Sam’s 1974 MGB – AMU Magazine

Sam’s 1974 MGB – Murphy’s Mayhem -AMU Magazine


Murphy’s Mayhem, AMU Chronicles, JUNE/JULY 2013

Murphy’s Mayhem

By Sam Longo AME A&P

Most of us in the aviation maintenance world are well aware of Murphy’s Law. Its boiled down reality simply states that; “Anything that can possibly go wrong, usually does, often with catastrophic results” As aircraft maintainers we must be aware that Murphy’s Law lies dormant in every task we undertake.

For those not previously acquainted with the history, it is generally believed that Murphy’s Law was named after Major Edward A. Murphy Jr. an American Aerospace Engineer while working for the US Air Force Institute of Technology. In 1949 he was working as a R&D Officer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he was deeply involved with testing G-force effects on pilots using ground based rocket sleds (USAF project MX981). Major Murphy had designed transducers for the sledge to accurately measure the g-forces, but after Dr. John Paul Stapp was subjected to a very high-g test it was discovered that a technician had wired the transducers backwards and therefore no readings were recorded. After this intense ride Dr. Stapp was not impressed and it is this faux pas that caused Major Murphy to coin the famous phrase; “If there are two or more ways to do something and one of those results in a catastrophe, then someone will do it that way”. The rest, along with all the variations and misquotes, is history.

A good example of this phenomenon occurred to me in the winter of 1977. I had returned to Toronto and landed a job at DeHavilland in Downsview. Despite the many trials and tribulations inherent in working for an aircraft manufacturer, this tale involved a Murphy’s Law- winter nightmare with a 1974 MGB sports car.

I had rented a room in a large house at the base of Dufferin St. in Toronto and consequently my previously pampered MG was relegated to the horrors of common street parking. Early one Monday morning after a heavy snowfall it refused to start. After clearing and popping open the “bonnet” I discovered that someone who had parked in front of me had inadvertently filled the engine bay with snow, likely while clearing their own car. After much digging and fooling around without satisfaction I caught the bus for the long ride up Dufferin Street vowing to re-attack the situation after work that evening.

When I returned the weather had worsened but undaunted in darkness with an extension cord running across the street I continued my quest for internal combustion by the glow of a trouble light. Now the cars battery was getting low from the incessant cranking and cold temps so I took it inside and charged it for the night. Next morning it was another Public Transit extravaganza the length of Dufferin Street.

Tuesday night saw me out in the street once again, now with a freshly charged battery, but still no joy. I decided to remove and inspect the distributor cap. Murphy’s Law seized the opportunity and my cold numb fingers allowed one of the distributor clips to ricochet into the snow covered road below, never to be seen again, despite hours of searching. Another bus ride on Wednesday with a detour on the way home to a British Leyland dealer to purchase a new clip, resulting in an order being placed for pick-up the next day. A few more bus rides and the weekend arrived, the sun shone and the MG was running once again. I quietly cursed Murphy and smiled every time I passed a bus.

The second Murphy’s tale resulted in an outcome that was much more serious than numb fingers and a bruised ego. A young but experienced pilot was looking to buy a float plane and made arrangements to do a visual pre-purchase inspection on a very cold winter night. The aircraft in question was in a cold storage hangar for the winter. As part of his discovery he decided to pull the prop through to get a sense of how good the compression was. He diligently checked that the magnetos were switched off and placed a plank across the floats for secure footing. Unfortunately when he pulled on the prop the engine kicked over and struck him with a fatal blow.

When the investigation began the TC Inspector was baffled. The mag switches were off and the p-leads were properly connected. Both magnetos were grounded and harmless. How could this have happened? Digging a little deeper he checked the facts of the date the catastrophe took place. It had been an exceptionally cold night. Being ever vigilant he took both magnetos and cooled them both to the same temperature they were exposed to on that fateful night. The results revealed a poorly soldered connection to the p-lead inside the one of the magnetos creating an open circuit.  That particular magneto was now live, but only in super-cold temperatures.

The two lessons to be learned here are obvious. On the lighter side of things, never expect a British Sports car to get you to work on a regular basis, but if you must, always carry tools and transit fare.

On the serious side, never, ever trust a propeller. Always treat it as if it were live and poised to kill, for your own safety and preservation. Remember, in the aviation business, the mayhem created by Murphy’s Law has no conscience or prejudice. Be cognisant that the results of your actions could just as easily end as a funny story or fatal one. Vigilance and professionalism is our only known defence!

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Slide Rule Revelation, AMU Chronicles, AUG/SEPT 2013

Slide Rule Revelation

By Sam Longo AME A&P

High School can be an intimidating and overwhelming experience of course selections and future directions, but sometimes with a little luck and intuition you stumble down the ideal path.

I am still not sure what possessed me to check off the box for Advanced Electronics on my Grade 11 electives sheet.  Perhaps because my father had been a Television and Radio repairman or possibly because I had excelled and enjoyed two previous years of wiring mock houses in Electrical Class 1 & 2.

The mere fact that Advanced Electronics was even offered was due to a lucky break on my part. I was attending a brand new High School that opened at the start of my Grade 11 year, right in my neighbourhood.  Stephen Leacock Collegiate was bristling with all manner of high tech options, even boasting a state of the art Television Production Studio.

It was clear from day one in Mr. Pfisterer’s class that Advanced Electronics would be a challenging learning experience. Our Austrian born teacher was a stern task master expecting nothing short of excellence from each of his students. Of course we all thought he was a bit of a crazy old codger.  He was incredibly fit from a lifetime of skiing and often impressed us by walking on his hands around the classroom to relieve his boredom. Being a tech class, in those days, meant that there were no females in the group which was probably a good thing, as he felt it necessary to provide sexual analogies to every theory he taught. Always followed by his perceived reality that for young men of our age group it would be the only way we would remember anything.

Besides building basic circuit boards from schematics and learning the resistor color code (Bad boys rape our young girls etc.) we all worked hard on our theoretical and practical assignments as the weeks progressed. Our class was always slotted in the last periods of the day and there were never any early departures. In fact he would often select a small group of volunteers to hang around after class to help him get his car started. He drove an ageing VW Carmen Ghia coupe with a high compression Porsche motor shoe-horned into the rear engine compartment. As his diligent pit crew, we would push him down the parking lot precluding the ear shattering bump start and his subsequent flamboyant hand waving departure.

His other pet peeve (or passion) was the intrinsic value of mastering the art of the slide rule. Of course for those of you weaned on modern calculators (or smart phone apps) the slide rule was the hot ticket for all manner of math calculations back in the days before lithium-ion batteries and touch screens. Our Austrian commandant drilled us mercilessly until each one of us could glean complex mathematical solutions from our wondrous sliding sticks. Unbeknownst to me it would be a valuable skill in waiting.

After High School, a year of unloading trucks for Hudson Bay Company gave me the necessary capital and added incentive to enroll in Centennial Colleges Aviation Technician program in 1974. Of the two entrance tests required, my Math results were a marginal pass resulting in a consultation with the resident math teacher. He advised that I delay my start in the program and take a semester of math upgrading for fear that I might not make it through his course. My cocky 20-year-old-smart-ass response was that if he was a good teacher I would be fine. Waiting any longer to get into the course was not an option and because I had actually passed, albeit marginally, he had no recourse but to let me continue.

 My rather cheeky comment to him about being a good teacher was based on my sordid past math history. I had either excelled or failed miserably depending, it seemed, solely on the quality of my instructors and so the stage was set for my jubilant upcoming triumph or catastrophic defeat.

In a rather miraculous twist of fate, more than half of the Aviation math program was based on the intricate secrets of the slide rule. Mr. Pfisterer would have been proud as I “slid” my way to a final mark in the high eighties while simultaneously becoming the ace-slide rule-mentor to many of my confused and floundering classmates.

This “Slide Rule Revelation” was an interesting lesson from my fledgling ascent into aviation maintenance and subsequent teaching career. Learning new things and acquiring knowledge is always a good investment. That pastime is paramount to future growth in any field of endeavour. Never reject learning on the basis of the adage; “I will never use that” because the reality is, you just might. In fact in extreme cases as with the previous tale it might very well make the difference between success and failure.

That old slide rule now collects dust on a shelf in my office. Its usefulness is now eclipsed by so many modern electronic devices. Still, I cannot bring myself to discard it. For sentimental reasons it has become my talisman, denoting the discovery and delights of lifelong learning.

For more published articles by Sam Longo go to