Engine Change Escapades

By Sam Longo AME A&P

The tired and battered 1964 MGB filed its final protest by throwing a rod through its cast iron engine block. My good friend Peter and his much beloved car needed help. As fate would have it, at twenty years of age, this would be my virgin engine change.

Despite our woefully inadequate experience and equipment, the outcome of that first engine change escapade was a positive one. Peter’s MG continued providing enjoyable, albeit intermittent, transportation until the transmission expired along with twelve other major components, at which time it was mercifully removed from service. The joys of British sports cars aside, it was for me the beginning of a lifetime of various engine change adventures, on a diverse array of machinery, ranging from tiny Honda motorcycle engines to giant Rolls Royce RB211’s and everything in between.

My first engine change recollection as a professional mechanic (meaning someone was actually paying me to fix things!) was as an apprentice in Frobisher Bay. We had to remove an engine from a Twin Otter and ship it via Boeing 737 to Nordair’s Montreal home base. Apparently John Luty (Nordairs owner) had a fishing trip planned using the companies Turbo Mallard. Unfortunately the Mallard had an ailing PT6 that needed replacing, so the order came down to pull one off a Twin Otter stationed in Frobisher. That, no longer revenue generating, Twin Otter sat in the hangar for ten days, minus one engine, while the boss enjoyed his fishing trip!

As an Airframe Mechanic at DeHavilland  I rarely touched an engine, but those few fallow years were quickly compensated for when I landed at Air Canada. Working in line maintenance, a week rarely went by without an engine change on a Boeing 727 or DC9. If we hustled, a small crew of 4 or 5 seasoned mechanics could change a JT8D in an 8-hour shift and have the aircraft back in service. As with many jobs, the more you did it the easier and faster it became. Air Canada was also very good at putting together excellent equipment (Engine Change Kits) that helped facilitate rapid turnarounds on or off the main maintenance base. I can’t imagine how many engine changes I worked on during my first seven years with line maintenance but there is no doubt that my rate of engine change encounters soared when I voluntarily transferred to Check Crew.

Check Crew at Air Canada was responsible for most of the “Wide Body” aircraft, heavy scheduled maintenance. Consequently we were tasked with most of the Boeing 747 and Lockheed L1011 engine changes. As I recall the 747 engines seemed to stay put and happily pull their attached airplanes for thousands of hours undisturbed. The “Tin Lemon” however was the undisputed engine change queen. We averaged 2 to 3 engine changes a week on the infamous “Tri-Star” and consequently got very good at it. We often joked about how much easier life would have been if the Lockheed designers had simply had the foresight to attach the engines using giant Dzus fasteners! As it was, wing engines could be pulled by one shift and installed by the next, with the tail engine always taking just a little longer due to its height and lack of easy access. In fact we did them so often, that it actually started to get boring. Fortunately there were so many different tasks to do as part of the whole process that we changed up jobs to keep it interesting. Some things were a real pain, aligning and connecting the giant “S-Duct” translating ring as well as hooking up the 3 bleed air ducts were always a challenge on the number 2, tail mounted engine, not to mention climbing a lot of stairs on the specially built engine change workstands!      

When I finally left Air Canada in 1988 to pursue my aviation-teaching career, I thought my days of never ending engine changes were finally done. However fate decided to deal me just a few more engine change challenges. As the Professor responsible for second year engine theory, part of my curriculum was teaching the proper process of engine change. In addition to the classroom theory involved, every student participated in an actual engine change, as part of his or her mandatory hangar projects. With two Cessna150’s, a Piper Apache, and an additional Piper Seminole undergoing continuous non-stop engine changes, I must have supervised hundreds of engine changes over my 22 years of teaching. 

Now that I have officially retired from teaching, my only engine changes now are happily self-imposed, though incredibly just last week a buddy called me up and requested my assistance with his 1972 Honda 750. “I just need your help to get the motor back in the frame” he pleaded. Of course, as with Peter’s MG all those years ago, I couldn’t refuse a friend in need. Besides, like the old Check Crew mechanics used to say; “You’re only as good as your last engine change” and God willing, I haven’t changed my last one yet!    

Just like Peter’s white 1964 MGB
Lockheed L-1011 – The Engine Change Queen
Keith’s CB750 with the engine installed.

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