setting, no clicking. I do this again and again, running up the stairs and down to see if the clicking is back. I figure if I can get these flaps all the way up and there is no clicking I'm going to sign this bad boy off. Sure enough at the last setting I go down stairs and CLICK, CLICK, CLICK...

Strike 3.

Now it's about 1am. I have a 50/50 chance on which switch to change but I have a pretty good idea that it is the loose and spliced switch that needs to go. Start digging! Off comes the switch, off come the clamps, I de-pin the cannon plug. I take the old switch to the shop and lay it out on the work table so I can put new pins on where they belong and new ground lugs and terminate the unused wires. It is now 2:45am. Since its not raining anymore I figure I'll take off my rain boots (they are killing my feet) and put my regular work boots back on.

Back at the plane I re-pin the plug. String the wire. Re-do the clamps. Put the switch in. It is now 4am. the moment of truth! By now the foreman and one other mechanic has come out to give me some moral support. We turn on power go to the cargo door and....


Damn! Strike 4!

We go through the adjustment on the switch to see if that is the problem but it is no help. Now it is raining again, the wind is blowing so hard that the plane is dancing around while I'm trying to adjust the switch and tie up all the loose wires. The final part of that adjustment calls for me to listen for the switch to click and then back it off and tighten it there. The wind is so loud that I cannot hear the tiny clicking of the switch. Time for the alternate method (I love this job). Any way it is starting to look like my 50/50 guess was incorrect and that the other switch is going to have to come out! Now it is 5:50am. I have been standing on my ladder the whole night. My back is killing me. My shoulders are burning from the overhead work. Remember when I took off my rain boots? Bad move, for the last 2 hours my feet have been soaking wet. My hands are black from the grease and muck in the wheel well and I cannot feel my fingers they are so cold.

I have the awkward experience of recounting my tale of woe to the day shift lead mechanic and informing him that one of his guys will have to change that second switch. I leave soaked, pissed off, dejected, and filthy. Part of being a Line Mechanic is that feeling of failing to fix the problem. Some people handle it better than others and some people just don't care. Not fixing a problem is a fact of life in our industry almost as much as fixing a problem is. The really talented mechanics will always learn something from each of their failures like - leave the rain boots on!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Another Day In The Trenches

Well it's Saturday so that means back to work for me. Once again the ability to work on the weekend is paramount in that my boss called and asked me to be the bump-up supervisor for the morning shift. The pay is good the work is sometimes tedious but not very hard. All in all I like being the sup. and if the permanent position paid well enough and some other things were set in my personal life I would put in for the permanent position.

It's crazy that a position like Foreman at a major airline pays so poorly. People with FedEx delivery routes make more than our foremen do. It is just like many of the jobs at airlines these days-the pay is very low and in some geographical locations-laffable. Legal Secretaries make more money than most airline pilots, mechanics have to live often many states away and commute into work because they can not afford to live at their work base location.

All this is a result, not of airlines like Southwest as a lot of employees of the traditional "legacy" carriers claim. The reason the airlines are cash strapped is that they refuse to raise the ticket prices despite the fact that fuel has gone through the roof. When one airline raises rates all the others tend to do the same, however, at some time one of those airlines get greedy and lower their rates. This in turn makes everyone else lower fares and so goes the cycle, over and over again.

I'm not talking about raising fares from $50.00 to $200.00. I'm talking about raising fares from $50.00 to $60.00. A couple of years ago we raised fares an average of $2.00 and that allowed the company to realize a profit that year! It's amazing how a short term gain in filled seats can sabotage a companies thinking into believing that lowering fares is any type of advantage to their bottom line. This industry is in major trouble if the CEO's and CFO's do not start to realize that with the fares they are charging you can not make any money. If they can not make any money they cannot compensate the employees appropriately.

I'm sure that raising fares is not going to go over well with the public but I also do not believe that an extra $10.00 or so is going to be a deal breaker. I have seen a lot in this industry and I love working on airliners. The most troubling trend in this industry is the quality of the persons that are being attracted by low pay and hard hours. This used to be a proud industry where people were paid well and the people coming on board were willing to go the extra mile because they knew the reward was with in reach. I know from experience that pilots at regional and commuter organizations make about $800-$2000 a month! When my wife was working at a commuter I had to keep her fed and housed (away from home) and I also had to keep one or two of her colleagues fed as well. If you think that quality top of the line people are going to get into that line of work for $400.00 a pay check you better think again. Enrollment is down in maintenance training schools across the country, the caliber of folks that are enrolling can not be the top of the top as it was in years past. This is a problem for the future of our industry that is more immediate than any other.

The next time you fly on an airliner think about the fact that the multi-million dollar plane you are in is being piloted by a person who, on average, makes less than a manager at McDonalds, was "fixed" by a guy who could get a pay raise by going to sort mail at the Post Office, and these nice folks will likely get pay cuts in the coming years. It is really too bad when you find a job that you like, such as the Foreman position for me, and you can not "afford" to take the job but instead have to stay in the position you are in. maybe one day things will change...I need TEN more years baby, just TEN more years.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I'm Drowning In Acronyms

One of the crazy things about this industry is it's dependence on the use of acronyms.When I first got to Delta I learned all the normal stuff APU (auxiliary power unit), FDR (flight data recorder), AFT, FWD, etc. Once I got to Southwest Airlines I learned that that was just the tip of the iceberg! As a matter of fact I'm still learning more and more, so her are a few of the acronyms that I can remember:

FCU fuel control unit
CSD constant speed drive
ILS instrument landing system
GPS global positioning system
HUD heads up device
IRS inertial reference system
MMR multi mode receiver
TCAS terrain and collision avoidance system
LNAV lateral navigation
VOR vhf omni range
BTB bus tie breaker
IAS indicated airspeed
IFR instrument flight rules
ADI attitude director indicator
NLG nose landing gear
MLG main landing gear
E&E equipment and electronics
MEC main engine control
PMC primary engine control
EEC electronic engine control
FDAU flight data acquisition unit
SMYD stall management yaw damper
GCU generator control unit
MCP mode control unit
IFSAU integrated flight system accessory unit
SPCU standby power control unit
HPSOV high power shut off valve
PRSOV pressure shut off valve
ADIRU air data inertial ref. unit

Those are just a few!! Then there are the Southwest specific ones that I have learned:

RIBLL right inboard landing light
LIBLL left inboard landing light
RPPS right pie panel screw
LPPS left pie panel screw
RIBLL right inboard landing light
LIBLL left inboard landing light
ROBLL right out board landing light
LOBLL left.....(you get the idea)

Perhaps the best acronym I've heard of in years was recently bestowed upon me. I guess it's and old Douglas Aircraft Company (DAC) term: ITCAN inspect, test,correct as needed.

After a few years in this industry you will find yourself talking to each other using the acronyms and not thinking anything of it. I have yet to drop ITCAN on the guys at work. I will be working a double this Saturday and if I can remember I will give it a try. The older DAC guys will get a kick out of it and the new guys will spin!

The Silent Soldiers

My buddy Skywalker sent me an email titled "The Silent Soldier" about a Fed Ex 727 that has been sitting at Sacramento Airport for a while. It seems to have been forgotten by Fed Ex and simply sits waiting for another chance to do what it does best.

This reminded me of another Fed Ex 727 which sits at Oakland Airport. The plane has been sitting there for years now. Still proud and boasting her purple and orange livery. Skywalker and I once visited her about 4-5 years ago and we may have been the last ones to do so.

It seems that all airports have Silent Soldiers. I remember that for a long time there were two Convairs at Oakland Airport that just sat on the North side of the field waiting. When I worked at Hayward Airport there were a lot of Silent Soldiers, most of which were private planes. There was one in particular that I recall was a Beechcraft Queen Air. She sat right next to the fence looking out over the road which ran by the airport, her glory days clearly behind her, waiting.

I think I will add Silent Soldiers as a regular column on the blog and try to snap some pictures of that Fed Ex bird at Oakland. If any of you out there come across any of these silent soldiers snap a pic and send it to me. They can be of any type of plane so head out to your local field and see if you can find some plane that may enjoy your company for a few moments while you take her picture. Send me the pics at

Monday, January 11, 2010

Often Imitated But Never Duplicated

I am of course referring to the Snap-On Ratcheting screwdriver. The Snap-On ratcheting screwdriver has been a mainstay in our industry since the tool was first introduced. This is one of the tools no mechanic can live without. It is well made has a warranty (although not as good as it used to have) is easy to operate and is very reliable.

My first Snap-On ratcheting screwdriver was a black one. Immediately I fell in love with the thing and it gave me a good seven years of service before I lost it. My next one was an orange one that I have used ever since. As a matter of fact I just recently retired it after all these years. I had to retire it because it started to skip, the ratchet part inside is stripped out a little. Years ago this would not have been a problem: I would have simply taken it out to the Snap-On tool truck and had it replaced. If my screwdriver had broken a couple (more like 3 or 4) years ago I would have taken it to the truck and he would have repaired it for me. Nowadays you bring a tool to the Snap-On truck and you get a lecture about abusing tools and you might be able to have the dude mail it to the Snap-On factory for repairs. Basically Snap-Ons warranty is a joke in our industry. The Snap-On dealers often don't want to replace tools and give you a really hard time if you are on their truck just to replace a tool.

Anyway despite the obvious issue I have with the Snap-On dealers the srewdriver is one of the best ratcheting srewdrivers out right now. I have been trying without success to find another one made by a different company that would compare. I bought a Craftsman ratcheting screwdriver and it fell apart within 4-5 months. I did find and bought a Stanley Tool ratcheting screwdriver that actually seems OK but I have not brought it to work yet. I'm not too sure how well it will hold up to a hard life out on the line. The Stanley is roughly the same size and shape of the Snap-On but has a bit holder near the shaft of the driver with a hokey spin and release set up for the apex bits. The main problem I have with the Stanley is the same one I have with a lot of the tools out right now. The handles are black and yellow and ugly! Why do all the new tools have to be so bright? Yellow, dayglow green, why would I want to carry any thing that looks like that? Screwdriver handles should be BLACK or at the very least one solid color. Check out the Snap-On online catalog at most of their tools are still one colored handles. Those tools with the psychedelic handles look like toys to me.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Upadate! Update! Slip Joint Pliers (Hogs)

One of the mechanics here found out why slip joint pliers are called Hogs by most of us. It seems that the name hogs may have come from Hog Ring Pliers. The hog ring pliers are used in upholstery especially in older cars, etc. Some of the older larger hog ring pliers had a shape similar to slip joint pliers although they could only adjust into two positions.

Another mechanic I spoke to used to work at PanAm. He says that one of the old guys at PanAm told him they were called "Hogs-Legs" because they resemble a hogs leg. Shortened to hogs for ease of communication.

Yet another mechanic here says they heard them called "Hogs-Jaws". It seems like it may be a while before this mystery is solved.

Crazy Maintenance Story

I have been trying to figure out how to approach this subject without getting people in trouble. When you work out here you hear a lot of crazy stories regarding maintenance or mechanics. I know how the FAA is these days so I as always will not mention any names and I will only relate stories that happened to guys at other airlines. If you have any cool stories let me know and maybe I can include it in my Crazy Maintenance Story posts.

This first story was only told to me a week or two ago and it is really insane. This is the kind of story that can only have happened years ago. These days no one would be man enough to do this kind of thing. I think it is one of the great can do stories I have ever heard. So here we go:

This guy was working for a DC-10 operator. They were using older DC-10s and apparently this one was a real beat up plane. The company was initiating service from the US to England and this was their big night. This was the first revenue flight for this particular service. The guy telling me the story was going along to help set up the required maintenance for the company over in England. He was with another mechanic who I guess was along to help him out or just in case something broke.

So they are flying along at 35,000 feet and they are about 1 hour away from England. The mechanics are in the flight deck with the pilots. The whole flight they notice that the flight deck will not heat up (not that unusual) and that it is louder than normal. I guess they get to talking about this and the mechanic that was with my pal opens the E&E access door in the flight deck floor.

For those of you who are unfamiliar the DC-10 as well as the L-1011 had a hatch in the flight deck floor that allowed access to the Fwd Equipment & Electronics (E&E) bay. Once down there and just about right below the flight deck access hatch is another hatch that leads outside the plane. Many people have fallen through the flight deck hatch down and through the E&E hatch and out to the ground. I have seen this happen at Delta Airlines when our L-1011s were in overhaul.

So when mechanic A opens the flight deck hatch and looks down into the E&E bay he can see sky through the E&E hatch!! The hatch is in the hole but one side of it is open about 3 or 4 inches!! This would be enough for me to close the flight deck hatch and tell the captain to get us down, but not this guy. This guy tells my pal to hold his flashlight, climbs down into the E&E and tries to get the hatch closed! He stomps on it, beats it, nothing is working. Let me also say that the noise from this hole must have been incredible.

The hatch is jammed in the hole and won't move. Mechanic A is in the E&E bay trying to close the hatch. Noise. Cold. (Crazy). He eventually gives up on closing the hatch and tells my pal to go and get a water bottle. I guess they had those really big water bottles that are something like ten or twelve inches and used those to serve water to passengers in cups. My pal gets the bottle and then gives him a bunch of blankets. Mechanic A wraps the water bottle in a couple of blankets an puts in into the gap and THUMP the bottle/blanket gets sucked into the gap and the noise goes away!!

That story is amazing but that's not the end. After about 15 minutes the bottle/blanket gets sucked out through the hole! Mechanic A sticks another one in there every 15 minutes until they land! This guy has got some brass you know whats! First off he climbed down into what must have been a near freezing E&E bay. Then he tries to close that hatch by standing on it at 35000 feet!! Then he stays down there feeding the monster water bottles until they land! I want this guy at my airline! Talk about nuts!

Email me any crazy stories you have at

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Stuff

I worked graveyard shift last night. The first one of the year for me. There is always a lot of apprehension when you show up for graves because you never know what you will be assigned. I was fortunate in that I was working with one of the senior graveyard guys. In fact I was working with the only guy senior to me on graveyard shift. We were assigned an MV4. We at Southwest are switching over to an MSG3 maintenance program. Previously our maintenance checks were PM, Service Checks, and A Checks. The A checks went from A1 all the way up to A4(?) and then C and of course the D Check was a Heavy Maintenance Check, basically an overhaul.

Under the new system we do MV Checks. Maintenance Visits from MV1 up to MV(something). We in Oakland do MV1, MV2, and MV3 checks. The heavier maintenance is done at places where Southwest has hangars. When an aircraft is making the switch from the old program to the MSG3 program it gets an MV4 check. An MV4 is only done once and it combines the older A1 and A2 checks. Once the MV4 is done the plane starts over with MV Checks. What MSG3 does for us is way above my pay grade of knowledge. Whatever it is you can bet that it must save Southwest some money because they never make changes like that unless there are significant financial savings involved.

Now that that is out of the way: One of the cool things about my job is that there is always something that comes along that I have never done. I believe that when one of these things comes up I should embrace the opportunity to learn and maybe next time when someone else is doing it I can give some constructive advice. It also breaks up the monotony of doing check after check.

Last night our check included a special item that the powers that be wanted us to look into. The Flight Data Recorder was getting incorrect information regarding the angle of the #2 engine throttle lever. We checked out AMM and did our research and had a pretty good idea of what to do by the time the plane got in. Once the plane got in we did the normal check items first, including changing tires, lube, etc.

The paperwork had us connect a hand held reader up to the FDR to see exactly what the Throttle Position Servo was telling the FDR. Sure enough it was out of range. I went down to the engine and tried to adjust the servo position per the AMM. Mechanic A was upstairs reading the position numbers on the CDU and comparing them to those on #1 eng. I went as far as I could and still it was out of range so we had to change the servo. We put the new one in and adjusted it until the outputs were matched up and we were done.

It was cool to work with a "Veteran" as we say and it was really cool to do this job that I had never done before. Sometimes the jobs are huge and messy but sometimes as in this case they are more technical in nature. In either case the new to me jobs are the ones that I look forward to and really enjoy. It helps also to have a knowledgeable mechanic working with you.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Monday, January 4, 2010

Veteran Tool Spotlight: Slip Joint Pliers (Hogs)

I'm trying to spotlight the tools that all line mechanics should carry. These spotlights are from my observation of what the senior guys carried when I first got here. If I didn't have one of these when I started to work line maintenance then I made sure I picked one up as soon as I could. This time we will be talking about "Hogs". I'm not sure why the older, senior guys call slip-joint pliers "hogs" but thats what they call them.

Once again the slip joint plier is not the coolest looking tool around. It's funny how the tools that are not the sexiest, first thought of tools are often the most useful.

Hogs are available in several different sizes. Some guys carry a small 6" size along with their leatherman to every gate call. Hogs allow you to do several jobs with one tool. They are really handy for getting cannon plugs off and on in hard to reach places. They can hold lines, "adjust" sheet metal, act as jack handles, hold nuts and bolts, even crimp wires. I'm starting to sound like a butcher but hogs are often used as hammers as well. Most hogs have jaws that open nice and wide for any of a number of applications. I carry two with me, a six inch and a ten inch. These are new to me and I'm still getting used to them. My old pair of hogs was a very old Craftsman pair that I had for a long time. The jaws opened to about 4" wide and they were nice old steel, nothing fancy. I was working on an APU one rainy night and they got lost. I did not remember to look for them until two days later and by then they were gone. I took this particular tool loss very hard as they were one of my favorite tools. Since that catastrophe I purchased a new pair. I decided that I would get the newer type of slip joint pliers, these have a button that locks the plier into whatever size you want it in. Knipex was the first one who made this type I believe. I bought a set of Vise-Grip pliers from Sears a that came with both the six inch and ten inch pliers.

The new type of hogs are pretty good but it took a while for me to get used to them. Being used to my old pliers made the new type difficult to use. Over the last few months I have gotten used to them and like them a lot. They are not as good as my old ones at bashing things but thats why I have my Ford wrench and my MagLite.

A Typical Gate Call

While there is no such thing as a typical gate call I wanted to give you out there an idea of what can happen on a gate call. One of the things that I like about this job is that everyday is different. You may even get the same gripe from two different crews but the outcome will be different or the attitude of the crews will be different which in turn changes your results.

So here we go: Lets say we get a call for a broken coffee maker in the aft galley. Sounds innocent enough. So we go up when the plane arrives and wait until the passengers get off, run to the back and check out the coffee maker. Hopefully you can fix the coffee maker, if not you will have to call for a new one. In the mean time there is a crew change and the new First Officer has just finished his walk around and spotted some fuel leaking out of number 2 engine. Slam the coffee maker in and leak check, run down stairs to check the engine. Possibly open the fan cowl to see where the fuel is leaking from. Call for a hand to run the engine, go back upstairs and start up the APU while waiting for a fellow mechanic to help you run the engine. While the APU is starting run to the aft galley to make sure the coffee maker is still working ok. Once your helper arrives and you have clearance turn and burn #2 eng. If all works ok shut her down and close up the engine fan cowls. When you get up stairs to talk to the captain, you find out that a tray table is broken, or the #1 ADI is inop, or the crew asks for oil, etc. Finish up with that, hopefully the captain did not delay boarding, if so tell Ops that they can board, grab the logbook and sign off the coffee maker and fuel leak, tell the crew to have a great day, and book out of there.

Now obviously that is one of the more busy examples that I could have come up with. Most calls are quicker but believe me when I say that they can and often do go a lot worse than that. Add all those problems to the pressure that you get from Ops and the flight crew as well as Maintenance Control, if you get them involved, and your heart starts to race. Factor in that we typically have about 20 minutes to finish our work so that we do not take a delay and the day gets pretty busy.

All this goes toward my belief that working Line Maintenance is an art form that, when done correctly, is a beautiful thing to watch.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Recycle Reuse

When it comes to buying tools I want you all to remember that a used 3/4' open end wrench is often times just as good as a brand new one. Things like wrenches and the like do not wear out if they are taken care of. I mention this because I am a fan of the Used Tool Store. You will find these used tool stores in working class neighborhoods and they are a gold mine for finding good quality tools at discount prices. Often times these tools come from estate sales or are even simply given to the store by widows when their husbands pass and they need to get rid of his toolbox full of stuff.

When I first got out of school I thought that I would simply buy new tools as I needed them. This worked well when I was at Delta Airlines as they had a payroll deduct system that allowed you to pay for things over time. Once I got laid off and was still working but needing even more tools I had to change my approach. While I was working at Ameriflight I learned to shop at the swap meets they have out here in California, also known as flea markets. I soon found out that I liked looking for cool old tools. To me they seemed to have a history and a life all their own. When I took home an old heavy metal ratchet or tin snip I was proud to include it in my growing inventory. Saving money all the way, I was able to increase my tool inventory with out going broke.

Sure there are some things that are almost impossible to buy used-like a Snap-On ratcheting screwdriver-best to buy new. There are however a lot of guys out there who cared for their tools and simply passed away, or sold them on the cheap to the used tool stores. These tools are not junk, they are well cared for and work just as well as new.

The more I went mining for old tools the more I enjoyed it. It not only gives you an opportunity to amass a good amount of tools, it also helps you appreciate the craftsmanship of tool manufacturers that are no longer around. Some of those old tools I found have to be 50 years old and they work just fine after a little cleaning. You will find yourself wondering how all those nicks and scratches got on that wrench you just rediscovered.

The used tool store and flea market are great ways for all you new mechanics to get some great tools and not go broke doing it. I wish I had thought of it when I was fresh out of A&P school. Do not get caught up in that "all my tools are Snap-On" thing. New tools are great but you show up to a job and have a couple of screwdrivers and one ratchet set because you only buy new stuff and the older guys are going to think you have some marbles loose.

Another Thing About This Industry

There are people who work here that feel like they must have the weekend off. I understand wanting the weekend off, but these guys act like it would be an impossibility for them to show up on the weekend. For some it is OK, those with seniority can hold weekends off. I'm talking about the guys who complain about being broke and then when I tell them that there are plenty of shifts available on the weekend they balk at the idea.
I have pretty good seniority and I work the weekend because I need the money. I miss out on all the kid activities and some social gatherings but hey, it is what it is. This industry is not one that you can typically pick and choose your work hours in. You want the cash, you make yourself available, even on the weekends. It's getting a little tiring listen to those guys. Come and join the party! Work a Sunday or Saturday with minimal staffing and low seniority pilots afraid of their own shadows! Now that's living!!
By the way thanks to SpininB for the pic.

Friday, January 1, 2010

My Line Tool Boxes and Bags

When I first started to work line maintenance my only experience had been hangar related work. Because of this I had a large roll away tool box (mine is a Waterloo) that I've used since my Delta Airlines days. When I brought it over to Southwest the guys liked to call it a "Taco Wagen". I quickly learned, I mean like in a day or two of working the line, that I need a more portable tool box to carry from plane to plane.

My first line box was a Craftsman two drawer tool box. It worked well and I would guess that it lasted about 2 years. I got another and even made a dolly for it so I could tow it behind a tug. I liked the Craftsman boxes but still I needed more portability, something I could carry up into the plane. Most of the guys at the time were using Gator Bags so I bought one of those. The Gator bags are good tough canvas bags with lots of storage compartments and a big beefy zipper to close them up. Once zipped up the bag was even water resistant but all the tools you had in the outside pockets were in trouble once the rain came. I would say I have used two or three Gator Bags and maybe two of Craftsmans variety.

I ended up taking my roll away tool box home as all the stuff that I needed I kept in my line bag and all the tools in the roll away were just being ignored. I never used my 1/2' drive stuff and all my hangar do-dads where just collecting dust.

Now that I have been on day shift for quite a while I use tool bags exclusively. My current bag is sort of an electricians tool bag. It has a large single opening that can be zipped up and shut. It has a long strap and is meant to be carried over the shoulder. Picture electricians working on power wires up on poles, they typically have a bag hanging off one shoulder, open with easy access to their tools. I liked the idea of the bag because it allows me to swing the bag behind me and walk down the aisle of the plane without whacking people in the head. When I first got it it had a hammer ring on it which I removed and a pocket on the side for a spool of wire which I use to hold my safety wire. The flap of the bag hangs down when the bag is open and has a pocket for small stuff. In addition the back of the bag is flat and has a large pocket for more stuff. I have managed to keep an incredible amount of stuff in this bag and it has held up very well. In addition to my line bag I keep my large wrenches in another canvas bag which stays in the back of the golf cart until I need it. So here is my list of things that are in my bag right now:

7" Vice Grips
Duckbill Pliers
Large pair of Hogs (slip joint pliers)
safety wire pliers
wire crimper/stripper
6" Crescent wrench
two 1/4" ratchets
1/4-5/16" angled dog bone
Large demolition flat blade srewdriver
can of .032" safety wire
set of 1/4" deep sockets
set of 1/4" shallow sockets
set of 1/4" wobble sockets
various drill bits
various apex bits
small container with cotterpins of different sizes
small container with various small cabin parts
Snap-On ratcheting stubby screw driver
flat blade screwdriver
#2 phillips srewdriver
flip flop screwdriver that I use as a nut driver
Craftsman apex bit driver thing
Husky apex bit driver dog bone looking thing
Husky jeweler type screwdriver
set of allen wrenches
set of flip-out style allen wrenches
1 hydro-lock
pigtails for landing lights
one reading light lens
one emergency exit light lens cover
one auto-pilot disconnect switch
2 or 3 life vest seals
two long ty-wraps
small zip lock bag with electrical splices in it

As I mentioned before I have in my golf cart smaller canvas bags with wrenches, jumpers, pin extractors, BITE books. Of course I have my ball peen hammer and speed handle and more apex bits in this holder I got one Christmas.