Wednesday, September 29, 2010

To Cargo Door Or To Not Cargo Door

This past weekend an old -300 came in and I had the pleasure of Terminating the plane. While doing the walk around I noticed that the rampers were having trouble opening the aft cargo door. This is not unusual and in fact happens a lot. Usually there is a bag or box that has fallen on the door or the door was closed with the cable or cable handle struck in the door jamb. This was what I suspected was the trouble but once the ramp supervisor and I got the door open it was clear that the threshold plate was damaged.

The plate was cracked and peeled up in such a way that it formed a pointy triangle that stuck up about and inch to an inch and a half. The rampers still had to get the bags off and I had to move the plane from the gate to Tango remote area. I got a hammer and beat the section back down so I could close the door for the remote and the rampers could off load the bags. The threshold is stainless steel and once I got it bent back, the piece broke off. I was able to remote the plane and wrote up the threshold plate on the board in the shop so that the mechanic who worked the plane that night could inspect it.

The next morning I found out that the threshold needed to be replaced (big surprise) AND the cargo door needed to be replaced as well. I admit that I did not look at the door when i was terminating as I should have done once I saw the condition of the threshold. I was surprised even more when I was told that the cargo door was being flown in on a ferry flight for US to change out! I know that we are mechanics and the this is a job that we SHOULD be able to accomplish in OAK. The reason I was surprised about it is that we have very little tooling in OAK and even less hardware etc.

Old Threshold with piece missing that I broke off.

Those of us who have worked hangar work or non-sched type maint. know that work like this is not as straight forward as it sounds. There is always something that will go wrong or some part that will be needed which is not originally thought of. In other words the can of worms will be opened!!

The plane should have been ferried out to PHX as was originally planned but as we know MX control knows better than us when it comes to such things. Instead of ferrying the plane to PHX the door was ferried to us and of course the plane sat here for three days because:

We have no parts.
We have no tooling.
The new threshold plate came without any holes and was then mis-drilled.
PHX mechanics had to come and RESCUE us.
The new door had to be fitted into the old opening.

On day two I went out to the plane to get some grip lengths for our manager, this was before the PHX rescue mission, I decided to check and see how far off the new mis-drilled threshold was. when I put it on I saw that only two of the holes were off, and those holes were not off by much. One hole was almost off by half a hole the other by about a quarter of a hole. I hate to say this but I think that I could have made it work. The persons assigned to the job were not real happy about doing it and so I think they found a convenient stopping point once they saw that the holes were a little off.

This is a recurring theme at OAK. We have people who are not interested in going the extra mile of trying to solve problems in order to get planes fixed. As I keep saying we in OAK cried, and cried about doing OPC mods (moving the On Board Computers in the -300 AC) until they stopped assigning them to us and MX Control thinks we will be able to hang a new cargo door? Any non-sched mechanic would have drilled out those holes and put larger fasteners or washers or something on it to make it work. Like I said this was an old plane and it has no winglets, and only one FMC so I believe SWA is going to be getting rid of it soon. A couple of button head fasteners instead of flush ones would not hurt this plane in any way shape or form.

The PHX guys came in and actually did the real maintenance work that the OAK guys didn't want to do. When they were half way through they came back to the shop and what really amazed them was that no one came out to watch them and maybe learn how to do the job for the next time. That says a lot about the level of work ethic in OAK and about what we once had that seems to be missing now-pride of workmanship.

Guys are more interested in resting than working and god forbid you ask them to try and learn something new. This is one of the things that is chasing me out of this station. Sure it's expensive to live here and I have personal reasons for leaving but this laziness is one of the things that makes it all little easier to make the move. I'm not sure if any of that exists in DAL but I am sure that it has been lost in OAK and that's a real sad thing for me to think about. I have learned a lot from a lot of people while working in OAK but now there are way more people who need to learn way more but don't want to. They have us out numbered.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Boise Road Trip

Last weekend we had only four guys working on day shift. As usual when there are only four mechanics working everything went to pot quickly. Amid the din of the radio calls for remoting, gate calls, and general upheaval, there was a phone call. The call was from Maint Control, and pertained a broken plane in Boise.

Those of us who have been to Boise know that once we get there (from Oakland) there is no way to get back until late in the day. The only return flight after like 9am is one at 6:45pm. This makes Boise road trips very desirable. A guy on day shift (me) could fly up to Boise, fix a plane and wait until 6:45pm to fly home, thereby getting a whole shift of OT.

Boise Terminal

Of course I agreed to go. I went on the trip with a guy I'll call Tang. Tang and I got all our tools and, with the help of the stores guy, all the parts needed. We were told there was a hydro leak and to take an electric pump with us.  Once we got on the plane and settled I sat back and tried to relax. When we pushed back from the gate I closed my eyes to sleep on the way up when Tang says "why are we turning around?" Sure enough we were turning back toward the terminal. The Captain comes on the PA and says that there is a light on in the cockpit that should be out. Tang and I went up front to talk to the crew and found out that the FO Pitot Static light was on.

Make a long story short we had to fix the plane that we took to fix the other plane. After changing the Pitot Tube the rest of the flight was uneventful.

Tang and I got to Boise and checked the plane out, sure enough there was a leak but luckily the pump itself was leaking so we just had to swap it out and go eat lunch and wait the 4 hours until we could make it back to Oakland. Boise sure is a premium road trip, when it comes up. These days road trips are getting scarce since LAX MX is the road trip station now.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tool Spotlight-Cordless Drills

The cordless drill is one of those things that a Line Mechanic needs to do his daily job. It is as essential as the screwdriver these days. You may think that since we typically do not remove panels and drill rivets out that you can get away without a cordless drill but you would be mistaken. I will say that the drill is not so much used as a drill but as a screw gun. The typical usage for a Line Mechanic would be removing landing light lenses or cover to get at position lights, etc. I have a Hitachi 12V cordless drill which I carry on my golf cart to all gate calls.
The drill came with the light, the apex bits, two batteries and the charger. It also came in a case which I keep it in, in my cart. The one pictured is an 18V but I went ahead and bought the 12V model instead. When I went looking for a drill to buy I wanted to keep it under $100 and I wanted something on the small side of the spectrum. For our work I figured it was useless carrying around a huge, long, heavy drill. Plus a drill my size fits into spaces like the airconditioning bays on the plane and other small spaces quite easily. I went with the 12V because it is the smallest of the Hitachi models (at that time) and it was a lot cheaper than the 14V, 18V or bigger models. I know that a lot of guys would not dare buy a 12V because the higher models provide more...something. We at SWA have been using company provided 12V drills since I got hired so I figured that 12V was good enough. The light has even come in handy, especially working in the wheel wells at night.

Recently the Lithion Ion batteried tools have come out and they are much lighter than the Nicad batteries like the one in my drill. A few of the guys at work have purchased the Makita Impact Driver and Impact Drills.

I like these bad boys! They are real light, real small, and real powerful. They are a little expensive but seem worth the cost of about $200.00. I like the case and we all know Makita is a good brand.

While on the subject of cordless drills there are some people who use them TOO MUCH. I can't tell you the number of times I've had to get out my hammer and large flat bladed screw driver to notch the safety screws on the nose tires because some fool used a drill with a clutch set on like 10 to install them. These screws should be hand tight plus like a quarter turn. I have seen guys use drills to remove and install 1/4 turn fasteners! My all time favorite is removing the wingtip on the 737-300s to replace the position lights only to find out that some goon has installed them with their drill clutch set on 10 or even to drill!! Lets start to think about the next guy when we are working.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just Imagine!!

Some Concept Airliners.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

You Have Heard Of Morning People? What About A Morning Plane?

These past few days have been busy here in Oakland Line MX. The crew is now staffed to four guys on the weekend and Saturday happened to be one of those days when we only had four guys. Sounds like four should be good but we also had 10 aircraft parked at the remote parking all of which had to be moved within about a two hour period. Our remote parking area "Tango" has provisions for "stacking" the planes, in other words spot Tango 10 has a fwd and an aft position. For Tango 10 aft to remote it must wait for Tango 10 fwd to move first. Once you figure in late rampers, late operations people, late mechanics, you can see how four guys can get overwhelmed by the number of moves that have to go on.

This was the case on Saturday morning when two guys were trapped on planes waiting to remote by a ground stop in Burbank due to fog. The ground stop prevented the plane on the gate from pushing which kept a plane on Tango, which in turn trapped another plane in the aft position at Tango. It was very busy and crazy but not what I was going to write about.

There was a plane, an originator, that called with a question. I had actually moved the plane from Tango 7 about 40 minutes earlier. When I first boarded the plane when it was at Tango the APU would not start. After two tries it finally lit off and I moved her. When the crew called I was stuck on Tango so another guy went to the call.

Apparently what was happening was the FO's instruments were losing power. This sounds like a problem that can be troubleshot but not this time. The problem was that this would happen occasionally when the ground power was powering the plane, then it would fix itself and the problem would shift to the APU power. I'm not sure I said that correctly so: The FO's instruments would go down when the plane was powered by the ground power. it would work fine while the APU generator was powering the bus. Then it would go away and come back but this time the problem would be while the APU was powering the bus.

After deplaning and grounding the plane everything worked fine. We all went back to the shop and sat around the table trying to decide the correct course of action. After some discussion we figured that we should run the engines to see if the problem would show up while the plane was on the engine generators. If all worked well we would MEL the APU generator, which is what we ended up doing.

I came to work for midnight shift and of course the plane was spending the night in Oakland! One of the guys changed some relays and could not get it to break.

The next morning: "Maintenance, electrical question at gate 23". Guess which plane it was?? Once again after some switching and prodding the problem went away.

I figure, and I have experienced, this morning plane syndrome. There are some planes that take a long time to wake up for that first flight, but then seem to work fine the rest of the day. These temper mental planes need an extra start attempt, another power switch, a good swift hit with the trusty MagLite to get them going. Ever wonder why people refer to planes as she or her. I submit that this is the reason.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The View from The Ground

When you were a kid and you flew on an airplane I can guarantee that you begged your parents for the window seat and sat in awe of the people who worked outside getting the plane ready for your flight. I know I did and I affected me so much that I started my career in aviaiton at a very young age.

Although that kid is still inside me somewhere the view from the ground, working on these beasts has somewhat tarnished. I'm not sure if it is the fact that the work is hard, the work is often thankless, or the work sometimes has to be done under extreme pressure or circumsatnce. I love airplanes and I love working on them and I don't think that will ever end. What has ended is my desire to go the extra mile while I'm at work. I still do more than most I think but there was a time that I did way more than was required of me.

This may be a normal "growing" process that I am going through but the "edge" or the "eye of the tiger" has left me. I am an "old school" guy and the way things have changed in our industry has left me behind. I recently took an on line test to renew my Taxi and Run up privledges within SWA. Fourteen years ago when I began my career at SWA I took a similar test. The test was not on line of course but instead relied on one of the Senior mechanics to instruct me on how to safely operate an engine and perform taxi manuvers with proficiency. This process probably took 3 weeks in total. I had never taxiied an airplane or even had run up rivledges at Delta Airline so I soaked all the new info up like a sponge. The mechanic teaching us was methodical an often predictable with the emergency scenarios he threw at us but it was a very effective way to teach.

The first time I taxiied there were a couple of flight attendants on board watching us. As you know when you first throttle up and the plane just begins to move, you do a break check to ensure they are working correctly. Being the first time I was doing this I really slammed on the breaks, the plane STOPPED and our guests went sprawling forward and into the flight deck. The first time I taxied to the gate I was off the J-Line by about two feet so I had to buy Doughnuts for the guys.

Long and short of it: I learned by doing. Fast forward 14 years. I'm sitting in front of a computer which gives me a lesson and the a test. Much to my dismay there are 11 parts to the Taxi and Engine Start each one taking about 45 mins to go through, test, and review if necessary. At the end of the thing is the Final Exam. So that's a total of 12 tests and about two shifts of course work to go through. I have to say I feel like this is a result of the company not taking care of those mechanics who mess up, while taxiing, there by requiring all of us to sit through this torture. I learned less in those 11 lessons than I did 14 years earlier and I killed a bunch of brain cells by staring at a computer monitor for 8 hours over the course of two days. Add to this that I still had to go out and do gate calls when it was my turn and you can see that for a guy like me this is no way to learn something. I passed, and I passed with a very good grade, but I hardly learned any thing new.

That is the direction that this job is going for me. More and more rules and procedures with less and less reward. It's like the growing trend for a second mechanic to check your work when you are done. I do not like this and I'm sure there is more stuff like that to come. I will still work my best and do my job as well as I can but the atmosphere at work has changed and I do not seem to be able to change with it.