Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Troubleshooting Be Damned!!

I was working recently when a call came in from MX Control. There was a plane in Portland that they needed two guys to fly up to look at. This was one of our -300s and the "ANTI-SKID INOP" light would illuminate when the crew set the parking brake. Once we figured out who was going on the road trip, me and a guy I'll call "Tactical",  we started our normal pre-road trip routine:

Get your tools ready. I know guys who only bring the tools they think they will need for the specific job they are going to do but I tend to over pack. The problem with just packing what you think you will need is that we often get there and another issue pops up. Also check your flashlights and bring extra batteries.

Check the history. I wish I could tattoo this one some of the guys foreheads. Before you work any problem, if you have the time, you should always check the discrepancy history. If you go and change a part and then look in the history only to find out that someone changed that same part, for the same problem, just yesterday than you just wasted time and a lot of money. In the case of our Anti skid issue we had time so we checked the history. I found history back to over 120 days for this airplane having Anti skid lights coming on. They had changed about everything in the system so we had some troubleshooting ahead of us.

Check the weather! If it's raining where you are going than you better bring some rain gear.

Luckily we have a great stores department but it was not always that way. Once upon a time we had to pack our own parts which means you have to check the effectivity and make sure it will work for the airplane you are going to fix.

Get on your plane and go.

In our case stores packed a control panel, an Anti-skid valve, and a  parking brake valve. We of course had our multi meters and I brought my kit I made for when I have to shoot wires. You will hear the term "shooting wires" or "ringing out" wires. All this means is to check for continuity and power of certain wire runs. We also  printed out and brought with us the wiring diagram for the anti-skid system.

I grabbed my road trip bag, extra set  of clothes, tooth paste and tooth brush, deodorant, etc.

Luckily we got some seats on the plane (did not have to sit on the jumpseats in the flightdeck) and away we went.

Once we landed and made sure our tools were ok we went up to the plane which was parked and turned off. As we opened the jetway door I kiddingly said to Tactical "Watch the thing work now-since they turned the plane off". As sure as a bear s!%&$ in the woods when we turned her on the light was off! "Kick the brakes off and set them again" said Tactical. I did and it all worked according to design.

Now you might think "that's great! let's pack it up and go home", but it's not that easy. We knew that the plane had a long history of this stupid  light coming on so we have a responsibility to try and see what is going on. In some ways this is the hardest type of write up you can get as an aircraft mechanic. The problem comes up and by the time you get there the damn thing works great. As a true mechanic you still have to troubleshoot and try to find out what is going on. As I say we have to try to break it to figure out what's wrong.

As it turned out for Tactical and I we could not get the thing to break again. A few hours into it and we had to contact MX Control to let them know what was going on. We spent about 3-4 hours trying to figure out what the problem was and could not get the stupid anti-skid light to come on when we set the parking brake. After talking to the MX Controller we decided to change the parking brake valve as a precaution and let her ride. Another hour and a half later we were crossing our fingers as we tested the system after changing the parking brake valve and it all still worked. Believe me when I tell you there are times when you change the part and the damn thing is still broke or another thing is busted!

The point of the story is that there are times when you can not get the plane to act in the way that the flight crew did and therefore can not duplicate the problem. That does not mean that you can stop and sign it off. You are still a mechanic and you still should try and get the thing to fault. I'm not saying that there won't be times when you use the old "could not duplicate" for your sign off. The title "mechanic" comes with certain responsibilities and the one I'm talking about now is the responsibility to you. Take your job seriously and use every chance to learn and expand your art.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Success In The Industry

I have recently read some articles that have tried to establish ways to be successful in our industry. It's interesting to me that our choice of career has a lot in common with and is a lot different than most jobs. Like most folks we decide what we want to do for a living, we to go to school and pursue the challenge of getting our A&P license. We graduate or test out and are on our way. I think that for a lot of people that is where the dream ends. When they realise that the fresh out of school mechanic will have to take a really low paying job doing things like assembly work, overhaul work, throwing bags, or fueling just to get their foot in the door it tends to lean the ranks of the fresh recruits. Add to that the fact that most of the places that hire A&P mechanics without the coveted "EXPERIENCE" are overhaul places in out of the way places like Alabama, Indianapolis, Everett and Dallas and the New York based kid with a new A&P ticket has a big decision to make.

The other way that kid can go is to try and get on with a contract maintenance company at a local airport. While this could provide invaluable experience it is also a "thrown to the lions" way of learning the trade. Contract work is Line Maintenance and it is a type of maintenance that not every one excels at. When I was out of school I got real lucky and was hired by an airline to do overhaul in Atlanta GA. It was a big decision, I am a New Yorker and I was going to school in Florida. While it may not seem like a big move it was a big move for me. My only other employment opportunity involved stocking shelves or pushing a broom at the time so I was not going to pass it up. I think that the big move is what blocks a lot of people from being successful.

 But success is not just getting the job. Success should also include how well you perform in the job, progression, performance and satisfaction. In order to not become a simple parts changer (any one can do that) in order to become a true mechanic there are certain things you should do.

1.     Keep your passion alive. It works in marriage and it works in maintenance. The reason we became mechanics is because we love airplanes (hopefully). I still airplane watch and now with sites like Airliners.net I can do it even at home or when the weather sucks outside.

2.     Never stop learning. Every job I have been at offered training classes. Take advantage of these classes. If there are factory classes offered take them. When I first started working the line I was given some simple advice: when the work is all done for the night go up to one of the planes, turn on the IRUs and play with the BITE checks in the FMC. This alone helped me to figure out how to navigate through the menus and pages that can seem a bit confusing to a new comer. There is no way to mess up the plane by going through the BITE systems so don't be afraid.

3. Never stop asking questions. This is something we all try to teach our kids but once we get into a work situation we tend not to follow this simple advice. No one can be expected to remember everything that they learn. If you can't remember something or don't know how to do something just ask. You ask the guys at my job and they will tell you that Goat asks (sometimes) lots of questions. For me it's a time thing, I have, usually, about 20 minutes to work an issue. To get as much input as I can for a problem I ask over the radio if anyone has had the problem before or if any one knows a shortcut in the BITE.

4.    Be nice. It's simple but you would be surprised at the amount of a-holes you meet in this industry. I am amazed at some of the behavior that grown men will display at work. Also being nice is not just important when you are dealing with mechanics but also for the flight crews. These guys are your customers and as crazy as it sounds being nice to these guys and gals goes a long way. They know that if they tell me about an issue I will work on it and in turn I know that they respect me and the work I do.

5.     Don't be a know it all. Nobody likes that.

6.     Make friends. This is a small industry. I work with a guy I will call GUN. Gun and I worked together at Delta Airlines. One day while I was on probation in walks Gun, the newest mechanic (at the time). Several of the guys at work actually worked together at other airlines and several of the people who were scheduled to be interviewed were nixed due to their reputations at other airlines preceding them. Also on this note I will say that I have friends that I have made at SWA that I know will last a lifetime.

7.     Have fun. This is a SWA thing to the core. We get together for BBQs and other events. These things are not for us the mechanics but rather for our families. We spend a third of our waking life at our jobs, remember to thank your family for their support by taking them to the BBQ or Christmas party. This is a very important thing.

8.     Reward yourself. I am a toolaholic. I like my tools and I like nice new tools. Every now and then it's ok to get yourself a nice tool as a reward. It's a happy coincidence that it also helps you do your job better.

9.     Teach your kids about aviation. My kids know more about planes than almost every kid their age. All their lives they have been flying and will soon start taking flight lessons (my wife and father in law are flight instructors). We need to teach our kids everything we know while they are young.  You never know when the knowledge of how to use a pair of safety wire pliers or simple electronics, soldering,welding, basic pneumatics, engine work, hydraulics may come in handy. What if you knew all these things since before you entered high school? How much easier would your schooling have been. Even if they do not enter the industry these skills will set them above other people when they are at a job seeking age.

10.   Last and one of the most important: Keep reading my Blog!!.......please.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Qantas eyes maintenance job cuts

ABC News Australia reports that Quantas is thinking about cutting maintenance jobs. More wrenches out on the street! Check the article; I think they are talking about mechanics, they call us engineers in most other countries but our own. It also looks like Quantas has been oredered to check wing cracks in the wings of all the A380s they run. One would wonder why they would think its a good time to let mechanics go when they have these inspections looming??

Another Airline Gone!

Air Australia closed it's doors today. Looks like they left a bunch of folks stranded.
Sunday Morning Herald of Australia reports the company was selling tickets yesterday and closed it's doors today.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Our Newest Baby!

Just wanted to drop the first pics of our first 737-800 as it was unloaded from the train and into the factory up in Seattle.

Ours is the one riding the crane. Some guys think that the other two are SWA as well but there is no confirmation of that yet.

This is the cleanest we will ever see her! The fun begins in less that 30 days (those Boeing guys are good). A few of the guys have gone to the Differences Training and from what I'm gathering there is not a lot that has changed with the exception of the Air conditioning system. One of the fellas shared the schematic of the -800 system with me and I like what I see. No more coallesor bags to change! Someone in the know said that the system resembles that of the 757 so that's pretty cool.

Big things are coming for us at SWA but I'm sure we can handle it.