Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New Airplanes Coming Our Way-737 MAX

When I first got hired at SWA we were still taking delivery of brand new 737-300s. We had many of the old 737-200s still in our fleet at that time. We had a few old, tired, beat up 500s  and the rumor was that Boeing was going to offer the 737-700 for us to purchase. Boy how times have changed!


Since then the 200s have been phased out, we have more 700s than 300s and we are still running those old, tired, beat up 500s. The problem we have at SWA is that the 700s are so reliable now that it has spotlighted how (I don't want to say unreliable) much work it requires to keep the older 300s and those God-forsaken 500s flying. A while after we got our 700s we transitioned them out of the maintenance program that the 300s were in and into a program that was a better fit for the 700s. That program, which uses MV (Maintenance Visits) instead of the old A, B, C, and D checks allows for better utilization of the Next Gen aircraft. Ultimately the program allows the MVs to be stretched out a little farther apart than the old Check system.


The problem is, in my opinion, that we also put the 300s and 500s on this MV style program. The older planes do not have the component reliability that the Next Gen planes do. As a result the older planes are getting rather "beat up" as a result. Most of the mechanics at SWA would agree that the 3s and 5s are getting to be a little long in the tooth. It was pretty obvious that Management would have to do something about the older planes pretty soon.

Enter the 737-MAX. This plane is basically a re-engined and re-geared 737 Next Gen. The engines are bigger which required a new set up of the landing gear in order to keep them from dragging on the ground! There are a lot of numbers being thrown around right now but it seems to me to be around a 10% savings in fuel and operating costs. The new engine is a CFM-Leap1b  which has a composite fan section and some other changes they claim will make it the best thing since sliced bread.

737-MAX copyright Boeing Co.

As any one who knows me can attest to I do not like change. I almost freaked out when we ordered the 737-800s due in March, but I like this 737-MAX for a few reasons:

It saves fuel.
It reduces maintenance issues involved with the 300s and 500s.
It saves fuel.
It's made in America.
It saves fuel.
It's not an Airbus.
It saves fuel.
It's not a re-skinned 300. Thank God that idea seems to be headed out the window!
It's got those cool looking scalloped engine nacelles.

Bottom line is: Fuel is our biggest cost. If we can save whatever percent of our fuel I'm for it. A while ago one of the big wigs in Dallas said a 1% savings in fuel saves the company something like one billion dollars! I know I'm going to sound like a cool-aid drinker here but that is money that can go into my Profit Sharing!

Did I mention that the 500s were old, tired and beat up?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Clothing As Tools?

A while ago I wrote a blog about these gloves that are out there for mechanics such as MECHANIX brand work gloves. I know that a lot of guys think that these gloves are a waste of time. The company supplies us with suitable rubber-type work gloves for no charge. I have been using the MECHANIX gloves as well as other brands-one from Walmart and one from Big Time Products.

When I started this little test I figured it would be done in a month or so and I would prove that, as I suspected, the name brand work gloves were not worth the extra money. Well that was about six months ago and these damn gloves are still going strong! I have been taking them to work in turn and bringing them home to clean them up. The companies all claim that the gloves are washable but they do not advise putting them into the dryer. In my test I throw the gloves into the washer with my work clothes and then throw them right into the dryer.

I like the gloves! They are WAY better than the gloves supplied by work! The MECHANIX brand gloves are my favorite of the bunch but they do not edge the others by much. All grip better, fit better, and are more durable than the work supplied gloves. I  can see now why people use these things. If one pair would last me let's say 3 months of constant use then I would only require to purchase 4 pairs a year. Factor in Christmas and I'm only out of pocket 3 times a year. I think that for $20.00 these things are a good solid investment for a serious mechanic.

Another mechanic at the job got some work pants from BLAKADER. These pants are made from a tough denim material, think Dickies type pants only thicker. These pants are available in different styles. They have good deep pockets and best of all they incorporate a knee pad into the pant itself. For old guys like me with bad knees you know how important that is. The guy really likes them and I am thinking of investing in a pair to try them out.

I did buy some work pants from DULUTH TRADING CO. Duluth offers what they call the Firehose work pant. These pants have very deep pockets for carrying parts and tools, they have reinforced belt loops, and  they are made of the same material that covers firehoses. Duluth claims they are water, oil and blood resistant. I bought them because they "Dare you to wear 'em out". 

All this may sound like a big sales pitch by me but I recently figured out something. I have tools that make my job easier, I have a golf cart to carry all the special stuff I keep in it to make my job easier. The uniform supplied are good, adequate, but not really purpose built for the jobs we do. I figure if I'm going to do this job for another 20-25 years I should take it seriously and use any resource available to me to make that time productive, safe and most of all comfortable. I'm old now adequate is not really going to cut it anymore.

Clothing can be and should be considered tooling. We pay a lot of money to buy the best tools to complete our jobs. With the clothing out there being more and more useful for our trade as well as more durable than the company supplied alternative I think it is a worth while investment.

Stay tuned to find out if these Duluth work pants are worth it or not...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

If At First You Don't Succeed...Try Another Part.

Last week at work we were presented with an airplane that had a problem which should have been a simple fix but in fact turned out to be a real headache. This is the type of thing that happens every now and then that keeps the job interesting.

The plane can in a day before I started my work week. The original call was for a hydraulic leak at the engine. The fitting that was leaking was identified as one from the Engine Driven Hyd Pump. Ti cut off the hydraulic supply to the pump the fire handle for that engine was pulled which closed the gate Valve for that engine. Unfortunately it also set into motion a series of events that ultimately doomed the troubleshooting and nerves of several mechanics and several days worth of lost revenue for the aircraft.

The fitting had a bad O ring on it, which was changed and leak checked. The plane was dispatched but had to return to the airport after the A system "Low Press" light came on about 20 mins into the flight.

That night the engine pump was changed, the filters were changed, the electric hyd pump was changed after it was found leaking as well. As a hunch one of the mechanics checked that Gate Valve which isolates the engine from the rest of the hydraulic system. Turns out the Gate Valve was sticking and not operating smoothly. The valve was R&R'd.

After a leak check the system operated per the MM and the plane was put back into service. The following morning the plane took off and once again came back the the airport with the "Low Press" light illuminated. The engine pump was so hot it had changed color!

Those of you who are mechanics know that a double air return is now a serious issue and that the FAA is going to be checking it out. It also tends to get the attention of MX Control.

The engine pump was changed again, filters, the system drained and that's where I came in. I was working midnight shift overtime and I was working with another guy who I'll call Gold Brick. Gold Brick and I changed the A system Hyd Module, refilled the system and had to stop and wait for parts due in in the morning. I should also mention that the supply and return line to the pump were also changed.

Once the parts came in we installed them and did our leak check. We also ran the engine at idle for 10 minutes to see if anything happened. After this run we verified that there was fluid in the case drain filter. The case drain system is responsible for cooling the pump while it runs. All was good. By now it was Day shift and I was working with another guy I'll call Hearing Aid. Hearing Aid and I figured we would take the plane out and do a high power run for 20 mins to make sure all was ok.

We taxied out to the run up area and powered up to about 73% power and set the clock to time the run. Occasionally we would power up to about 85%. Everything was good until the 9 minute mark. Sure enough the "Low Press" light came on. Hearing Aid quickly throttled back and turned off the engine pump but the damage was done.

We taxied back to the overnight parking area and opened her up. Sure enough the pump was hot, when I opened the case drain system the fluid was hot. By now it was Swing shift and I had to leave.

As it turns out this is not the first time this has happened on a 700 series plane so we were getting help from all over with further trouble shooting. A Tech Foreman flew in and helped the guys on midnight  shift. Again they changed the pump, all the filters, all the lines, all the fluid and finally came to a little check valve which is in the case drain system right before it goes into the hydraulic cooler. That check valve was stuck. Since the valve was stuck the cooling was effectively shut off to that pump which allowed it to run for about 15 mins before it cooked itself to death.

So a little $200 check valve cost this plane a weeks worth of revenue, the cost of six or seven mechanics (several on OT), three pumps, several filters, two sets of hydraulic lines, I would say 15 to 20 gallons of hydraulic fluid and a lot of blood sweat and tears.

The plane flew fine on it's next trip. I know because after all that we decided that we should do a test flight for the plane. I was lucky enough to go on the test flight and monitored the A system pressures. As I said all was good.

It seems that when these things happen it is almost always a little part that fixes the issue. It's one of those things that you remember for your whole career. "Hey, remember that plane with that hydraulic pump....?"

Monday, October 10, 2011

Brute Force and Ignorance

A while ago when I worked at Delta Airlines I was as green as green could be. When we took lunch or had a break we would talk about what we were working on. That was the first time I heard the phrase "brute force and ignorance". When I would ask how this one guy fixed something he would almost always respond: "with brute force and ignorance". Being a young, newly minted airline mechanic I took this as just another saying.

Fast forward 20 years and it is amazing how true that saying is. How many times have we as mechanics got something to work by hitting it? How many engine driven hyd pumps have you installed by kicking or hitting it into place? How many times have you got something working and were totally ignorant as to how you did it?

Of course most of the time when there is a problem, you replace a part and that solves the issue. Most of the time when your flight crew explains a problem you have some idea of what is wrong. This is why we are professionals and this is why we are paid for our knowledge, but there is the always that one problem that simply goes away. There are always things that get stuck and the only way to un-stick it is to beat it up.

It's one of those things I really love about working jets. Those are the mysteries that keep the job interesting. Any one can change a VHF Receiver, but lets see them change that engine driven hydraulic pump on a turn, while it's hot, utilizing a scrap piece of 2x4 and a huge hammer named "big daddy" by it's owner. Those are the things you remember. Brute Force and Ignorance is not something that should be practiced every day out on the line but those that can apply it when necessary are the all around mechanics that I want to work with.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"That's A Hangar Job!!!"

We in OAK work Line Maintenance. We do a lot of landing light changes, avionics work, and tire and brake changes. We have no hangar so we do not do hangar work. What I want everyone to know is that while we do not have a hangar we do do work that would typically be described as "Hangar Work".

When I first think of what constitutes hangar work I think of major overhaul and HMVs (Heavy Maintenance Visits). What most people do not know about SWA MX OAK is that we also do a lot of work that some would consider hangar work. We do engine changes, gear actuators, APU changes, strut repacks, gear swings and even have done some pretty substantial sheet metal work.

Some people may think that working the Line would get them away from those types of jobs but in fact they are a lot more common than not. The trick of doing these jobs is that the weather does not always cooperate. I have done all the above jobs outside and in the rain and wind.

People who do Line Maintenance look to not having a hangar as part of the challenge. Way back in the day we used to Taxi over to the Oakland Alaska Airline maintenance hangar. They were nice enough to let us use their roof from time to time when they were still open. We also used to taxi on over to the United hangar when they were still open.

Occasionally I hear people at work complain that some job that they have been assigned is a "hangar job". I think they should watch what they wish for. The company could decide that they are right. If that happens and work is taken away from OAK why do we need 53 mechanics? On the flip side the company may review some of these jobs and start assigning us way more work that does not necessarily require a hangar to complete.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Maintenance Dictionary of Terms

We all know that we have our own language in maintenance. I have written blogs about "hog" pliers, "the angle of the dangle", etc.  I am sure that we all have our own contributions to the "Maintenance Dictionary". It is an ever evolving language that will change time and time again as long as there are guys swinging wrenches.

There is one guy at our shop who has coined his fair share of terms that we use here in OAK. I would like to share these terms with you guys and maybe you guys have some terms you would like to add to our Dictionary. Thank you to the mechanic I will call- Non-Sched for your library of terms.

Your Turn in the Barrel                                       It's your turn to work the broke plane.

Smoking a Turd in Purgatory                               What ever you are doing is going to damn you to hell.

Quick Flip                                                            Working a shift-being off for 8hrs and coming back.

IFE                                                                        In Flight Emergency

Change the Big Part                                              R/Ring the largest, most expensive piece in the system.

Rag Wrench It!                                                      Wiping a leak down and calling it good.                                                                                Derogatory  remark. "All he did was rag wrench it!"

Change the Carburetor                                          Change the MEC or HMU on an engine.

Putting out Fires                                                    Solving all the issues pilots have.

Take it to the Box                                                   Take the plane to the run up hole.

Men Who Stare at Planes                                      Mechanics who don't work very hard.

Push it to the Pad                                                   Take the plane off line-ground it.

Fielding Gate Calls                                                The process of answering and doing gate calls

Make it go Bye Bye                                               Fix it and get it out of town.

Your on Deck                                                        You are next up for a call.

Is it Taco'd?                                                            Is it messed up beyond repair?

Premium Call                                                         A very easy gate call

Jamalphed                                                              All messed up

Not Enough Bounces                                             Not enough landings

Dolls Eye Indicator                                                 Ball indicator

GSP                                                                         Gravy Sucking Pig

There are more but some are not easily translated into something that would make sense to anyone but a person who was around at the time, like "Swivel Hips".

All these terms are an amalgamation of years of airline experience, people, and actions. These are terms that are used almost daily here in OAK and will be with me long after my time at SWA is over. Some may think that these types of things don't mean much but I argue that they do. If you know that it's "your turn in the barrel" then you may be "changing the big part" because the old one is "taco'd". When you are done you can "take it to the box" and if your good and not just a "man who stares at planes" then you can "make it go bye bye". And that's what we are all about.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Work Of Team Work

Last Saturday at work was one for those days that you never forget. From the moment we clocked in we were busy. There were planes to move and a grounded plane that needed the turbo-fan boot replaced. The lead got all the remoters assigned and I volunteered to change the turbo-fan boot. I've R&R'd turbo-fans before so I remember monkeying around with the boot. The part came in from Phoenix around 630 am so I picked it up and hopped into my golf cart for a nice morning drive out to Tango. On the way out there I noticed that one of the other day shift mechanics was following me out. I figured he was just driving to his remote plane so I thought nothing of it.

Once I got to the plane the other mechanic, I'll call him Banyan, drove up. I asked him if he was supposed to remote the plane I was working on but he said that he was just checking out the turbo-fan boot thing. The turbo-fan boot is a flexible duct that gets installed between the turbo-fan and the exhaust duct towards the aft of the airconditioning bay. The boot is held in by two large clamps, one on each side. sounds easy enough. As I started to install the new boot I put the clamp on the aft exhaust duct and then tried to put the forward clamp on. The problem was that I needed to pull the boot forward while positioning the clamp and at the same time tightening the clamp. Long story short Banyan was there and was able to pull the duct forward while I positioned and tightened the clamp.

The next thing was a gate call for an engine bleed trip. The Lead Mechanic, lets call him-Shooter, rode out there with me. We got permission from MX Control to lock out the bleed air system on the #2 engine. I grabbed the core-cowl pump before we left and we had that thing open, the PRSOV locked out, and the engine closed in about 7-8 minutes. The paper work took longer than the actual work.

That Saturday we had a plane with a DEU problem that required mechanic in the office to look up fault codes, a FO seat that had issues, and all the normal Saturday day shift calls (oils, hydraulics, radio issues, window washes, coffee makers, passenger seat problems). The day was simply humming with work.

The last example I will share from that day was a hydraulic leak. The FO did his walk around and found a hydro leak in the right wheel well. Four of us went to check it out, myself, Shooter, Banyan, and another mechanic-El Gato. The wheel well was a fog of hydro fluid. El Gato was trying to find the leak but the fluid getting into his eyes and lungs kept driving him out of the wheel well. The stores clerk brought out eye protection and a mask for him while he and Banyan continued to search out the pin hole leak. Any time there is hyd. fog like that the leak is a pin hole or very small crack in a component or line. Shooter went upstairs to switch the pump on and off and I was relaying when to do that on the radio. Once they found the leak El Gato started to take the line apart and Banyan went to get the temp-line kit. I went to get some gray tubs for the dripping fluid to go into instead of just letting it go all over the ground.

El Gato and Banyan had the line out and the new temp-line in while Shooter did the paperwork and I cleaned up and just helped out by handing tools to them etc. We took maybe an hour total hit on the plane but it was done and done right.

All of the above happened before noon. In the 5 \1/2 hours from 6:30 to 12 we worked all those issues and worked together often with out the need to ask for help or even the need to verbally communicate between us. The teamwork that was displayed was amazing. One mechanic knew what to do and others knew if he needed help doing it. If he went upstairs I stayed down stairs to do what needed to be done. If he is going to remove, whatever, he's going to need this tool or that tool so I better grab it.

The foremen recently asked all of us how to improve the teamwork here at OAK. I'm starting to believe that teamwork comes naturally to some. The thing about last Saturday and the guys working is that they have worked together for a while now, some even before starting at SWA. These guys know how to work and how to work together. Banyan knew that he did not have to ride out to Tango in the morning to "check out the turbo-fan boot". He also knew that, while the job could be done by one guy, the job would be done quicker if that one guy had a hand at the crucial last clamp!

Are these things that can be taught? Remember that in order to learn one has to be willing to be taught! The work of teamwork is that teamwork works, but only if you have the right team.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Batter-OH I Mean-Mechanic Up!!

In every shop there are guys that the other guys don't think are pulling their weight. I think it is just the way it is. In any work group in any industry you will probably find the same thing.

Last week when I was at work we were pretty busy for most of the weekend. When it finally died down the guys put the show "The Franchise" on the TV. The show is about the SF Giants and the year they are having. A kind of behind the scene take on what goes on when no one is watching and what goes on to the players and their lives. It's a pretty good show, and I'm no big baseball fan.

One of the story lines was a player who got called up from the minors because of another player being injured. The guy did well but once the injured guy came back the called up player went into a slump. The Manager calls him into the office and sits him down. The Manager says "Look you know that you have been struggling, Big Bob is back and hitting good. I'm going to have to send you down (to the minors again). You have proved you can play up here (the major league), once you do some improvement you will be back."

On of the mechanics turns to me and says "Imagine we could do that to the mechanics here. They screw up over and over and they get sent down to the minors."

I thought this was a great idea! If there was a threat that you as a mechanic could be sent to a commuter airline (if there are commuter mechanics that read this blog, I apologize up front, but that is the way major airline people think). I bet that people would be a lot less irresponsible with their work!

I can picture it now: The boss comes in in the morning and calls Joe MechanCant into the office. He sits him down and says something like this:
"Joe you really screwed up that repair last night. On top of that you have two late punch ins and your paperwork keeps coming back because you are always screwing it up. I'm not sure what is going on with you MechanCant but we are going to send you down to the commuters. If you can manage to get you act together we will try to make a spot for you again".

How crazy would that be?!? Think of it from the other side. A guy got out of school, was scouted while there and picked by a commuter or 135 operation out in Colorado. After a few years there he has proven that he is worth his salt. The Airline Scouts hear about him and review his records, they even come out to talk to his boss and watch him work. After a month or so the airline scout has a meeting with his boss. Next thing you know the mechanic gets an offer to come to the big leagues!

If the mechanic is really good he may get a competing offer from another airline. Only the best of the best would be picked.

I know that it seems strange to suggest that everyone starts in a lower position like that at a 135 operation, but, think of the pay off for the airline. The mechanics who make it to an airline are the top of the bunch. There is a reason for the mechanics to strive to do their best. If the mechanic wants to screw off and be lazy he or she risks being sent down.

We all want to be the highest paid in the industry. We all know that there are guys making the same money as we do that are worth a lot less. We want to solve the industry problems we need to reevaluate how we hire and keep employees.

Let's scout the good ones out!!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Lost Art Of The Practical Joke

When I first started at SWA there were a few characters in the shop who were great at the art of the practical joke. As the years have gone on the majority of those guys have transferred out or quit or have been fired. Those few who remain have been corralled by MGT into toning down the joking and pranks in our ever growing PC (politically correct) world. "Someones feeling may get hurt so it must be a bad thing."

To honor the old days and the guys who knew how to have fun at work I am going to share some of the pranks we used to pull. I can't recount them all because this post would be too long so I will only recount a few now and maybe it will be a recurring post.

The first is an old airline standard: The New Plane Air Sample

To pull this prank all you had to do was find a relatively new AC and some new hire Flight Attendant or Ramper. We would go up to the cabin find the newbie and give them a garbage bag. The would be told that since this was a new plane we needed air samples taken and ask them to go to the aft galley and wave the bag around to fill it up and then quickly tie the bag shut. Then they would go to the back and we would marvel at how seriously they would take their new job. This also works for Rampers and Cargo Bin air samples.

The Mechanic or Supervisor in training prank.

There was a guy who I will call Picard. Picard was one of those guys who was good at thinking up pranks and very good at execution of the prank. Picard would find out who was going to DAL for training and then figure out what hotel and room they were staying in. We all worked graveyard at the time so at around 3am DAL time he would call the room and tell the guy he had to move his rental car because he parked in the wrong area or whatever.
When the guy came back we would ask him about it, and they would all admit that they got up and moved the car or that they were in the elevator before they realized that Picard had got them.

Mice and Rats

We had a mechanic who I will call Prince. Prince was easily scared. When he was frightened he would scream like a girl!! You could sneak up behind him when he was changing a tire and yell BOO and he would jump three feet.
The guys found a dead mouse one day and tied a string around it's neck then taped the string to the inside of an Altoids tin. When you opened the tin the mouse's head would pop up out. This tin was left on the table in the break room and of course people would open the tin and get a surprise. When Prince opened the tin and the mouse popped up he screamed and jumped and the tin went flying across the room.
One of our best capers was when we cornered a killed a huge rat. This thing was the size of a small cat and had huge sharp teeth. We knew Prince was working day shift the next morning so we came up with a scheme. We tied the dead rat to an inboard landing light box with safety wire and tape, leaving about a foot of slack between the box and the rat. Then we positioned the box on the shelf so that it was closest and so the natural choice of anyone who would grab a light. When Prince came in we got in a place where we could see the show. Prince being a smoker was out in front of the shop near the landing light rack. We put out a fake call for a landing light change. Prince said he would get it and grabbed the box. To his surprise a huge rat came jumping off the rack from behind the landing light box! Prince went screaming and jumping out the parts room door. The best part was that he held onto the landing light box and so the rat was swinging after him all the way out the shop!

We had probbies trying to recylce old landing light bulbs (another Picard stunt).
We used to put Dave's Insanity Sauce (a really hot hot sauce) on cookies and popcorn and even in coffee.
Picard was a master at putting tiny holes into the coffee cups and watching people spill all over themselves.
Back in the day before computer orders for uniforms we would change peoples uniform pant size to something like 28 waist 42 length.
We used to tell the probbies that Wed was free coffee day in the terminal for SWA employees, they would go up stairs and show their badge and the coffee shop lady would look at them like fools. We had to stop that when one probbie took orders from everyone and ended up putting over $60 of coffee on his credit card.

All this does is remind me how much has changed at SWA MX in Oakland. These things would never fly these days. Too much babying of grown men. I couldn't imagine scaring someone with a dead rat these days. I would get time off with no pay because I hurt their pride or something. Stay tuned for more pranks from back in the day.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Maintenance -A Language Of It's Own

My wife is a pilot. A lot of my wife's friends are pilots. When her pilot friends come over or we are spending time with them they always start talking pilot talk and I have no idea what they are saying! I started to wonder about aircraft maintenance and  mechanics. Do we have our own language? When outsiders are amongst us aircraft mechanics do they have trouble understanding what we are talking about?

Of course the answer to both of these questions is: YES! We at SWA have our own lingo we revert to when we are in the break room or trouble shooting, etc. We have the tried and true 3 letter (or more) acronyms such as APU, CDS, EGT, FMC, and on and on and on.

There are other things that we say which are airline maint. specific. I started to compile a list of these sayings. Although I am not close to being finished with my list I figured I would share some with you guys and see if you readers have anything to add. With just one weekends work we at the shop came up with the following:

Aisle Donkey          a flight attendant

Dip-Shittery            your basic cluster in progress

Angle of the Dangle          this refers to using wrenches or tools and how the angle of the fastener relates   to the angle of the wrench you are using to remove it.

German Torque          unspecified torque on a bolt or fastener.

Pretzelized          when something is totally out of shape or crushed up

PBA          Prolly-Be-Alright

Lick it, Stick it and Kick it!!     MEL the thing and get it out of here.

Pushin' Tin          The process of keeping planes in the air. Doing maintenance so the plane keeps flying.

These are just a few of the things we say at work and I will keep adding to the list as time goes on. Until then keep Pushin' Tin!!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Things You See At The Airport

I recently wrote about an American Airlines MD-80 that had it's nose gear pulled out by a huge jet tug. That got me thinking about all the cool things and all the strange things you get to see at an airport. I'm going to try and recount some of these things in this post, they are in no particular order and some of the pictures are from the Internet.

One of the nicest rituals practiced at an airport are the fire engine salutes to pilots who are retiring. When the pilot taxis in for the final time the fire engines line the taxi way and shoot arcs of water over the taxi way which the pilot taxis through. I know for those of you who have not witnessed this it seems kind of strange but it really is cool.

This same thing was done recently in OAK for Alaska Airlines. The airline was phasing out the MD-80 and the last MD-80 flight out of OAK was saluted in the same way.

Although the next picture is not as dramatic it shows the sense of unity that work groups at SWA have. There was a Provisioning guy who either retired or was hurt and way from work, or just buried a loved one, or had just returned from Iraq,I can't remember which. Anyway to show their co-worker that they were thinking of him the provo guys lined up their trucks and raised them as a salute.

Of course you get to see all kinds of cool airplanes while working at the airport. One of the first strange planes that I saw come into OAK was one of those huge Russian cargo planes. This one was not the six engined monster but rather it's little brother with four engines. We went over to check it out and it was a tank. The thing I remember most about that plane was the tires. All the tires were bald and most of them had patches on them. This stuck in my head because we at SWA change tires when they first show patch so for me to see these bad tires was crazy.

We also get to see a lot of fighter jets doing fly bys and buzzing the field. One time during Fleet Week in the Bay Area a mechanic and I drove over to the old United/World hangar to check out the Blue Angels who were using the area to set up for the show. We drove our little pick-up over there and stayed a respectable distance from them as they set up. One of their mechanics strolled up to us and we figured he was going to tell us to leave. Instead he says that he noticed our truck had a tow hitch and would we mind towing a ground power unit over to one of the planes for him? HELL YEAH we will. That was pretty cool in a maintenance geek type of way.

On another day I was out in the remote parking area trying to start one of the piece of junk man lifts that we had back then. I had my back to the airport and was facing the bay. This tremendous roar swept over me and about 100 feet passing directly over me was a B-17. I think he got permission to do a low pass over the field, saw me up on this man lift with my back to him and decided to have some fun.

At night I have seem falling stars, satellites, and even the space shuttle as it passed over head. I have seem all kinds of birds and I've seem all kinds of birds that have been hit by the airplanes. We got called for a bird strike once and found a whole bird wrapped around the number two brake.

One of the coolest things I saw was when Delta Airlines brought home the body of a soldier killed in Iraq. The whole airport was silent. Normally there is constant radio chatter but they requested that no one make any calls as the plane taxied to the gate. The family was escorted to the plane by some military vehicles and watched their kid get unloaded and put into a Hearst. The family drove away and there must have been over a hundred guys on Harleys waiting at the gate who escorted the family home with American flags flying on their bikes, very emotional.

I'll try to remember some more but a lot of these things happened before I got into the habit of taking pictures at work. These things are all the stuff that make working at an airport fun. Away from all the union things, job security issues, TSA garbage, its things like this that a guy in an office building some where down town will never get to experience.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Oil, oil and more OIL!!!

Those of you who work Line Maintenance know that a good portion of the calls we get during the course of the day are for things like coffee makers, seat belts, window washes, and of course oil. This past week started off normal enough. I start work mid week and one of the first calls was for oil. This is not unusual but as the day progressed it seemed like all the flight crews wanted oil. There were 5 or 6 of us on shift that day and I would bet that each of us went through 2 or 3 cases of oil EACH!!

We have a table that we put our empty oil cans on to drain out the last bits of oil and make the cans clean for the recyclers. The table was full and the cans were stacked! I know that this happens every now and then but this seemed to be excessive. Easily every other call was for oil I was amazed.

Turns out that the flight crews have a new requirement that says they must call Maintenance Control if they are at a station with no SWA maintenance and their oil qty is 65% or lower. I can only guess as to the reasoning behind this but I'm sure that if the dollars and cents, nitty gritty, nuts and bolts were explained to me, then it would make total sense. What I do know is that the flight crews do not want to talk to Maintenance Control. They like talking to them so little that they make sure that they get the oil filled up at a Maintenance Station, like OAK.

I admit that it is tiresome to go out and put 2 or 3 quarts of oil into an engine. I start to think things like "It's raining out here, the Captain is nice and dry upstairs and called me out in this mess to put a lousy 2 quarts of oil in the engine?!" Of course there are times when I have put over 10 quarts into an engine and that pisses me off too. "How could these fools leave whatever station they were at with the oil being so low?" It really irks me that  they would treat the engines, my engines like that.

I think whats going on is that the company wants to save as much money as possible and it really is kind of silly to have to pay contract maintenance to put oil in a plane that just left OAK (or where ever) one or two legs ago. Saving money helps SWA put food on my table so I guess I will go oil up that plane in the rain, snow, heat, dark even if it's a mere two quarts. It's taking care of our engines and our bottom line, two birds-one can of oil, type of thing.

Monday, May 30, 2011

An Incident From Back In The Day

When you work at an airport you get to see a lot of interesting things. I have witnessed near miracles and near tragedies. This following story falls some place in the middle.

I was working day shift with the usual band of odd balls. In OAK there are 32 gates. SWA has 12 of them. On any given night there are 22 aircraft that spend the night, as a result we have to move up to 10 planes each night to our remote parking area. When this incident happened there were were fewer gates, a total of 27 of which we at SWA used 11.

We were not the only game in town and there are other airlines that also push their planes off the gates at night. One of those airlines was American Airlines (AA no longer flies into Oakland). After all the SWA planes had been brought to the gates we noticed a commotion over by the MD-80 which AA has parked out on the ramp over night parking.

I rolled out there with my buddy SkyWalker and the nose gear on the MD-80 was pulled out of the strut.

The picture above is how she looked when we got there. When I worked at Delta we used to move MD-80s around with bag tugs, but that was not going to do it for this bunch of idiots! The contract ramp company had hooked up a wide-body tug that looked like it could have pulled the airport terminal building itself across the ramp up to this poor little MD-80.

The communication between the cockpit and the tug driver was not what I would call ideal. It seems that the aircraft brakes were set when the tug driver decided to FLOOR IT!!!

As a result the plane did not budge but that was not going to stop this gigantic tug. The tug proceeded to pull the nose tires/lower strut completely off the plane!

Well as you would expect all the AA big brass managers were all standing around scratching their heads. There was a lady who I assume to be the top OAK manager who asked my pal SkyWalker to stop taking pictures of the plane so naturally in fine SWA fashion he started taking pictures of her instead.

The AA Go-Team or Top notch Mechs showed up a few hours later with airbags and lifted her up.

That part was pretty interesting. The huge bags were inflated and they put in a new strut and the plane was gone the next day.

When she was up off the ground they put some chocks under her from the contract company that did the damage in the first place.

These types of things are happening all the time at airports. I have probably forgotten way more things like this than I can remember but I'll get with SkyWalker and see if he remembers any more.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Black Clouds

As a person who goes to work a lot I will be the first to admit that the majority of the days/shifts I spend at work are pretty unremarkable. Things break and we get them fixed. So why is it that the only days that you remember are the days that the "black cloud" comes out and hovers over you. For example: One night when I was working midnight shift I was assigned two or three planes (I don't remember) and it was raining. My assigned planes were pretty clean on the white board. The white board is where all our planes for the night are written down and any work that is to be done on the  plane is written next to the AC number. The problem with the white board is that once the plane is terminated those nice "clean" planes become a nightmare of pilot write ups and items found during your walk around.

As usual when its raining two of my planes were arriving at almost the same time and both remoting out to Tango. The first one comes in and when I got up stairs the pilot was writing in the log book (not a good sign). He tells me that the FO's windshield wiper is inop, "has been the whole day." One of the long standing jokes in maintenance is that those windshield wipers only seem to break when its raining outside!!  I parked that plane and went back for my second one which had a forward position light out on it. Usually not a problem but like I said it was raining.  I knew from experience that changing a fwd position light in the rain means that, no matter how much rain gear you have on, you are going to get wet.

The following week the black cloud seemed to stay with me. Most of the gate calls I went on turned into huge events with delays and cancelled flights. I grounded a plane on Monday with a Weather Radar problem that I had never seem before. To my amazement I grounded another plane on the following Thursday with the same issue. PSEU lights, Up Lock sensors, Stab Out of Trim lights they all seemed to follow me all week long.

  The last thing was the aft lav issue. I had a gate call that was reported to be a lav switch intermittent. When I get up there I figure out pretty fast that the toilet itself has to be replaced. Of course it has been messed up for like three or four legs now so its full of stuff.  To make sure the problem was not the switch I had to take the cover off which flew out of my hand and directly into the toilet. To make matters worse when it hit the stuff in the toilet the stuff splashed up and went all over the front of my speed suit. Like a trooper I soldiered on and had to take half the wall apart, the cover for the shut off valve apart, the frozen in place mount bolts out.

About this time the FO decided to come to the back of the plane to argue with me about holding passenger boarding. Of course the new toilet had to fight me going back in.

I am headed back to work tomorrow and I hope that the black cloud is gone by then. The work is the same work that I do everyday but on those days when the black cloud is following you the everyday jobs turn into a grind.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spending Money

Last weekend I had an opportunity to assist three guys who were changing a C-Duct (a thrust reverser half) on one of our planes.This plane had been down for two days now costing the company big money. TR halves are very expensive (about half a million bucks I've been told) so we were spending some money that day. These guys had the old TR half off by the time I got out there. I was just going to snap a few pics and be on my way but since I had never changed one before I wanted to check out what they were doing.

Rare sight. No fan cowl and no core cowl!

It turns out that I was able to help out a little with the installation of the new TR half.  It was really windy that day so it was good that I hung around. When Brooklyn picked up the TR half  the with the fork lift the wind caught it immediately and it took two of us to steady the thing while it was positioned.

The different slings and hoists that are engineered to accomplish jobs like this always amaze me. The set up they sent for this was a chain hung from the forks on the fork lift going to a block and then to a pole that connects into a big C shaped frame that connects onto the C Duct.

Muscling the new C Duct in

Those guys got the old C Duct off and the new one on in about two hours! That's a pretty good time. I learned a little along the way and except for the wind it was a very smooth job.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Questions Of The Month

Imagine paying a group of people to troubleshoot, diagnose, and fix a problem but then requiring them to call you EVERY time they change a part to get your blessing on putting the correct part in. Why would you not just pay some non-skilled person to describe the problem to you and change the part you want them too? What does this do to the employee? How can it be fixed?

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Series Of Unfortunate Events

These past few weeks at Southwest Airlines have been very busy. The incident we had with a lap joint on top of the fuselage of one of our 737-300s has been well documented by the media. Planes have been inspected, inspection methods have been changed and we all have been educated by this unfortunate event. Of course if any of you mechanics out there are like me I had to answer to an even higher authority than the FAA-my father.

As soon as I heard about the airplane I knew that I would be getting a call from my father very soon. My father also went to Aviation High School in NY. Although he never got to use his licence he did spend his working career in maintenance working for the NYC Transit Authority, rising through the ranks eventually to become the first black supervisor of the Structures Division in the Transit Authority. As you can imagine he had some questions for me regarding exactly what was going on at SWA Maintenance. He did call and we discussed the whole aging aircraft thing and that was that.

Being a mechanically minded fellow he handily understood most of my airline jargon while I jabbered away about lap joints, aircraft cycles, etc. This has been going on for my whole career, any incident that Delta Airlines had while I worked there was discussed. Any kind of cargo carrier that had mechanical issues while I worked at Ameriflight was cause for a call and discussion. As a matter of fact any plane incident can spur on these types of calls. While these unfortunate events are not something that any mechanic hopes to see they are a reality of our industry. My fathers calls help me to keep in the forefront of my mind that my family flies on these planes that I work on. I like most mechanics know that if we do not stay sharp and perform to the utmost of our abilities that bad things can happen. When I first started at SWA and was a little unsure of my self I asked one of the "vets" if he thought I should change a tire or not. This guy was a wise, older gentleman and he said that any time he is not sure about working on something or not he just thinks "would I feel ok if my wife and kids got on this plane in the morning and I had not changed that part." That was all it took for me.

These calls from my relatives (mostly my dad) remind me that the job I do is a very important one. The job we do is not easy, the job requires us to say no a lot and disappoint and inconvenience travellers now and then. Sometimes we are heroes but a lot of times we come off as the bad guys. That is simply the nature of the business. I love my job and I love working at Southwest Airlines there are people I work with that can not honestly say those things. Those people can make it harder for the others but no matter where you go you will find those types of people. I hope to never see something like this last incident happen to ANY AIRLINE but it is especially rotten for it to happen to MY airline. Southwest Airlines have the best maintained airplanes in the industry and we will remedy this issue.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

New Tools! And Why The Tools At Lowe's Are Wack!

This year I have decided to go through my tools at work, reorganize, clean out, and try to make my tool bag and "tool kits" more professional. Maybe professional is not the correct term but just easier for ME to use and a little more presentable. I also made the decision to have another tool bag. I wanted to make a small tool bag for what I consider small or light jobs that I do upstairs that I am tired of carrying my big heavy tool bag to. A smaller bag, with a common (slotted) screw driver, small pair of hogs, phillips screw driver, my leatherman, a pair of dikes (diagonal cutters) and a small set of allen keys. I had a bag that I used for a while a few years ago and decided against. I also had a small pair of hogs, the leatherman, and allen keys. I unretired a pair of dikes from home and went to Lowes' to buy the rest.

I had a gift card form Lowes' that I got for Christmas so I figured I would get the stuff I wanted from there. Sounds easy but I spent two hours in Lowes' looking for something worthwhile to purchase. All I wanted was a slotted screwdriver, phillips, or even better a flip flop that could do both. My troubles started when I figured out that ALL of Lowes' tools are cheap plastic things that look like they would not last a year out on the line. ALL the flip flop screwdrivers were garbage units that tried to do too many things and as a result everything they did was wack. When I look for a flip flop I either want one that is simply one handle with one shank that has a slotted head on one side and a phillips head on the other. ALL the ones at Lowes' where gimmicky with special apex heads that could be flipped around but that if you lost them-the tool becomes useless. The one half decent one they had had an awful plastic handle with a cap on top to hold the apex heads. The cap was cheap plastic also and you could tell it was going to fall apart.

I ended up buying a slotted #3 Husky screwdriver with an acrylic handle sort of like the old school Craftsman screwdrivers. Since I could not get a flip flop I tried to find a apex holder, or a screwdriver that could hold a standard apex bit. Lowes' does not carry one of those. What I did find was a little apex holder that came in a kit that included a small pair of hogs, the apex holder with bits, a small tape measure and a knife. The apex holder was small (about three inches) with a magnetic apex holder and the rest of the stuff I just kept at home. The little kit was about $10.00 so I thought it was worth the risk.

Since I started using my small tool bag the little apex holder has helped me out a few times and I think I like the idea of the smaller tool bag. I also added a small waterproof pouch on the side for my apex bits.

In addition to my tool bag, I got my golf cart cleaned out, and organized. I was able to make enough room in my cart for my own environmental splice kit that I just made. The kit includes splices, barrels, wax cord, zip ties, a small wire stripper, lighter, shrink wrap, and a small portable butane torch. I always hate having to go back to the shop to get the environmental splices when I'm out on Tango so I now have my own small kit.

This may seem like overkill to a lot of people but the world of a Line Mechanic is a fast paced one. I still believe in trying to do my job as quickly and efficiently as I can. I hope these new tools will help.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

It's Hard To Let Go

I work with tools for a living. Tools have allowed me to own a few homes, buy nice cars, go on vacations, put clothes on my families back, and feed them as well. Tools have been a major part of my life since high school and like most mechanics I have come to love tools, all tools. I can spend a lot of time in the tool section of any store. I like ALL tools, I even collect old and antique tools so when a tool breaks and is no longer useful to me it is understandable that I have trouble throwing it away. Like a lot of mechanics, I think, I end up with a lot of broken tools in my tool box at home.

The other day while working at home I needed a pair of Channel locks or slip joint pliers. I went and pulled the largest ones I have out of my box and went to work. Well these pliers came to me a few years ago from a person who was working on my back yard. This guy disappeared and later I found out he got arrested! When he got out he called and said he was going to finish the job and come by to get his tools. Long story short: two years later I sold all his stuff but kept some of the things I thought were worth it.

When I tried to use these pliers they would slip, every time I went to apply pressure to the stupid thing the joint would slip and the pliers would not be tight anymore. I tried tightening them with the same result and by now I was pissed off so I chucked them in the trash.

Sounds like an easy choice but those pliers sat in the trash for two days and every time I went into that room I saw them. Being a tool lover I kept thinking "maybe I could fix them" or "maybe I can use it for something", "hey I could always use the handles as levers". I stayed strong and they ended up going away. But this brings to light how hard it is for a mechanic to throw away a tool.

When a tool that I use at work breaks I "retire" it. When I retire a tool I bring it home and put it in my big tool box. These tools have been to battle and war with me, they have been on the cold ground with me, they have fixed millions of dollars worth of equipment in their lifespan. When they get too old or busted up I bring them home. The nature of my job requires that the tools I use work when I need them so when they get too old they have to be replaced. When I worked in the hangar I was able to keep my older tools at work and in that setting it is often handy to have some wrenches that you no longer use around which you can cut up or weld on to make special tools.

For me are my life. I will always have a hard time getting rid of them and truth be told, if you take care of them they do not need to be replaced often. I have a hard time letting go of them, some of them have been with me since Aviation High School and are really a part of me. They say that you always remember your first love, well you always remember your first flip-flop screw driver, or good pair of safety wire pliers. I may be a "tool nerd" or "airplane junky" but that's ok, I keep planes in the air, sounds simple but requires a lot of tools and some knowledge. Tools are to mechanics like a computer program is to a tech guy, we use them to figure out (in our case) what is wrong with a plane. Simple concept and when done right it's like a little miracle.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"WOW It's Cold Up Here!"

I have had the unique opportunity to spend a bit of time up in Anchorage Alaska while my wife is stationed up there. As you can imagine it's pretty cold up there and I got to thinking about all the different weather scenarios that I have had to deal with as an aircraft mechanic and indeed all the mechanics around the states or even the world have to deal with. I will start with myself:

It is true that I grew up in NYC and it does snow there, but I have never had to do any maintenance work in the snow. The bulk of my professional aircraft maintenance career has been with SWA in Oakland California. While some of you are saying that it must be nice to work in the Bay Area as far as weather goes, and it is-most of the time! For those of us who work there know that it is very often wet and cold in the Bay Area. We spend a lot of time in our rain suits. We battle the fog and rain on a weekly basis pretty much all year round. When I first got to SWA all we had were the old school banana yellow rain coats and pants. They were good as long as you stood still but any movement would allow water to find the numerous gaps in the coat. The pants would last about a week before ripping and we all had tape on our pants. As you know it's hard to get anything done by standing still so by the end of the shift you were going to be wet.

I clearly remember Dawg going out nice and dry to change a wing tip nav light and coming back inside about 40 minutes later soaked! Some one asked why he didn't ask for help if he was getting soaked and he simply said "once you become one with the rain you hardly notice it". That was very true back in those days, if it was raining out you knew you were going to get wet. The old yellow suits were just not that good. A few years later one of our foreman, I'll call him Tahoe, ordered us new rain suits that were light weight, breathable and very high quality. The wrists and ankle openings could be cinched closed, they zipped up tight and the hoods had bands that could also be cinched closed. All of a sudden it was almost pleasurable to work out in the rain again. I still have my original Tahoe rain suit and it still works fine.

Now a days guys (smart guys) go out and buy some real high quality rain gear at places like REI. The rain gear to us Oakland mechs is what I would say is an essential piece of equipment. We do a lot of road trips and before we go often check the weather to see if it is raining at the station we are headed to. I think that today's rain gear is so compact and light weight you should always take it with you on any road trip. Put an extra set in your fly away bag since its hard to tell when you may need them. One time Tuna and I went to San Diego to work an engine issue and since it was summer and we were headed to SD we took no rain gear. You know where I am going with this and of course while we were working a thunderstorm opened up on us. While we were relatively dry under the cowling our tools were soaked. If I had a set of rain gear I could have wrapped my stuff up and saved me a long weekend of cleaning and drying my tools and tool bag.

Of course we also to road trips to SD and other southern California cities where it gets very hot. I have been to Burbank when it is over a hundred degrees out and it is pretty much miserable. The temp on the ramp is usually a few degrees hotter that the air temp so anything over 100 sucks. All I can say for that is to drink plenty of water. I personally  do not like to wear the uniform shorts at work but I know that a lot of guys do. I have dropped too many hot parts and had too much hot liquid on me to expose my chicken legs to the type of dangers out there. Those poor guys working the line in Phoenix must have to endure some amazing temps at work.

I have had hail, rain, thundersorms, lightning storm, and even tornado warnings at work. If you think about it mechanics have to be ready for all weather scenarios. Unlike our pilot counterparts we actually have to go out and work on the planes in the snow, or rain. I'm sure that when a pilot reports to the Phoenix Line that there is a problem with a tire (or god forbid a brake) he does not think twice about it being 120 degrees outside. These Alaska mechanics have to not only work in the snow but what I have noticed is that the ground is not clear, the ground is covered in ice. When they open the cowling they are laying on ice, plane being jacked, the jack is on ice. It really is astounding to think about the mechanics working around the globe in all weather, on varied surface.

One more thing: SWA has made available to us a new type of rain suit. We can order it form our uniform supplier. The thing is very nice and seems to work great but has a very major design flaw. If you compare the Tahoe rain suit with the new SWA suit they look very similar. One of the few differences is that the SWA suit has a nice big flap in the back to allow your body to breath better and not get too hot while you are wearing it. A few weeks ago while it was raining one of the mechanics and I were closing an engine cowl and of course we had to lay down on the wet ground in the puddles that always seem to be directly under the engines. We both laid down and about three seconds later he jumped up cussing. That nice big flap had turned into a nice big scoop and his whole back was wet! Don't forget that we have to lay down in these suits too!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My High School: Aviation High School NY

This summer I will be on my way back to NYC to attend the 75th Anniversary of the founding of Aviation High School. The school is celebrating by having a banquet and an all year reunion. For those of you not familiar with the Aviation High School in New York it is the oldest (I believe) operating high school in the country dedicated to teaching its students the art  of aviation maintenance. The graduates of Aviation High School are a very proud bunch and I hope to see a good number of them there that evening.

In NYC there are several specialty high schools like Aviation High. There is the New York City High School for the Performing Arts, made famous by the movie/tv show Fame. There is the Bronx High School of Science, Automotive High, Transit High, and several other vocational type schools available to NYC 8th graders. It is a system that I wish other major cities would use as it gives kids a leg up on their career paths-post high school. I know that most of the guys I work with had to pay for their A&P licences and are shocked to hear that I got mine for free from high school.

When I was an 8th grader they handed us this book which had all the specialty school listed in it. I took it home to check it out since I really had not thought about going to any high school other than my local one. I thumbed through it and finally saw Aviation High School. I liked the idea so I went to talk to my parents about it. My dad tells me that that was the school he went to!! I did not know. As with a lot of these types of schools I had to go and take a test to get in so on the right day I went down there and did the test, waited a few days and was accepted into Aviation High School, Long Island City, NY.

The first day there was an eye opener! Not only did we have a full high school curriculum, we also had to do shop classes to learn all the aspects of aircraft maintenance. This translated into the longest school day in the NYC School System. A lot of us had "zero period" at like 6:50am (I'm not sure if that's right but it was early!) and didn't get done with classes until 3:40pm. Me personally, since I lived way up in the North Bronx, I had to leave my building by 5:30am to be able to make it to school by 7:00am. Since the school was training us for a federal licence we had to have a certain number of hours of training. This meant that the school had less holidays and half days than other schools and when it snowed and other schools were shut down ours was open!

These things were all sort of PITA (Pain In The Ass) at the time but made for a fiercely unique and proud bunch of students. We worked hard because it was hard work, just to attend that school.

The pride you felt as a 14 year old when you finished your first project in your first shop class was amazing. I started out in Wood  Shop working on a jig for wing rib. A simple board with blocks attached that were used to make the ribs that create wings on older airplanes. When I was done and finally got my last signature from my shop teacher I was so proud of myself. I made something that was made to a standard that would hold up in any real world application, had learned about how to use tools, how to form wood, how to fasten wood and the kids that went to my local high school were just  learning the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Recip. Shop

Aviation High School has a hangar attached to it and by the time you were a Junior or Senior you were actually working on the airplanes that we had in the hangar, actual real live airplanes! When Senior year can around you had learned, Wood, Dope and Fabric, Sheet Metal, Electricity, Avionics, Carburation, Reciprocating Engines, Turbine Engines, Propellers, and a bunch more that I am sure that I am forgetting. As a Senior you attended shop for 3 or 4 hours a day! Every minute of it was like heaven to me. I stumbled like all teenagers do, had to take a class over (electricity, which I am strangely good at as a practicing A&P mechanic) made some life long friends and most importantly found out what I was good at and passionate about at a very early age. Aviation High School has steered the direction of my whole life.

Turbine shop

I remember when I became a Junior and really decided that I was going for the A&P licence. I got the FAA Test Prep book and read it over and over again for the next two years! The pages were literally falling out of the book by the time my test date came, but I knew that thing inside and out. I passed and was able to graduate with both my Airframe and Powerplant Licenses. I made friendships that have lasted up to this day, I learned how to use tools (more important that I thought it was), I learned that hard work is rewarded, I learned how to make things (another thing that is very important), I learned that graduating from a school like ours is very unique and not all that easy, and I learned about my love for airplanes. That love has seen me through a lot of good times and a few bad times, that love has fed me and my family, clothed us and put a roof over our heads. The Aviation industry is not an easy place to work and the Airline Industry is and always will be a mess but God willing there will always be an Aviation High School at 4530 36th St. Long Island City, NY to help kids like me fulfill their dreams.

As a foot note I have met a lot of people while working in this industry. I attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University after my time at Aviation High School and knew a lot of people from there as well. When you meet a fellow Aviation High School grad there is some thing about that person that is different than all the others. There is a little twinkle in the eye, a nod of the head, a way they walk, that lets you know they have shared an ordeal with you at such an important age in their life and the bond is there instantly. A few years ago (2003 or 2004) I went with my wife to an OBAP (Organisation of Black Aerospace Professionals) Convention in Phoenix AZ. While we were checking in at the hotel front desk there was an older guy standing next to me I do not recall if I mentioned Aviation High School or he simply saw my high school ring or what but he politely introduced himself and was a graduate of Aviation High School also, in something like 1952! We talked for a long while and he even gave me his email address. He still had that confidence and swagger of an Aviation High School grad.

Happy 75th Anniversary!!!! I hope to see a lot of you grads on June 9th 2011 for the dinner and school tour. Here is a link to a video tour of the 75 years of Aviation High School:  http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=202662

Thursday, February 3, 2011


You may not think of planning when you think of aircraft maintenance but a good mechanic is a good planner. Of course you can see that planning is involved when you are disassembling an item, in order to get it apart and back together again. When going to a gate call at work a good mechanic will try to bring with him or her all the parts or tools needed. Sometimes this is easier said than done due to the intentionally vague descriptions of problems that some pilots report.

With proper planning the evenng clouds will be the most dramatic part of your day

The worse gate calls to deal with are what we call "cockpit chats". When a crew calls you up to the plane to chat it can mean anything. Hard to plan for any and every eventuality so I usually just bring my small tool pouch up with me in case it is something I can fix real quick. I have had cockpit chats to fix everything from a missing cup holder in the flight deck to aircraft damage. I can understand being discreet in some cases but a few (a lot) of the crews take this a little too far. We mechanics only have about 20 minutes to trouble shoot and fix problems and playing the guessing game slows that down. I have had crews tell me that they do not like to transmit the problems they are having over the radio because "they" might be listening. Who "they" are is unclear to me. The FAA has a lot more to do than listen in on our OPS frequency to see if the pilots are using the correct radio protocol. Back in the day people used to use radio scanners to listen in on airport traffic but even that got boring real quick, so I think that it is safe Mr. or Ms. Pilot.

When I passed probation all those years ago and started to evaluate the newer guys on their performance while they were on probation I realized how important being a good planner is. My boss at the time was a guy I will call Tator. Tator would watch the new guys work. He often remarked how this was that guys third or forth trip back from the plane to get parts or something like that. His concern was simple: if you are spending all night running back and forth to stores you are taking longer than needed to finish your jet. Back then we had fewer people at night so every mechanic had to do more than one plane a night just so we could make launch in the morning.

When I terminate a plane I write everything down that I find wrong and I put the discrepancies on the big board where our planes are listed for the night. This used to be common practice but not too much anymore. I sometimes get flack from the mid night shift guys for writing all these things that I found wrong on their plans onto the board. This is confusing to me because I saved them a trip by telling them what they need before they get out to plane and have to turn around to get it.

It is simple we have to get our planes out on time. Unfortunately it is part of our job to ensure on time departures for our customers. I will be the first to say that if you as a mechanic have to take a delay in order to properly fix a jet than go right ahead, safety first. Planning and being a good planner will, however minimize those delays.

When a call comes in OR when you get your assignment for midnight shift think to yourself: what am I going to need to bring with me in order to fix this plane? When a call comes in about a coffee maker-bring a coffee maker. I know that 9 times out of 10 we can fix the original coffee maker but when that one time comes up it is a lot easier and quicker to change one out if it is with you or at least on your golf cart waiting for ya. We have a guy at work who never brings things with him to his gate calls and he annoys everyone by going out and ALWAYS calling for someone to bring him parts. Don't be that guy!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Guy I Used To Know

When I first started at SWA I met a lot of really great mechanics. The very first night I was there I worked with a mechanic I will call "The Dawg". The Dawg showed me around and tuned me into the way to do my job and ultimately become a successful member of the team at OAK MX. The guy I wanted to write about today is a fella I will call "The Trooper".

When I first encountered The Trooper he was an intimidating figure. When you think of the term "gruff" that would describe The Trooper. Think of a Marine who had a look in his eye that said "I know what I am doing, and I see what you are doing, and I can kill you and eat you". He was mostly unshaven, swore a lot, and for the most part liked to work alone. To say I was intimidated by him is mild.

My first week at the job I was working a plane on gate 12. It was probably around 1 or 2 am when all of a sudden I hear "FUUU&&&%%%%!!!!". I look up and see sparks flying across the ramp. I found out later that The Trooper was working an APU problem on gate 23 (which by the way is about 3/4 of a football field away from gate 12), something went wrong and he yelled out and chucked his 3 D cell MagLite across the ramp. By the way he never did find the light. Over the years this repeated and no wrench or flashlight was safe from his rage.

After a while I realized that The Trooper was one of the more fun guys to hang with and work with. The Trooper was a good wrench. He was a wrench in the way that he worked on what he was assigned (even though we were not assigned work back the, we volunteered for our work). The Trooper never complained about hard jobs or working all night.

One of the things that you could never forget was going downline with The Trooper. In OAK back in those days we would send three guys down to San Jose to work a Service Check and any airplanes with MELs that happened to be spending the night down there. Since The Trooper used to work at that airport he liked to go. One of the first times I went down to San Jose with The Trooper we had four guys. We finished up our work and as we were driving to make our way out The Trooper says "whats that fluid over by that landing gear?" It looked like a hydraulic leak from a brake on the wheel and under the strut. One of the guys jumped out and ran over. Most mechanics know that when we come across a leak the first thing we do is dab our finger in it and smell it. Well this guy dabs his finger smells and immediately scrunches up his face, wipes off his hands and runs back cussing. it turned out The Trooper had to take a leak and he did it  behind the strut!

On another visit to San Jose in the MX Bread truck it was The Trooper, another guy, and I. The way we operated our downlines was that one guy would knock out the three planes on at the gates and the other two would drive a belt loader and the bread truck to the two planes on the pad (remote parking) finish them up and return to help the guy at the gates. I grabbed a  belt loader and The Trooper drove the bread truck with the lift bed down. I'm driving along slightly to the left and behind the bread truck when I hear "Who's driving this truck?" I look up to see The Trooper standing on the lift bed doing his best George Washington crossing the Delaware pose while the truck is motoring on its own down the ramp. These were typical types of nights when working with The Trooper.

Once while on a road tip with The Trooper we had to go to San Jose and then swing by SFO when we were done. About half way through the San Jose portion I got real sick. I could hardly stand up and felt like I was going to pass out. The Trooper had me sit down in the bread truck where I passed out. I briefly remember coming to when we got to SFO but only long enough to realize that we were there. The Trooper and the other mech with us finished up all the work with out me, no complaints! That's the way it was back then.

Always on the road back to OAK he would stop to get a box of Entemanns Chocolate Doughnuts and consume the whole box before we got back. He ate grasshoppers and moths and belched real loud and talked with his mouthful. He was loud sometimes scary and could tell you off real quick but he was a great guy to work with.

The Trooper no longer works with us, unable to change with the increasingly political environment at SWA he was a victim of being too real at a time when being real with people could get you in real trouble. He never gave up and he didn't back down through the end. We still hear from The Trooper every now and then and the shop is a little smaller without his over the top personality. I miss The Trooper and I am sure he misses us too. He is chilling at his house in his barber chair, with about twenty or thirty caged frogs, watching questionable movies, eating chocolate doughnuts, wearing his Marine too short shorts and his Boony Cap A mechanic from another time trying to make it in the present world. A guy I used to know.