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.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Congratulations SWA Huge Quarterly Profits! Now What To Do With The $$?

WOW!!! We at SWA made over 400 million bucks last quarter! I say we because it is truly a team effort to make such an amount of money. For those of us who work or who have worked at an airline know that it takes everyone doing the right thing for the company to succeed. I know that I worked hard and I know that the company appreciates those of us who work hard so that SWA and all of us can enjoy the good years.

The thing I was wondering is how SWA is going to spend that money in a way that can help us poor Mechs at OAK MX. I know that SWA is a frugal airline and I know that half of that 400 mil is going straight to the bank. I have a few suggestions for items we could use in OAK that would make our jobs easier and that in some cases have been a long time coming.

1.     A lift truck. We have been needing a lift truck since I got here in 1996. We are an airline that operates in 20 minute intervals. The 20 minute turn gets real hard to do when we mechanics have to fish around for a JLG lift or some kind of stand just to change a Logo Light or Nav Light.

This style is good. A nice lift bed with an air hose on a flat drivable platform. The one that I am more familiar with is a pick up truck with a scissor lift in place of the bed. Very handy items and could cost about $30k tops.

2.     Daniels Kit. A Daniels Kit is a collection of pin pushers, crimpers, wire strippers and extractors used to repair wiring and cannon plugs. These things are expensive I know, but the planes are getting more and more electronic. As a result of the reliance on electronics more and more wiring problems arise. We have been making do with plastic pushers and throw away extractors. A real Daniels Kit would be a nice addition to our tool room.

There are only two down sides to having a Daniels Kit:
     a.   They cost a lot of money some thing like $10k.
     b.   The numbnuts at the shop would most likely destroy it within a year. There are a lot of little parts and if not taken care of the kit will be missing pieces and end up useless.

3.     Some real window wash. The window wash we have is horrible. It dries up before you can wipe it off and leaves streaks on the windshield. I'm not sure why they changed to this current stuff but it simply sucks.

4.     Some free stock. We need more free stock in OAK. Free stock is the stuff you take like screws, bolts, washers, etc. to replace missing hardware on the plane. Our selection in OAK is not very deep. Several times we have had to ground planes because we don't have the correct length 1/4 inch bolt and end up having to but one from United or Alaska Airlines.

5.     Some Jack Covers. Months and months go by between our using the aircraft jacks. I am talking about the wing jacks, nose, and tail jacks. There are times when we need to jack up a plane to swing the gear or re-pack a strut. We have a wet climate here. When it is not raining it is cold and foggy in the morning and at night. The jacks need covers to keep the cylinders dry. If the cylinders get too wet they pit as they corrode and that messes up the seals inside of them. A set of real cover for our jacks would likely run about $1000.00. Right now we have some busted up Home Depot buckets on top of them which are always getting blown off.

These are just some of the things that I can think of off the top of my head. It seems like every week when I am at work I find myself wondering why we don't have this or that. I don't think that a couple or maybe $100k is too much of an investment for old OAK MX.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Why I Love Working On Airplanes

I think  it's time to focus on the positives of our job. Too often we get caught up in the industry and the politics of the airlines that we work for. I know a lot of guys at work who no longer enjoy what they do and that is really too bad.

When I know I have to go to work I do not get the sense of dread that it appears some people do. I truly enjoy working on planes and I enjoy (for the most part) the people I work with. My vision is still blurred by the "next new plane" that some company is building, and for the most part I still enjoy learning about new and different ways to fix my beautiful old 737s.

I think that one of the things I find fascinating about our line of work is the multitude of different ways in which different mechanics will attack similar problems. One guy will do what he has learned will work and another guy/gal will go another route ultimately arriving at the same destination. I know that the FAA does not believe in this and thinks that there is only "one way" to fix any problem on our airplanes but from my now 20 years of airline work I have to say that it is just not true. The good mechanics, and I mean the really good ones, have honed their skill over the years and know exactly how they want to approach issues that come up on the plane. In fact even when a call comes in over the radio and I know that it is not going to be my turn to go to the gate call I still go through what I would do in my mind. It is something that we just do, we do not think about it, we just do it.

This process is also good because often the different perspective of our fellow mechanics is just what it takes to get a problem fixed. I can't tell you how many times I have been stuck on a broke plane, running through BITE tests, chasing wires, hitting things with hammers, cussing, just doing battle, only to have a guy/gal stop by and say "hey have you tried _____?" Sure enough that one thing or different view will fix the plane. I think it is an important dynamic which the FAA does not take into account. When you are the person who offers help and the help actually ends up fixing the problem I kind of feel like a rock star!

I also enjoy knowing that the 137 folks sitting in the plane are going to make it to their destination because I was able to fix the plane. There is an ego thing there, sort of a longing to be the hero which comes to the surface when a plane is down hard and you can figure out the problem.

You put these first things together with a curiosity on the way things work mix in a little bit of knowledge on the way things break and you have a happy aircraft mechanic. I know some of you are saying "the way things break?" I have always contended that this job is equal parts knowing how things work and knowing how things break. Think about this: when I am at home and something in my house breaks I can usually fix it. Not because I necessarily know how a washing machine works but rather I know that if no water is getting to point "A" then something downline of that is messed up. I know how things break. I credit thirteen years of driving a 1966 VW Bug for a lot of that.

After all these years I am still an airplane nerd. I like airshows, air museums, Airliners.net, shows about airplanes, books about airplanes, etc. I do not think any of the airline industry BS will ever make that go way.

What sort of things do you like about being a mechanic? Let me know, now is the time to focus on the things we like about our jobs!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year!!!

Well it's 2011!! I think it looks like 2011 is going to be a good year in the airline biz. I also am going to make the personal challenge to better my craft of aircraft maintenance. It is important to always try to learn new things in our profession. With all the information available to us at work or on the Internet I think it will be a very attainable goal for all of us to become better versed in aircraft maintenance or the airline industry. I wish you all good luck and a prosperous New Year.