THE BRASS RING
By Sam Longo AME
In January of 1979, as a newly licensed AME, I was hired by Air Canada in Toronto. I realize that working for the airlines is not every AME’s cup of tea, but for me it was the Brass Ring. Why I wanted to be there was simple, Air Canada had excellent maintenance facilities, a world-class fleet of aircraft, and an outstanding training department. Of course every rose has its thorns and to balance out this idealistic dream job was the harsh reality of never ending shift work. Fortunately, in the early days, youth was on my side and shift work was a small price to pay for the opportunity to spin wrenches on the world’s best aircraft.
Of all the aircraft types flown by the company, the most intimidating was the Boeing 747. I vividly remember the first time I rolled my toolbox towards the huge red and white behemoth. Gleaming beneath the hangar lights, my awe and apprehension, triggered thoughts of David and Goliath. This tale of battle from ancient theology reflected now in modern technology made me feel very, very small.
The big Boeing was very complex. You could work on it for a lifetime and still leave many maintenance tasks unexplored. Even when you felt that you knew the aircraft well, it would surprise you with unfamiliar component changes. An example of this phenomenon occurred at the start of one evening shift. The foreman came into the lunchroom and assigned myself and Tom, the senior mechanic, to do a 747 rudder power pack change.
Being unfamiliar with the task at hand, I casually asked Tom how big of a job it was. “Beats me, never done one before” he replied. We researched the procedure on the microfiche and carefully prepped the big bird for the work. Eight stories high, buried mid way up the vertical stabilizer was a faulty 95 pound rudder power pack. Using two large aero stands on either side of the access panels we disconnected and muscled the unserviceable unit out. Next, we installed the new one, connecting and lock wiring the maze of hydraulic lines. After leak checking and testing the installation, we buttoned up the access panels and signed off the job cards. The most senior and junior mechanic on shift completed their “first” rudder power pack change, without a hitch.
I stayed in Line Maintenance in the hangar for my first seven years. The rotating shifts were beginning to take their toll. Midnight shift was always the busiest and I began to dread when those six nights came around. It wasn’t the work that bothered me, I just couldn’t adapt easily to working all night. As much as I enjoyed Line Maintenance work, I had to make a change. I switched to Check Crew, working steady evenings with weekends off. To hold my new spot with such low seniority, I also had to become the Crews fuel tank sealer. Being a tank sealer was not a nice job. In addition to your regular duties, you were responsible for all in-tank maintenance on your shift. I soon became very familiar with ATA Chapter 28, for all the companies aircraft. Weaving in and out of fuel tank baffle plates in white cotton coveralls soon became an undesirable routine. Star Trek’s famous line; “To boldly go where no man has gone before” became my new motto. Check crew also did record numbers of engine changes, mostly on the big Lockheed L1011’s. It was not uncommon to do three or four engine changes per week and we got pretty efficient at it. When we hustled, a wing engine took two shifts. Heaven forbid if the job took longer. In the foreman’s eyes, you were only as good as your last engine change. It had to be done fast and it had to be done right. As the saying goes, you can’t pull over at 35,000 feet!
My time at Air Canada lasted a few months short of ten years. The training I received was excellent and the experience honed my skills as an AME. To this day I have the greatest respect for the technicians that continue the battle.
As always, reflecting on that period of my life produced some additional pearls of wisdom. As an AME you can never stop learning. That rudder power pack change was a revelation. The seasoned AME and the rookie both learning and completing the same job together made me realize that you can never know everything. Becoming a good “Airline Mechanic” is the art of being good at doing something right, the first time. This art cannot be mastered without the use of maintenance manuals and proper procedures. Lesson number two is about compromise. Going to Check Crew and becoming a tank sealer was a tough price to pay for an end to midnight shift.
Finally, being an aircraft mechanic does have its rewards. I often remember driving home after midnight shift, stranded in morning traffic, watching Air Canada jets thundering off in all directions. Although I was tired, I also felt very good. I was experiencing both the challenge and satisfaction of a job well done.