Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is That Reading Light Out? Great What Else Is Wrong?

So I am going on vacation. I have all the Vacation days in at work and have told my trade partner what is going on so he can adjust his days if need be. I am packed, the travel arrangements are made, rental car, hotel, etc. Everyone has wished me a happy, relaxing vacation which I plan on having. There is only one part of the vacation that I know I will have trouble relaxing on: the flight.

I don't know if it's me or if other mechanics have trouble flying. I'm not afraid to fly or have any concerns about the plane breaking down or turbulence or anything like that. The thing that gets me about flying is that I find myself looking for broken items in the cabin or out the window on the wings, etc. It's crazy I know but I can't  help myself. When I see some lady try to use a reading light and the damn thing doesn't work it ticks me off. Back in the day when we could carry a Leatherman on board I could help out and fix a few things when we landed. Now that TSA has classified everyone as "guilty until proven innocent" I can't even fix the little stupid things I find that bother me. Now I have to sit and stew about the broken tray table latch or galley drawer that is broken.

I will once again try to sleep or read instead of letting my mind wander about the interior of the plane but I'm sure I will have little success. Even when I fly in the cockpit I can't help but look around and there have been times that I've found things that are not right but that the crew didn't notice. In any event I will let you guys know if I notice anything.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Veteran Tool Spotlight: Safety Wire Pliers

It's been a while since I did a tool spotlight so I think I am going to discuss safety wire pliers. Like most mechanics I have a couple of pairs of safety wire pliers and have "gone through" a couple more. When I first started out in the industry I had a large pair of Mac safety wire pliers that were "liberated" from me by someone who thought he could take better care of them. I pretty much used those pliers for the first three years that I worked on airplanes.

A good pair of safety wire pliers is pretty much an essential to a good mechanic. Like the Ford Wrench I wrote about in an earlier post the safety wire plier can be a multi-use tool. Of course there is the obvious use for twisting wire, but I have known guys who use their safety wire pliers for cutting wire, zip ties, etc. pretty much replacing their diagonal cutters (dykes) with their safety wire pliers. By the way before I get too far along there are two sizes of safety wire pliers typically found: a 6" and a 9-12". The larger version is what guys in the hangar use. If you are reading this blog and just getting into aircraft maintenance than I suggest buying both. I personally only used a large pair until I got laid off and then started working line maintenance. In the line maintenance world just about everybody uses the smaller 6" version. Working the line you are safetying items that use .032 or smaller wire and not much .040 wire so we can get away with the smaller plier.

The larger pair of safety wire pliers I own were given to me by and old guy at Hayward Airport. They are Milbar Wire Twisters and are all silver (kind of unique). They are also unique in that the bar that you pull out to create the twisting action ratchets back into the plier instead of wisting back in. The smaller pair that I used for years is a no-name plier I bought new off of a truck. They worked very good for a long time and I only retired them because I got a better replacement. The safety wire pliers I carry in my line bag now are Bluepoint reversable safety wire pliers. The Bluepoints are very good and I like the fact that they can be reversed although I have to admit I rarley use that feature. The other thing I like about the Bluepoints is that the head of the plier is very small compared to an el-cheapo brand.

There is a funny thing that happens to line mechanics when they get used to using their own safety wire pliers. It is very awkward to use someone elses. When a buddy hands you his pliers to safety something they just do not feel right. I have also noticed that guys will use those pliers long past their useful life. I've seem some pretty messed up safety wire pliers being used after the lock or return spring thing is busted up. That just goes to show you how attached mechanics become to their tools (or are we a cheap bunch?) and how important useing a tool that one is familar with is to mechanics.

As in most Tool Spotlight posts I have to admit that I have used my safety wire pliers as a hammer before, but is that really that unusual? For all you guys with busted up safety wire pliers I even included a link to Amazon.com so you can pick up a new set!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Slow It Down-Be Cool-What's The Rush?

I know I am guilty of it. As a matter of fact we at SWA are all guilty of it. We Rush. We pride ourselves in getting the planes turned in 30 minutes or less and it is a way we differentiate our company from others. Typically we mechs have about 20 minutes to troubleshoot and fix our problems. We hurry to finish the planes at night time to get our precious "down time". We want to remote the planes as quickly as possible to get back to the shop for the next one or for clean up time. Of course there is a danger lurking in the rushing around. Things can be forgotten, planes damaged, and people injured.

Last week at work we had a grounded plane. The mechanic working the issue ended up having to remote the aircraft to our remote parking spot in order to clear the gate. The ramper driving the tug was going too fast, could not stop the plane with the tug and nearly ended up in the grass with the plane on top of him. Luckily for that guy the mechanic had his wits about him and was able to apply the aircraft brakes in a way as not to throw the ramper off the tug. The ramper is a guy I know and is one of the better ramp guys we have but he got in a hurry and nearly got hurt for no reason.

I have damaged airplanes by rushing and there is nothing worse than the feeling afterwards that just a few seconds longer and it could all have been avoided. The culture at SWA is such that we are encouraged to get our jobs done quickly but we as mechanics have to know that that does not mean to rush our work or even our paperwork. SWA never intended that the company culture affect the quality of our work. I am sure you have all had OPS agents swirling around you because it is close to push time or captains breathing down your neck because they will miss their commuter flight if the don't push right away. These things are important, and to OPS, the Ramp, and Flight Crews the push time of the airplanes are very important. The SWA culture of hurry, hurry applies to them in one degree or another for different reasons. My point is that this particular part of the SWA culture should have very little effect on we as mechs.

If at all possible I get the work done in a way as not to delay a flight but I will not rush my work to ensure a flight is not delayed. This is not to be confused with working quickly. There are mechs who work quickly but they do the same 10 steps to trouble shoot and fix an ILS (for example) as the next guy they can just get the job done faster.

The picture at the top of this post is an MD-80 nose landing gear that was ripped off by the tug that was trying to remote the plane to the gate. These guys were rushing, they got a tug that was HUGE! I mean that tug could have probably pulled the terminal over to the plane if they tried it. Then they got ahead of themselves and forgot to release the brakes on the plane. The guy on the tug gunned it and off came the nose gear!

When I first hired on at SWA we had what we called "QUICK TURNS". These quick turns were done in 15 minutes! That's pax off, bags off, pax on, bags on, fuel, and push in 15 minutes. Of course if there were and maint. issues you could pretty much kiss that 15 minutes good-bye but it was still an impressive thing to watch. We all got patches saying we were part of the "Quick Turn Team" it was pretty cool. With paperwork the way it is now and the planes getting more and more complex I do not think we will ever see the return of 15 minute turns but I'm glad I was around to see them.
Remember it's the little things that will get you in trouble and the little things are what get forgotten during a rush. The FAA is checking our paperwork with a fine tooth comb so cross all your T's and dot all your i's. Oh and don't be afraid to tell OPS or the flight crew that you will be done when you are done. There is not one person in the company who will fault you for wanting to fix the plane correctly.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It's All About The Little Things

When most people think about aircraft maintenance they think of a guy or gal changing a tire or working on an engine. Indeed I will bet that when all you mechanics out there explain your job to others you tell them about tires, engines, checks, etc. The envision you standing there with grease on your hands and clothing, big wrench in hand working on "The Big Part". Of course a good deal of our job does in fact fit that description.

Last night I was changing a brake on a 737-300. For all of you in the know it is time consuming with something like 10 bolts and nuts holding the stupid thing on. I think we can all agree that a break is a "Big Part". The thing about changing brakes and tires is that I am convinced that most pilots do not even notice that there are new tires and brakes on the plane when they do their walk around. They do, however, notice that the windscreen is dirty or that their map light is inop. This is simply a truth of human nature, we usually only notice the things that directly affect us. It is up to us mechanics to save the pilots from this way of thinking. Our job is to continue to change the big and small parts, even the parts that no one will ever notice in order to keep the plane in an airworthy condition.

That covers one aspect of the importance of all the little things. The next thing is the "Pet Peeve". The pet peeve is the one thing that a mechanic checks on every airplane. Each mech has his own thing that he checks, for me it's the floor mounted CB light in the flight deck and the screws that always come loose on the Classic Series Flap Track Canoe Fairings. Now, I always checked these things and never really thought about it until one night when I was working with Just Jim and noticed that he was cleaning the inside of the landing light lens for the fixed/turnoff lights. When I asked him about it he told me that every mechanic here has that one thing that he does to every plane that they work on. The one thing may seem small but when taken as a group of 1200 mechanics those one things add up. That he explained to me is the reason why our planes are in such good shape everyone does their one thing and in the end the plane is fully covered.

I believe that most guys here in our station do that same thing. As a matter of fact for all those who keep asking me why I continuously write up bad floor mounted CB lights I say go find your own pet peeve and leave me alone. We all know guys who change seat back pocket springs or clean and re-stripe the landing gear down lock indicators so my CB light is not too big of a deal.

Also in closing; a while back I worked a whole lot of midnight shift OT with one of the more senior guys here, lets call him Maybe-Maybe. Maybe-Maybe and I would always try to work together because we had similar working styles and got jobs done fairly quickly. Well Maybe-Maybe had a theory he called "keep 'um happy". What this meant was after all the tire and engine crap was done we would go upstairs and do the windscreens, clean the cockpit, do the reading lights and any little stupid cabin items that the crew would be sure to notice. His theory being that if all those little things were done we would get no gate calls in the morning (remember when you used to have to go to gate calls on the planes you actually worked on?). The funny thing is that it worked, we hardly got any gate calls on our planes. There is a lesson in there somewhere...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


So I was watching TV the other day. There was a show on about snipers. The show detailed all the things that a sniper must go through to figure out how he was going to make his shot. There are mathematical formulas that they go through, they use tools such as scopes and wind finders, laser rangers, etc. A lot of things have to be done, quickly, for a sniper to be successful. The thing that struck me however, was one sniper who said that after all the formulas and tools are used it can come down to something they call SWAG (Scientific Wild A$$ Guess). That got me thinking.

We who work line maintenance rely on BITE tests, tools, and the maintenance manuals to tell us what is wrong with aircraft. On days and swings these things have to be done quickly to avoid delays. The thing about it is that it often does come down to SWAG. We use our tools and computers to point us in the right direction, to eliminate the majority of suspects, but it often is SWAG or and educated guess that fixes most problems.

People often discount the human factor in our job. The maintenance manual can point you in the right direction but a good mechanic can meld all his previous experiences to arrive at the proper fix. The Scientific part of SWAG is really the part that you add your two cents into the situation to arrive at a proper fix. I can't tell you how many times pilots have asked me "How did you know to look there?" The answer is SWAG. I know that this thing works this way or that so I can eliminate systems to come up with the fix.

I notice that guys that worked for Non-Scheds have a lot of common sense. They are also very good at SWAG. Ask those guys how they knew to change a particular part and they will most likely not be able to tell you how they did it. Those guys had to work "out side of the box" when they worked at Non-Scheds. Often times they are on their own and away from support of any kind. The planes they worked on were grounded until they came up with a fix. SWAG is a huge tool in the old line mechanics tool bag and should not be under-estimated!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Maintenance Copy!!"

"Maintenance, copy!" That is the dreaded call that starts almost every gate we have on Day and Swing shift. This particular cal happened on Day shift last weekend. "Maintenance, copy! The plane pulling into Gate 25 would like to talk to you about a Bleed Trip." Damn, did she say "Bleed Trip"? "Is it my turn to go?"

"Hey Goat, can you go to Gate 25, Bleed Trip".

Is it me or do these bleed problems seem to follow me around? Well it had been raining so the prospects for an MEL are not very high.

When I got to the gate I went up to the cockpit and the Captain was already standing up. He says, as he passes me, "The Bleed Tripped on descent and again when we were taxiing to the gate. Oh and also (this is where they always get you) the number one TR is also inop."

So I figure I will pop the cowls, look at the TR paddles, try resetting the EAU, and call MX Control on the bleed trip. Tuna came out to give me a hand and we tried but could not get the TR to work right. Tuna went up to call MX Control and I started to lock out the TR. While I was doing that a miracle happened! Tuna calls down that MX Control says we can MEL BOTH PROBLEMS. They got Dispatch on the line and got the green light to MEL the bleed air since they were going to Las Vegas next and they planned on taking it out of service there. Feeling better than ever I opened up the C Duct to lock the PRSOV closed while Tuna started with the MEL paperwork. Everything was locked out and all SPs complied with etc. I went upstairs to help Tuna and here comes the Captain back down the jetway.

As a side note, we had the ramp hold off on loading bags until we knew what was going on with the flight. Since I found out we were going to MEL and fly the plane to Vegas I told the Ramp Sup to load her up. Tuna gave the ok to OPS to board the passengers while he was busy MELing both problems.

Well by the time I got upstairs the pax were loaded and the ramp was busy loading the bags. I wired the TR handle and flipped the CAT placard. When I was in the jetway with Tuna and saw the Captain strolling down the jetway with his Andela Burritto bag in his hand I was feeling real good. As he was passing he asked what we had come up with and we told him that Dispatch gave us the green light to MEL both problems. The look on his face said it all-he was not happy. He disappeared around the corner into the plane and Tuna continued with the paperwork.

A few minutes later the Captain comes out to us and tells us that Dispatch had switched planes and that this one was staying here! Obviously he had made a call and decided that he did not want to take the plane to Vegas with an inop bleed and TR, cried enough about it to them to make them change the plan on us.

This type of thing happens more often than you would think. Several times flight crews have called Dispatch or Chief Pilots to complain about a plane that was perfectly legal to fly. I fail to understand how or why these crew get almighty Dispatch to cow down and change maintenance plans. It's not that we are trying to get out of work or be lazy, Tuna and I did end up fixing the plane, BOTH issues. The problem is that these whining crews think that they are the most important part of the SWA equation. I once had a guy refuse to take a flight until "someone cleans my windows"!

I wonder what would happen if I came to work a graveyard shift and saw that I was working an HMU with a couple of other problems and turned around and said "I refuse to take this jet". Can I call Tator Tot (our manager) and get another plane to work on. WAIT that has already happened hasn't it! The problem with that thinking is that even if you do argue your way out of something you do not want to do, or give up and simply go home, someone else is going to have to do the job. It seems to be the "Why Me?" company now-a-days. "Why do I have to?" "Why does Goat get an MV-1 and I have an MV-3?""Why,why,why...........?"

Why don't we all just do the job presented to us? Why don't we see that there is a bigger picture at stake?" Why ask why?-Very little will change any time soon.