Monday, April 27, 2015

It's all in the name

We aircraft mechanics change a lot of parts during the day. Some big parts and some small parts. We get accustomed to certain nomenclature of these parts. A circuit breaker usually looks like a circuit breaker. A latch usually looks like a latch. A fastener usually looks like something that will hold two or more things together.

Circuit Breaker

There are times, however, when the manual calls out for us to change a part and that part looks nothing like what it really (at least in your own opinion) look like. Perhaps the most widely known example of this trickery I can think of is the "Black Box". We all know that the black box is actually orange, but imagine how confusing this would be to a person outside of the aviation field.

The orange "Black Box"

Often when I change any part of the avionics on our planes I bring the box up to the jetway to do the paperwork. Most of the avionics boxes are black and so when the passengers amble down the jetway to board I usually get one or two remarks about why I'm changing the "Black Box". I even hear parents telling their kids in hushed tones how "that part records all the airplane info". I usually don't correct the passengers unless they address me directly.

This nomenclature issue came up the other day at work. I had a call about the fire warning system not testing properly. When I got up to the plane the captain says that the fire warning system does not test when it's on the DC bus.

This is the first call of my day so after I clear the fog from my brain and take the plane off the ground power bus (onto the DC bus) sure enough the "Master Caution" light did not illuminate when I did the fire warning test. Naturally I'm thinking why would the fire warning test not turn on the Master Caution? Lets BITE check the fire warning box (no help), maybe change the fire control module to see if that helps.

At this point I make myself slow down because changing that fire control box is a big deal. The check out (test) for that control box is about an hour long. Before I do that I call for a wiring diagram for the fire warning DC system. When the wiring diagram comes I start to think I'm going down the wrong route with the problem. Sure enough after some more checks I realized we had a Master Caution problem not a fire warning problem. After I get some more prints for the correct system we narrow the problem down to the Master Caution Dimming Module. Now here is where the real problem starts.

A "Module" to a Line Mechanic is a box that contains wires/lights/relays and all the other little magic electrons that make an airplane do what it is supposed to. A "Module" is a squareish metal thingy that has a cannon plug connected to it.

The wiring diagram says the Master Caution Dimming Relay lives behind the P6-3 panel. Now me and another two guys, lets call them MoneyMaker and DaDude, take turns looking for this module. behind this panel are lots of wires, relays, modules and miles of wires. Each is labelled with a small white sticker that announces its equipment list number. We spent the better part of an hour looking for this module to no avail.

Back behind the panel is also a little door which when opened is hiding a circuit card. All three of us opened that door and saw this circuit card and all three of us were like "well, that's not a module, it's a card".

Long story short one of the guys in the shop must have called Boeing or The Answer Man or someone because a little past an hour later DaDude comes back to the plane and says "So and so says it looks like a circuit card". MoneyMaker and I look at each other and say "No F-ing way!!".

That "module" is a circuit card hidden behind a small door. And to make matters worse the thing is correctly marked, but to see the marking you have to stick your head into the P6-3 panel crane it around and then and only then would you see the Module Number sticker.

So any of you engineers out there:
Why not call that "module" a "card"?
Why not give that little door it's own panel number?
Why not put a little sticker on the damn little door that says "hey, the M(###) lives in here!

Turns out we didn't have the circuit board in stock anyway and once it came in it did fix the problem but the real issue here is the word "module".

Now that I have expanded my work vocabulary to make sure a circuit board can be called a module and likely vice-versa, I'm not really looking forward to the so called 737-MAX and all it's new vocabulary!

Monday, April 13, 2015

And now...the end is near!

I have had a great career. True I was laid off and went through two down cycles in the airline industries. I have lost a house and spent a few sleepless nights worrying about how to make it until the next pay check. But, in the grand scheme of things it has been a very successful and profitable career for me.

I was at work the other day and one of my co-workers came in. He said that something interesting happened to him on the way to work. He left his house at 3am and needed some coffee so stopped by the local AM/PM convenience store.

He gets his brew and the guy behind the counter asks him if he is an airline mechanic. Not too big of a leap since my buddy was wearing a SWA Mechanic jacket. He tells the guy yeah and the guy starts asking about the job.

My buddy realizes this guy knows what hes talking about simply by the questions he was asking so he asked the guy what his background was. It turns out he retired from World Airways as a mechanic. "No way" my buddy says. The guy lifts up his shirt to display his World Airways belt buckle!

The airlines used to offer us employees really great pensions. These pensions slowly but surely started to disappear in the 80's and now not one American airline offers it's mechanics a pension plan. As most American companies the pension plans of old have been supplanted by the 401k plan.

The 401k was never designed to be a retirement savings plan but it is what most companies offer and so it is what most mechanics depend on for their retirement savings. There are a few drawbacks to the 401k that are alarming. The most troublesome to me is that it pretty much follows the stock market. Also it is often difficult to switch your investments within the 401k and most plans limit the choices you will have to invest in.

All this has come to my attention because as a person who wants to retire early in life I started doing some studying. Did you know that 75% of working Americans have less than $10.00 saved for retirement? Scary huh?

Long story short what I've learned is that to really enjoy your retirement you must diversify your savings. 401ks are good but you have to have some investments outside of them to really see your retirement savings take off.

Airlines are great, and being a mechanic is a source of pride for me. I've heard too many stories of old airline mechanics working way past the age of 70 and never retiring. Old airline mechanics retiring and having to work at WalMart to supplement their retirement income. Old airline mechanics retiring and passing away within a year or so  because they worked too hard for too long and their bodies are all used up.

The way for me is going to be retiring early rather than later with enough income from my investments to allow me to continue living in the lifestyle I'm accustomed to.

We are all living longer these days. Males tend to live into their 80s these days and that number is going up and up. Will you 401k be able to support you for 20 years after you retire? How about 30 years? Start thinking about it now so I don't have to hear any more stories an old mechanic working at the local AM/PM convenience store after 30 years at World Airways.